How to create shipping guidelines for your online business

Your new online store may have the coolest design, the greatest products, and the most reasonable prices, but does it have the one thing shoppers really want?

We’re talking about a great shipping policy—one that gives your customers free options and fast options and provides delivery tracking—can seal the deal with today’s e-commerce customers.

Here’s how to create shipping guidelines that can help your store compete.  

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1. Give Your Customers Multiple Shipping Options

People are particular about shipping when they shop online, and they like to have choices. A 2018 international survey of e-commerce shoppers found that half have ditched an online shopping cart because they didn’t like the merchant’s shipping options.

It’s a good idea to offer at least two options—a free option for people who aren’t in a rush, and a faster, paid option. Depending on what you sell, where your inventory is stored, and where your customers are, you may also be able to offer local same-day delivery through a third-party service.

2. Calculate Your Shipping Costs

The most complex part of creating your shipping guidelines is comparing rates from different shippers and figuring out what shipping will cost, so dive in and get it done first.

Your shipping costs will include not only the rates you pay to the carrier but also the cost of packing material and time spent handling and packing the orders, printing shipping labels, paper and ink for labels, etc. All these costs should be built into the shipping charges your customers pay or built into your product pricing if you’re offering free shipping.

To keep your shipping-related costs as low as possible, spend some time with different carriers’ rate tables and package classes. See who offers free boxes and envelopes for flat-rate shipping. Compare the rates for those containers with what it would cost to provide your own packaging and pay based on weight. A lot depends on the weight of your products and how far they must go.

You’ll also need to figure out the costs your customers will pay at checkout, and it’s almost mandatory to offer some sort of free shipping option, because shoppers expect it. “75 percent of consumers surveyed expect delivery to be free even on orders under $50, up from 68 percent a year ago,” according to the National Retail Federation’s data.

That doesn’t mean every customer wants free shipping every time, though. The same survey found that 35% of online shoppers are willing to pay more for faster, more convenient delivery options when they need them. Whatever you choose to offer, you don’t want to lose money through your shipping choices.

Keep in mind that most carriers raise their rates at the beginning of each calendar year because demand is so high. That means you’ll need to review your shipping policy and product pricing each fall—those rate hike announcements usually appear during or just before the holiday season, so don’t miss them amid the holiday rush.

3. Set Up Shipping Security Best Practices

If you offer same-day or next-day delivery, make sure your payment processor provides thorough screening for transaction fraud, especially if you sell expensive or rare but popular items. Faster shipping options are popular with scammers because they can sometimes get their merchandise before the bank or the merchant discovers their payment fraud and stops delivery.

Always track your shipments, no matter how small. Why? If the item is lost, you’re out the purchase price, and if the customer charges back the purchase through their card issuer, you’ll also have to pay a chargeback fee to your payment processor, which can run anywhere from $20 to $100, depending on the size of the transaction. Tracking keeps your customers happy, cuts down on inquiries to customer service about deliveries, and gives you a way to prove your packages are delivered.

Finally, work with a shipper who won’t re-route packages from your store without consulting you first. Scammers sometimes use an unsuspecting consumer’s card and delivery address data to make a purchase, and then call the shipper directly to have the item sent to their lair instead. The result for your store is a loss of merchandise, the value of the sale, and a chargeback fee.

4. Plan for Holiday Season Shipping Changes

The holidays are the peak season for most retailers, and they’re crunch time for shipping carriers, too. Every e-commerce store owner needs to keep tabs on holiday season shipping surcharges and timetables to avoid getting stuck with unexpected shipping costs, delayed deliveries, and unhappy customers.

Most carriers announce their peak surcharge rates at least several months in advance. You can search your carriers’ sites for surcharge information and use it to adjust your pricing and shipping deals during the holiday season. For example, UPS peak surcharges during the 2018 holiday season ranged from 27 to 99 cents per package, depending on shipping speed and date. If you’re planning a holiday special that cuts your profit margin on a popular item in order to sell more, make sure holiday shipping surcharges won’t push your deal into money-losing territory.

Shipping windows and cutoff dates are important for store owners and shoppers alike. Once your shippers publish their cutoff dates for the season (the last dates by which you can ship an item for delivery by Christmas Day), you can add the time it takes to process and pack orders to come up with your store’s cutoff dates. Post them on each page of your site during the holiday shopping season.

5. Share Your Shipping Policy

After you decide on your shipping policy, feature the basics on every page of your site along with a link to the fine print in plain English. Put it up high on the page so visitors don’t miss it. And if you have a special shipping deal, include that information, too.

Nike does this by promoting its free-shipping offer in exchange for customers’ social media info and/or email address. “Free Shipping for Members. Want it faster? Upgrade for two-day or next-day delivery. Join now.” And just in case shoppers miss that message at the top of each page, Nike also includes a free-shipping dropdown info box on each product page.

free shipping banner on top of home page for nike
example of product page with shipping policy on nike

Set Up Shipping for Your Online Store

You can create shipping policy notices on your store pages easily with Gator Website Builder’s drag and drop tools. Gator also gives you a choice of e-commerce templates, coupon tools, inventory management, and other features to help your store run smoothly. Be sure to add an SSL certificate to protect your store from hackers and data thieves, and to help your store do better in customers’ search results.  

See how easy it is to get started with Gator now.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance B2B content marketing writer. Her specialty areas include SMB marketing and growth, data security, IoT, and fraud prevention