Supply chain issues, shipping delays, and fulfillment challenges are on the rise. So are customer expectations.
Shoppers favor fast, free shipping options: according to new research, 75%* claim that free shipping had a significant or very significant influence on a purchasing decision. Even above cost and speed, this research found that customers value dependability and transparency when they shop online. For you, that means building trust by communicating clearly and often.
We recently released the Future of Commerce report, an in-depth roadmap built on proprietary research, data from millions of Shopify merchants, and expert interviews. As you adapt to the ever-changing climate of ecommerce, the learnings from this report will help you solve shipping challenges, exceed customer expectations, and build solid shipping strategies and processes for the long term.
Get more transparent about shipping costs and timelines
According to the report, 74%* of consumers want to see shipping costs upfront when making purchasing decisions, and 68%* would like free returns and estimated arrival times.
Shoppers want to know:
- How much will shipping cost?
- How long will it take to get my order?
- Do I have to pay to make a return?
- Will you update me if my order is delayed?
These are the changes you can make to improve transparency with your shipping process.
1. Create a shipping info page
The more transparent you are with shoppers about your shipping policies from the beginning, the more trust you build with them for the long term. Plus, setting expectations upfront means less time answering support inquiries later.
Build a page dedicated to shipping on your website. Here’s the basis of what this page needs to include:
- All of the shipping options you offer. List how fast each option is and how much each one costs.
- Order processing time. How many days after a customer places an order can they expect it to ship? Are there any exceptions?
- Domestic and international shipping options. Customers across the globe need to see if you ship to their location, how quickly, and for how much.
- A full return policy. Shoppers want to know if you offer free returns or a return-in-store option, or if they’ll have to pay. They also need to see how they’ll get their refund.
- Any shipping delays. Are orders taking longer than usual to ship? Let shoppers know upfront.
- A cancellation policy. Will you allow customers to cancel an order once they place it? If so, let them know how long they have—and their options if they miss the window.
📋Learn more: How to Create and Communicate Your Shipping Policy
2. List shipping prices before checkout
Have you ever found the perfect item, added it to your cart, and balked at the price to ship it to your house? You likely promptly closed the tab and moved on to another brand that would ship you a similar item for less.
In 2021, Baymard Institute found that 49% of shoppers abandoned a cart at checkout because the extra costs, like shipping and taxes, were too high.
You can avoid cart abandonment by communicating shipping prices before a shopper gets to the checkout screen. Listing shipping prices in your shipping info page is a great place to start.
Consider putting shipping prices inside the buy box or on each product page, especially for large, bulky, or heavy items. For example, if you sell furniture, you might offer a flat shipping rate of $150. Pop that into a buy box, product details, or other information section so customers can see it as they browse.
Even if your shipping costs are high, eliminating the element of surprise provides transparency and sets expectations early on. As they shop, consumers can mentally tack on the extra fee rather than abandon a cart when they see a final price that’s significantly higher than they originally expected.
Similarly, let customers know you offer affordable or free shipping, too. It might be the extra push they need to make a purchase.
3. Provide return options and costs upfront
If a shopper makes a purchase from you, especially for the first time, they need to know how to get it back to you if they don’t like it—and how much money and effort it will cost them.
Similar to communicating shipping costs upfront, let customers know how your returns process works. You’ll want to include your full return policy on your shipping info or dedicated returns page. In addition, your product pages under a “more information” section are great places to list information about your return policy.
If you offer free, low flat-rate, or in-store returns, consider adding that information in a product buy box as an icon, like jewelry shop Stone and Strand does. If you don’t accept returns, make that policy very clear before checkout as well. It’s as simple as listing it on your product pages.
4. Make delivery estimates clear before checkout
Consumers want to know how long shipping will take. According to our report, 45%* of consumers said they want to see clearly anticipated delivery times.
If you offer several different delivery options, it’ll be difficult to communicate all of the time estimates throughout your website. Leave the more comprehensive list of delivery times to your shipping info page.
Instead, consider listing the most economical option on a banner at the top of your website. The copy could be a variation of “$X flat rate shipping, delivered in Y to Z business days.”
Another place to show this kind of information is directly in the buy box. Stone and Strand does a great job of communicating processing time and shipping costs clearly on its product pages.
The brand shares that the item is in stock, how long it will take to ship out, and the estimated shipping date.
To go the extra mile, add an additional line with the estimated delivery date.
5. Communicate any shipping delays before checkout
If you’re experiencing shipping delays, as so many other businesses are, just make sure you communicate them from the get-go. Luxury skin care brand Beneath Your Mask lists both its shipping information and the fact that it’s experiencing delays on a banner at the very top of its website.
Customers see that update the second they visit the homepage.
If the delivery timeline increases once a customer has already made a purchase, email them to let them know. If you can, provide the reason why the timeline is longer than expected. The worst thing you can do is not provide any sort of update, especially if the timeline increases by more than one day.
How to improve shipping practices to meet growing customer expectations
According to our Future of Commerce report, consumers said these shipping offerings had a “very significant influence” or “significant influence” on their decision to make a purchase:
- Free shipping: 75%*
- Fast shipping (e.g., same-day or next-day delivery): 60%*
- Flexible shipping (e.g., choice of delivery time and date): 53%*
Many brands are investing in implementing free or flat-rate shipping to meet those expectations.
Some of these solutions will come at a higher expense to your business, but there are ways to offset those expenses, like offering flat-rate shipping, building shipping costs into your product margin, or using Shopify Shipping for lower shipping rates. Here’s how you can meet higher consumer expectations around shipping this year.
1. Offer free shipping
Consumers love free shipping. But covering it out of pocket can put a huge strain on your profits. Here are a couple of ways you can offset the burden of free shipping:
- Factor it into the margin of each product you sell. Do you have a big enough margin on your products to cover shipping costs and still turn a profit?
- Increase the price of your products to include shipping costs.
- Offer free shipping right above your average order volume threshold to raise average order value (AOV). Win-win!
- Make free shipping a promotion that you run a few times per year.
- Use free shipping as a way to increase SMS or newsletter subscribers.
2. Use a shipping service to get more affordable rates
Shopify Shipping can save you up to 88% on shipping costs from USPS, UPS, and DHL. Shopify’s shipping tools help streamline the entire process. You’ll be able to print and purchase labels directly within Shopify. And, you can manage everything from one convenient dashboard.
Pirate Ship is another shipping tool that can save you up to 89% on UPS and USPS. Mary Helt, co-founder of screen printed bandana shop Abracadana, says, “For me, Pirate Ship works well because it brings in both Etsy and Shopify to one screen.” If you have a Shopify store, Pirate Ship also has an app that plugs right in.
3. Offer flat-rate shipping
If free shipping isn’t something you can or want to do for your customers, consider providing a flat-rate shipping option instead. You can take on the full amount, split it with your customers, or pass it onto your customers. Flat-rate shipping is a great way to set expectations early on, especially if it costs a lot to ship what you sell.
Here are a couple of ways you can make flat-rate shipping work for you:
- Condition the flat-rate on price, weight or shipping distance. For example, orders up to 15 pounds could ship at $5, up to 25 pounds at $15, etc. If you pick this option, build a table that shows what flat-rate costs apply to each order amount, weight, or distance.
- Offer a flat rate on all orders or orders over a certain amount. Take a look at your average order value and charge a flat rate on all orders a couple of dollars over that amount.
- Charge the same flat rate for all orders. Simple and easy to anticipate, but it might cost a little more for you.
As for how to calculate flat-rate shipping, it’s really up to you. We recommend starting the process by calculating the average cost to ship all of the items across your entire product inventory.
4. Expand shipping options or use exact shipping rates
If you only provide one or two shipping options and they’re all expensive or will take forever, customers are going to get frustrated. If you opt to ditch the flat-rate or free shipping route, list at least one affordable option, one middle option (in terms of both cost and delivery timeline), and one very speedy option so customers can choose what works best for them.
One way to do this is to charge exact shipping rates—that means charging your customers exactly what the carrier will charge you to ship their order. Choose a variety of speeds, carriers, and prices.
Even though it might come at a greater cost to your customer, make sure you always provide options for speedy shipping. That includes options for overnight, one day, or two day.
5. Lower your shipping cost and pass the savings onto customers
Keeping shipping costs low is a common struggle that many other business owners face. Here are four ideas for lowering your shipping costs:
- Reduce package weight. Corrugated boxes are lighter than standard cardboard, and an envelope weighs less than a box. Use the lightest packaging material you can find, like tissue paper, to fill up space and keep items safe.
- Order free boxes and envelopes from USPS. USPS offers many different boxes for free, and all you have to do is create an account to have them shipped directly to your business or your house.
- Get discounted rates through Shopify Shipping. Save up to 88% on shipping costs through USPS, UPS, or DHL with Shopify Shipping.
- Use the right size packaging. Putting a small item in a medium-sized box will only cost you more. Use the smallest box, envelope, or padded mailer you can to reduce both the weight and cost of shipping.
💰Learn more: How Small Businesses can Reduce Shipping Costs
6. Get creative with packaging and inserts
Set yourself apart by including small delights for your customers inside each package. That could be a handwritten note, branded sticker, fridge magnet, or just an extremely cool box.
Arka, a packaging and supplies business, creates custom-designed boxes. Personalize your packaging to your brand with branded colors or designs. You can also purchase sustainably sourced packaging if your goal is to get more eco-friendly this year.
Tips for creating a more sustainable shipping process
53%* of businesses are making improved sustainability one of their top priorities for 2022.
Finally, both businesses and consumers are getting on board with using more sustainable packaging for their products and to ship them. Here are a few ways you can embrace this shipping trend with greener shipping options.
1. Switch to sustainable packaging
Aside from helping the planet, making the switch to sustainable shipping materials has other benefits for your business too. Our report found that 46% of customers* are more likely to purchase a product online if they’re able to recycle the product packaging.
That means you’ll not only need to switch to a more sustainable shipping lineup, but also advertise your commitment to sustainability clearly on your website. Add a page dedicated to your sustainability commitments, place info in your product pages about sustainability, or offer customers the ability to pay to offset carbon emissions at checkout.
Abracadana owner Mary Helt notes that using eco-friendly shipping materials is important to her and her business. “There’s a lot of options,” she says. “You can do a compostable, recycled mailer. They’re not expensive at all!”
There are many different sustainable packaging options to choose from, and as Mary says, going green doesn’t have to cost you more cash. Here are a couple of companies that sell sustainable shipping materials:
- EcoEnclose. EcoEnclose sells everything from 100% recycled mailers that are both recyclable and compostable to boxes made from recycled materials. Get 25 recycled paper mailers for $14 or a case of 250 for $80.
- Arka. Arka creates custom branded packaging and offers a line of sustainably sourced shipping materials. While you’ll have to write in for a quote for custom boxes, prices start at $392.50 for 250 white six inch by six inch by two inch mailer boxes.
- Noissue. Noissue sells100% compostable, biodegradable mailers.Get 50 160 millimeter by 230 millimeter mailers for $15.
2. Offer an option for customers to pay to offset emissions
Let customers pay a few cents or dollars at checkout to offset the carbon emissions used to ship their order. If you have a Shopify store, it’s as simple as installing an app via our App Store.
These apps all provide ways for customers to pay to plant a tree or offset the carbon emissions of their orders at checkout. Just add them to your Shopify store.
Using Shop Pay also offsets carbon emissions—every purchase made through Shop Pay helps plant trees at no extra cost to your customers.
3. Ship in bulk
Sustainable shop Zero Waste Cartel recommends shipping items in bulk, which means using less packaging to ship items individually and less emissions going into the air. It’s the difference between shipping one toothbrush 10 times and 10 toothbrushes once: customers get a bulk discount and the knowledge that their order is better for the planet.
Transparency and dependability are key for shipping in 2022
Above all, customers want to know what cost and delivery timeline to expect when purchasing an item from online businesses in 2022. The more you communicate with customers upfront, and make delivery estimates, shipping costs, and sustainability commitments clear across your website, the more confident consumers will feel purchasing from you in the long term.
*Shopify Ecommerce Market Credibility Study: Data Review, a commissioned Forrester Consulting study conducted on behalf of Shopify, September 27, 2021.
Featured image by Kiersten Essenpreis