Lost packages. Damaged products and shipping containers. Hidden fees. The shipping industry in a nutshell.
Getting your products to your customers is a complex process and there are lots of things that can go wrong.
Even before you ship your first package, you might find yourself getting lost in all of the paperwork, desperately trying to decode a matrix of logistics, taxes, and customs. And once your packages arrive, you might face a whole new set of challenges, dealing with hidden fees and out-of-control costs.
Thankfully, for both you and your customers, every shipping problem out there has a solution. After all, as a business owner, your responsibilities don’t end at sourcing and selling products—you need to make sure that those products actually make it into your customers' hands, too.
To help you solve your biggest problems quickly and stop customer complaints in their tracks, we’ve put together a collection of the seven most common shipping issues and the tactics you can use to fix them once and for all.
1. How do I ship my products internationally?
Even if your business targets a local market, there’s still a chance that you’ll get customers ordering your products from outside of your home country.
International shipping can seem difficult at first—challenges like dealing with unfamiliar carriers and accounting for duties and taxes can make you want to avoid global shipping entirely.
Even though it seems complicated, international shipping is easy to understand with the right resources in your toolkit.
International shipping rates are dependent on a variety of factors including package size, package weight, departing country, destination country, insurance, and more. Most major package couriers offer online calculators to give you an idea of exactly how much international shipping will cost your business.
Here’s a set of shipping calculators for some of the biggest mail carriers worldwide:
- USPS shipping calculator
- Canada Post shipping calculator
- Royal Mail shipping calculator
- Australia Post shipping calculator
- UPS shipping calculator
- FedEx shipping calculator
- DHL shipping calculator
Most carriers also have their own individual sets of guidelines and regulations for shipping products internationally:
- USPS international shipping guidelines
- UPS country-specific shipping guidelines
- FedEx international shipping guidelines
- Canada Post delivery standards
- Royal Mail international delivery
- Australia Post international post guide
- DHL international shipping
Duties and taxes will vary between countries based on a wide variety of factors, including product value, origin country, trade agreements, and intended use. Your customers will cover these costs when your products arrive at their destination, so you should make sure they’re aware of the possibility of extra fees being added to their shipment.
To avoid any unpleasant surprises for your customers, it’s important to include a general warning on your policy page that notifies them that any international shipments may be subject to local duties and taxes.
International shipments can also take time to clear international customs in their destination country. Be sure to fill out the proper documentation for your packages so there aren’t any unnecessary delays for your customers.
Most major mail carriers have resources to help you navigate customs for international shipping:
- USPS Customs Forms
- FedEx Guide to Customs
- Canada Post Customs Forms
- Royal Mail Customs Guide
- Australia Post Customs Forms and Regulations
2. How do I safely package my products for freight shipping?
For some businesses, shipping packages through the mail just isn’t enough. If your products are too large or exceed weight restrictions for standard shipping, then freight shipping is necessary to get your products where they need to be. Using cargo ships can be expensive, but often can be worth it.
While freight shipping might be a must-have for your business, it has its own unique challenges that you’ll need to consider to safely ship your products. Freight shipping requires you to follow specific packaging guidelines, since improper packaging can lead to product damage and missed shipments.
The packaging requirements for freight shipping are very different from standard guidelines for parcel and mail delivery. While it’s best to check with your carrier to find out their specific requirements for shipping, here are some general guidelines that will help your shipment arrive in good condition:
- Use a proper pallet: The pallet that you use for your shipment should be made of wood or plastic and able to withstand the stress of being hauled and lifted. Your shipment should never exceed the weight restrictions of its pallet.
- Choose durable packaging: The boxes that you ship your products in should be strong enough to withstand the weight of a full load of packages stacked on top of them. Only use new cartons that have been sealed securely and filled with waste materials like packing peanuts or bubble wrap to fill up any empty space and prevent collapse.
- Secure your shipment: Your boxes should never be stacked beyond the edge of your pallet and you should avoid hanging the corners of boxes in the gaps between your pallet’s deck boards. Be sure to keep the top layer of your shipment flat in case shipments are stacked on top of it, and use load protectors to prevent damage from chains, straps, or other pallets. Once you’ve stacked your packages onto your pallet, keep them in place with stretch wrap.
For more information about how to protect your freight shipments, take a look at these freight shipping packaging guidelines from major carriers:
- UPS: Preparing your freight shipment
- FedEx Freight Calculator
- Purolator packaging guidelines
- DHL packing guide for large and palletized cargo
3. How do I keep my shipping costs low?
As a business owner, it’s important to trim your budget, especially when it comes to shipping. If you don’t research cost-cutting options, your fees can balloon out of control and either eat into your margins or be passed onto your customers.
Here are some quick tips for keeping your costs low and your margins high—without compromising your quality of service.
- Buy and print discounted labels through Shopify Shipping: With Shopify Shipping, you can buy and print shipping labels through USPS with discounts of up to 50%.
- Purchase discounted supplies through Shopify: You can purchase label printers and shipping scales directly from Shopify.
- Compare prices between carriers: Every carrier has a unique set of services and prices, so it’s important to compare prices to make sure you’re getting the best possible deal for your business. Shop around and do your research until you find a carrier whose services and pricing fits your store’s needs.
- Use carrier-provided packaging if possible: Many carriers offer packaging that is tailored to their specific requirements. If it’s possible for your products, using the packaging materials provided by your carrier can be an easy way to avoid unnecessary costs.
- Invest in flat rate shipping: Some major mail carriers provide envelopes and packaging for fixed-rate shipping based on the distance a package travels and its destination. If your business frequently ships packages to certain locations, flat rate shipping might be a more cost-effective option.
- Outsource to a third-party logistics provider (3PL): A 3PL will deliver your products with an out-of-box experience—some 3PLs can even handle returns. You can outsource part or all of your distribution and fulfillment services to a 3PL.
4. How do I choose a shipping rate for my store?
Do you ship your products through regular mail carriers? Deciding on shipping rates for your store is a crucial part of keeping your books balanced and your customers happy.
If you set your standard shipping rate too low, you risk losing money on orders by paying for shipping out of your own pocket. If you set your shipping rate too high, you risk scaring off customers who are unwilling to pay for extra fees.
Using regular mail services means you handle the entire fulfillment process—including packaging, postage, and shipping labels—so you’ll need to manually set a rate that covers your costs without turning your customers away. There are many different ways to calculate how much your business should charge for shipping, so you’ll have to experiment to find one that fits your store and industry.
Since shipping costs are largely based on shipment weight and distance, one method for finding an appropriate shipping rate is to determine the average weight of your shipments (based on the weight of your products and which combination of products customers usually order).
Add together the individual weights of all of your products and divide them by the size of your catalog. Take that average weight and multiply it by the average amount of items in an order.
Average Order Weight = (Catalog Weight / # of Products) x Average Order Size
Once you’ve found your average order weight, contact your mail carrier to find out how much it would cost to ship a package of that weight. Be sure to check how much your carrier would charge for shipping to all of your shipping zones.
Remember: This is just one way for finding your average shipping rate, and there are many different ways to calculate it based on your industry and business model. Costs fluctuate depending on which shipping company you choose.
If you haven’t had any sales or orders yet, it’s a safe bet to just base your average order weight on the average weight of your products.
Shopify store owners can set different rates for specific shipping zones around the world based on the shipping methods that their stores offer in those regions. In your Shopify Admin, click Settings and then Shipping to customize your shipping zone settings.
If you use Shopify Shipping in the US or Canada, you’ll also get access to real-time shipping calculations for major carriers that automatically update to reflect current rates for your products.
Additionally, if you’d prefer to avoid setting up shipping rates altogether, you can use a fulfillment service like ShipWire.Fulfillment services handle every aspect of shipping for your business, including calculating shipping rates for your customers in real time.
5. How do I communicate with manufacturers and suppliers?
In business, communication is key, and that’s especially true when it comes to dealing with the people responsible for manufacturing your products.
Reaching out to manufacturers and suppliers can seem intimidating—emailing someone that you’ve never met is almost always—but it’s a key part of sourcing your products and making sure that everything runs according to plan.
If you’re nervous, just remember that manufacturers have busy schedules with tight deadlines and they’re trying to run a business just like you. They’re ready to answer whatever questions you have, so don’t be afraid to reach out.
Whether you’re wondering how to word your emails or even where to find suppliers in the first place, we’ve got a comprehensive set of resources for guiding you through the process of communicating with manufacturers, suppliers, and distributors:
Alibaba, a massively popular online business directory, is a great place to find suppliers for your online store. In this post, we walk through every step of using Alibaba for your business—from tracking down a reliable supplier to reaching out to them (including an email template that you can use to get started today).
This post demystifies the process of finding and contacting suppliers to narrow down the best choice for your business. Take an in-depth look at the many different options out there for sourcing manufacturers and get a runthrough of the questions you should consider when sending your first email.
This step-by-step case study documents one Shopify Blog writer’s journey into the world of ecommerce. Corey started an online store selling gaming glasses that he sourced directly from Alibaba and quickly grew it into an ecommerce success story. The article covers all of the nitty-gritty details of dealing with manufacturers including finding suppliers and getting your first samples delivered.
6. How do I replace lost and damaged products?
During the shipping process, sometimes things happen that are completely beyond your control. Maybe your package never makes it onto the delivery truck due to labor shortages or it shows up at a customer’s doorstep completely bent and broken.
In these scenarios, it often isn’t the incident that has a lasting impact on your customers’ attitudes toward your business, but how you deal with it instead. Issues like damaged and lost products are worst-case scenarios, but they can happen to anyone, so you need to be prepared to handle them quickly and effectively.
For store owners, purchasing shipping insurance is a great way to protect your business from losing money on lost and damaged shipments.
If you’re shipping your products through a major carrier, shipping insurance is usually relatively inexpensive and can give you peace of mind once you send out your first set of packages. Some carriers, like UPS, automatically include shipping insurance for deliveries under $100 in value.
Shipping insurance is a small investment that will save you time, money, and frustration. You’ll rest easy knowing that you have a method for getting your money back if things do go sideways.
Lost and damaged products aren’t just a problem for you as a business owner—they can be an extremely frustrating experience for your customers as well. Waiting days or weeks for a product to arrive, only to have it show up in poor condition can be enough to send some customers away permanently.
When things go wrong, you need to focus on providing the best possible customer service to keep customers coming back to your store for life.
7. How do I handle backorders and inventory issues?
While most entrepreneurs would love for their store to become an overnight success story, selling more products than you anticipated can be both a gift and a curse for your business. Unexpected success can be behind problems like out-of-stock products and low inventory, which can leave your customers out to dry.
Even without runaway sales, your store can still run into inventory problems. Whether it’s unreliable manufacturers, wholesale delivery delays, or just limited run product collections, it’s completely normal for stores to run low or out of products sometimes.
It isn’t always possible to keep up with demand, but, at the very least, your store can give customers options to stay in the loop.
If you’d rather your customers not see out-of-stock products altogether, Wipeout is a great app that removes sold-out products from your store automatically.
Both of these options manage your customers’ expectations effectively and remove the possibility for disappointment, which is a huge part of crafting exceptional customer experiences.
Planning ahead can save you time and stress
Shipping isn’t always easy, but these solutions for your most common shipping problems should make things a bit easier. With these quick fixes at your disposal, you’ll be ready to conquer whatever the shipping process throws your way.
Have any more questions about shipping your products? Let us know in the comments below!
Shipping costs FAQ
What factors affect shipping costs?
Shipping costs are dependent on many factors including:
- Speed of delivery
How do you manage shipping costs?
As with most things in business, the best way to manage shipping costs is to have a plan! It's crucial to have an accurate picture of business expenses related to shipping.
How can you reduce shipping costs?
There are many ways you can reduce your shipping costs including:
- Reducing the weight and size of your packages where possible.
- Negotiating with carriers for reduced fees such as shipping containers.
- Reducing your packaging costs.
- Working with distribution centers close to your target customers.