Time to Change Your Postage Preference?

Simplify shipping options to contain cost and manage expectations.

by Dennis L. Prince
- Oct 04, 2013

With yet more changes to the U.S. Postal Service's service offerings, not to mention other carriers' ever-changing methods to compete for business, it's important that sellers continue to roll with the changes and re-think their delivery options.

Buyers want their purchased goods to arrive quickly but have become increasingly sensitive to the always-increasing shipping costs. Unfortunately, it's a situation that puts the seller in the middle—managing delivery to customer expectations without overwhelming them with high shipping fees, while also keeping the business from having to absorb the cost.

With a fresh look at delivery options, plus a bit of finesse in communicating service and cost to buyers, it's possible to stay ahead of the game. This is the time to revisit your shipping approach to keep sales up and shoppers smiling.

In today's world, less has become more, and that's what's driving shoppers in choosing where they'll shop

Too many choices?

The advent of online shopping brought with it remarkable selection of goods and services previously unavailable. Buyers could literally "have it their way" as they chose precisely what they wanted and, more to the point, how they wanted it delivered. Soon, though, they were becoming overwhelmed with so many delivery options, lamenting that the shopping experience had become cumbersome and confusing when it came to selecting a delivery method.

With the changes to delivery services these days—notably the consolidation of Priority Mail and Express Mail by the USPS—it's clear this is the time to simplify. Too many choices have become an obstacle to a smooth commerce flow and, likewise, have become challenging to a business that tried to offer all possible options available; it's too much to manage for sellers and buyers.

Simplification is what drives business today, an antidote to the early days of e-commerce when most believed that offering more would guarantee customer satisfaction. Today, it's apparent buyers "just want it," eager to avoid a tedious product selection and checkout process. In today's world, less has become more, and that's what's driving shoppers in choosing where they'll shop.

The need for speed?

In years past, "speed" in this context referred to how quickly an item would arrive to an eager shopper. There was cost associated with getting goods ASAP, but in the late 1990s and early 2000s, those costs were significantly lower than they are now. Today, rapid delivery comes at an uncomfortable cost, one that buyers are questioning with each and every purchase.

Review commercial carriers' services to determine what you can gain (and save) by setting up an account and negotiating rates

Speed also refers to how long it takes to complete a purchase, from start to finish. In this pervasive mobile culture, folks are shopping on the go like never before. They maximize their "in-between time" (waiting for a cup of coffee, paused at the crosswalk) by making purchases while they actively engage in other activities. Because of this, they need online shopping to be quick—less than five minutes. Sorting through too many choices and selections prevents completion of a fast purchase.

Speed, then, comes with two sorts of costs these days. The cost of physical delivery of goods is near exorbitant when specifying next-day and second-day arrival of items. Also, there's the cost of a lost sale if the purchase process takes too long; customers will bail out of the transaction if they can't complete it in just a couple of minutes.

A 3-step plan

So, here are the new tasks for sellers: Simplify the selection experience for your customers, speed up the transaction process and set expectations to communicate cost benefit to your shoppers.

  • Simplify their choices. Start by reviewing the shipping options you offer today. Often, a single carrier has all the delivery options your customers would need, though you might have established use of several carriers to fill in any gaps. Review commercial carriers' services and meet with a representative to determine what you can gain (and save) by setting up an account and negotiating rates. Discover their services and compare those to the types of products you sell and any specific needs of your customers.

    Offer one or two expedited methods but encourage use of standard delivery methods by explaining the reasonable delivery speed and the savings

    Find the carrier that best suits your needs, too (including the easiest processes, least amount of paperwork and convenient pick-up services). The savings you gain, in cost and effort, can be passed along to your customers as variable shipping cost or by way of your establishing flat rates. Of course, keep a second carrier option handy in case of service disruption from your primary carrier.

  • Slow it down for savings. There's no need for splitting hairs when it comes to delivery time. A package delivered next day is significantly more costly than one that will arrive just a day or two later. Also, it's less expensive to have a package arrive in about five to seven days by standard delivery method than one that arrives in three days by priority handling.

    With that, you can eliminate all the permutations of express, expedited and high-priority delivery methods. Typically, you'll do well to offer three methods: expedited, prioritized and standard delivery. Again, the savings you realize by eliminating use of superfluous shipping methods can be passed along to your customers.

  • Set their expectations. By sifting and simplifying your shipping methods, you'll make it easier for your customers to complete their purchases. Tell them about it by proclaiming easy ordering and reliable delivery when they shop with you. Offer one or two expedited methods but encourage use of standard delivery methods by explaining the reasonable delivery speed and the savings to be gained. They'll surely delight in seeing that the delivery expense hasn't accounted for half or more of their total purchase price.

    Yes, there was a time when offering every choice under the sun was the sign of a well-tuned business. Today, though, sellers are tuning into shoppers' desires for quick, easy and affordable. When it comes to shipping methods and containing the costs those incur, offering less will make it easier on you and cheaper for your customers. That's a simple recipe for good business, guaranteed.

  • About the Author

    Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay…and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues.

    Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.

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