When running an apparel decoration business, the ability to constantly deliver a satisfactory customer experience from start to finish keeps your business going. Shipping packages directly to your customers is one of the many crucial aspects of any successful business: with an effective shipping strategy in place, you’ll be able to deliver your customers’ orders promptly and at an affordable rate. This motivates customers to return to your shop to do business with you.
What exactly makes an effective shipping strategy, though? While its primary concern is to deliver a customer’s items before the specified deadline, it simply goes beyond the scope of only delivery. Shipping is only part of the fulfillment process that begins when you accept a customer’s order to when they receive it. You’ll have to figure out the details, such as the shipping rates and delivery turnaround times, to ensure the goods get to your customers.
Your shipping strategy can change significantly depending on the size of your shop, and you’ll have to be realistic about how you will implement a successful strategy that helps improve your profitability with minimal cost.
- What Makes an Effective Shipping Strategy?
- Shipping Strategy for Small Print Shops
- Shipping Strategy for Medium-sized Print Shops
- Shipping Strategy for Larger Print Shops
What Makes an Effective Shipping Strategy?
Before we can get to the nitty-gritty of things, it’s equally important to know what goes into making an effective shipping strategy. If you’re not very familiar with the how’s and why’s of the shipping processes, this section will be of particular importance to you and your print shop.
Here are all the important components that make up an effective shipping strategy.
You’ll be relying on one or more shipping providers to help you move your goods from your print shop into the customer’s hands. The United States Postal Service (USPS), UPS, DHL, and FedEx are some of the many providers you may have heard of or whose services you’ve used before. Each provider may have differences in their core services, such as their overall costs and options for delivery, so it’s important to know what they can and can’t do.
Here’s a brief rundown of the major shipping carriers you’ll most likely be working with:
- USPS: Being the national postal service, the USPS offers affordable rates for various shipping services with its country-wide coverage
- UPS: Founded in 1907, UPS is a well-regarded shipping and logistics company with competitive rates and a solid reputation for quality services
- FedEx: Formerly known as the Federal Express Corporation, FedEx also provides a wide variety of services for all your shipping needs
- DHL: While being one of the most expensive shipping options, DHL’s top-notch logistics and customer service help make it a popular choice for quickly delivering packages to customers
You can even opt for a multi-carrier option for more value to your customers, allowing them to pick the best, affordable shipping option for their purchases – more on this later.
Shipping rates vary depending on many factors, including the mode of shipping (by ground, air, or sea), the location of the sender and recipient, and so on. This can make or break any business; many customers abandon their carts entirely when they find the shipping rates, and related fees, are very high.
Depending on your customer’s location, delivery to them can happen in several ways. You can go for local delivery if the customer lives nearby or do same-day shipping via FedEx or another provider for more urgent shipments. As mentioned above, the chosen delivery method can influence your overall shipping cost.
The delivery method also influences the overall turnaround time for shipping, starting from when the customer places the order with your shop to when they finally receive the package.
Packaging and Weights
From boxes to envelopes and more compact parcels, your choice of packaging and the total weight of the package are also important factors that affect your shipping rate. The heavier the package, the higher you’ll need to pay. The packing material that keeps the items inside secure and undamaged can also contribute to the weight.
Insurance and Tracking
Customers want assurance that their package will arrive safely and without any hitches. Insurance reimburses the shipper for the declared value of items in the package if it gets lost, stolen, or damaged during transit. Meanwhile, tracking allows your customers to get live updates on where the package is, how soon they’ll receive it, and whether it might be delayed for various reasons.
Putting together a shipping strategy that works requires foreknowledge of how all the components to shipping (plus your overall workflow to finish a customer’s order and get it shipped) come together in a manner that’s fast and beneficial to customers without affecting your overall profit margins. You must know your average order value and overall shipping costs to find a good balance to provide low shipping rates while keeping your profitability optimal. After all, whether you provide free or flat-rate shipping, this cost still comes from your business account.
How you implement your shipping strategy also depends on the size of your print shop. What must you change to get it to work without affecting your profit margins? Do smaller businesses have particular challenges that larger shops don’t have to worry about? We’ll help you with tips on how to optimize your shipping strategy for success.
Shipping Strategy for Small Print Shops
It can be difficult for a small print shop to compete with larger ones, especially when you don’t have the financial resources to provide parity regarding what you can offer your customers. As your shop receives a low volume of orders, you must be smart about where to innovate or provide extra value for your customers.
For one, shipping can quickly become costly in the long run, even if you don’t have plenty of orders to handle. Small volumes can lead to higher shipping costs in total because you’re regularly sending packages out to customers. If your average order size is 30 shirts, and you sell 480 shirts in a month, assuming your shipping cost is at a flat rate of $10, that’s $160 worth of monthly shipping costs.
While it might seem cheap at a glance, larger print shops can get lower shipping rates for their large-volume orders, easily delivering to hundreds of customers per day. Moreover, depending on where most of your customers are based, you might rely on more affordable shipping options, which could mean slower delivery times (especially if it’s ground shipping). As your customer base widens to other cities or states that are further away, your shipping costs can quickly balloon in no time.
Dimensional (DIM) weight also matters a lot. In a nutshell, “the larger the volume of your package, the larger its DIM weight,” which influences your shipping rate. You can use smaller parcels for shipping, but you still have to consider the tradeoffs of such a smaller package, such as whether the items will be damaged when there’s less space for packing material.
And since you’re a small print shop with limited resources, you can’t use fulfillment services to help you with the shipping process while solely focusing on your business. The overall pricing for relying on fulfillment services, even if you don’t opt-in for their warehousing or other premium services, can potentially raise your expenses significantly.
To gain an advantage over the competition, you’ll have to find clever solutions to problems that you can’t completely solve via financial means. That means finding practical solutions to problems you might have.
Have an Organized Work Flow
Institute standard operating procedures for your shipping section. This is important as it can help you visualize your shipping and packaging operations and know what’s needed and what can be adjusted for efficiency. It lets you know what your shipping stations will look like and how the entire process should go from start to finish, among other things.
Here’s a handy graphical sample from USPS:
Consider what you might need from your workflow:
- How many people should man the shipping stations?
- How do you keep shipping stations organized for packaging?
- How often should parcels be collected for packaging and shipping preparations?
- At what time should packaging and shipping be done?
- How do you continue packaging without interruptions, even when supplies run low?
Make Things Easier
Streamline your shipping process further by placing frequently sold items close to a designated shipping station to hasten your packaging and shipping process. Items that don’t move as fast can be placed in a further, but still accessible, area from your shipping station. Your shipping station should also have all the tools you need ready to go: boxes, tape, scissors or box cutters, packing materials, and more.
Manage DIM Constraints
Make your packages as small as possible while using packing materials that aren’t dense. The aim is to reduce your DIM weight and keep it lower than the actual weight. It helps to know how a shipping provider calculates its DIM weight and what surcharges apply so that you can work around these constraints. Avoid using big boxes for small orders, too: that can considerably ramp up your DIM weight and, thus, your shipping costs.
Consider using an online DIM weight calculator to help you figure this out.
Read the Fine Print
Before choosing a shipping provider, be sure to study its terms and conditions in detail. You’ll need to look out for the following:
- What surcharges might a shipping provider apply to your packages? Additional fees, such as fuel or residential surcharge, may be charged for various reasons. Even delivering on a Saturday might incur an extra charge! It’s good to know what surcharges might apply for various reasons; you’d do well to find a way to incorporate these extra charges into your margins
- Do other carriers have similar surcharges? Having options is always good because you can pick the more cost-effective option that works for your shop
- Is there a minimum net charge? Some shipping providers might have a specific minimum rate for a particular zone and weight, affecting your total shipping cost
- What are their freight/weight classifications? Some carriers may have different classifications on what constitutes freight or standard box parcels/packages
- Are there any dimensional weight charges that might be applied? This also ties into the previous question, as your shipping rate can change depending on your package’s overall size and weight
Just because you’re a smaller print shop doesn’t mean you can’t still find practical solutions that don’t cost you much!
A Personal Touch
It also won’t hurt to add a personalized touch to your packaging. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on branded packaging options when you can do it yourself: people love a good handmade gift. You can make a simple thank-you card to show your appreciation to your customers or have a simple yet useful how-to insert to teach them how to take care of their custom shirts.
Even if you know they’re not planning on returning it, even something as simple as including a return label in the package can say a lot about your shop. In this case, customers will find that you make the return process so much more convenient, which can leave a lasting positive impression on your overall customer service.
But a return is still a return, and for a small shop like yours, offering free returns will be costly in the long run. In such a case, offer a flat-rate return fee to split the cost between you and your customer. It might not be free shipping, but a low return fee as a compromise is better than losing your customer.
It’s also important to accurately communicate details about the return so there’s no confusion: sometimes, customers might not have read the fine print about how return fees are handled in the transaction, so having a final confirmation or notification should put both of you on the same page.
Shipping Strategy for Medium-sized Print Shops
If you’re a well-to-do print shop or have been steadily expanding over time, you open your shop up to many opportunities to improve your shipping strategy that you previously couldn’t use due to financial limitations.
Why Fulfillment Services?
There are also fulfillment services, which are a great way to ease the shipping process: they’ll assist you with the entire shipping process while you focus on printing apparel and attending to your customers. You’ll be in constant touch with your fulfillment provider whenever an order comes in: once an order is ready, you’ll have it sent to their warehouse or collection point, and they’ll take care of the rest. Some may even allow scheduled pickups so you won’t have to drive to their center to have your packages shipped.
The big advantage of working with a fulfillment provider is the overall cost savings. Since they handle multiple orders from plenty of other fulfillment service users, they get preferential rates that are much lower than what you might normally pay if you shipped orders yourself; if you’re paying $10 for flat-rate shipping, your competitor may be paying $5 – or lower – for all their high-volume orders.
The other advantage comes from much faster shipping times, especially if the fulfillment provider has a well-integrated fulfillment network that quickly gets shipments out in a timely manner. Customers won’t know how you do it, but they’ll be delighted to get their items right on time.
It does have some caveats, though. For one, if you’re using branded packaging, only a few fulfillment providers may be willing to work with your level of branding. Moreover, that could potentially mean an increase in costs, besides the additional fees you might have to pay for, say, warehouse storage. You’ll have to look into a fulfillment provider’s services and fee structure and maybe negotiate agreeable terms for both your shop and the fulfillment provider.
Speaking of which, if you’re unfamiliar with branded packaging, it’s basically your “brand identity” placed on your packaging as a marketing tool. Branded packaging isn’t restricted to only the boxes you use to store your customer’s goods: remember the personal touch of thank-you cards and such? Those also constitute branded packaging.
The goal of branded packaging is very simple: it gets your brand across to people. When a customer receives an order they placed with you, someone they know might see the box and the branded packaging it sports and ask your customer about it. It’s essentially a talking point for your business: you communicate a great deal of information about your shop to your customers and potential clients.
It also makes for great advertising, especially for online-only print shops with no physical presence. Even people who may not have heard about your shop will be intrigued to see your branded packaging. The overall appearance of your packaging and its contents gives people an impression of your shop, which can generate interest in your products and services.
Branded packaging also extends itself to customized inserts (like the aforementioned thank-you cards), which help make your customer feel more appreciated.
With the many shipping providers you can choose from, it’s more cost-effective to consider a multi-carrier option. Doing so gives your customers the option of whichever shipping provider they’d prefer, be it in terms of lower shipping rates, faster deliveries, or other factors that help improve your customer’s shipping experience. For example, with many customers open to paying more for same-day delivery, having that option available to them can be a big boon, especially to your margins.
No longer will you need to worry about abandoned shopping carts due to high shipping rates. With a far better delivery experience, you can be sure to have customers coming back satisfied with your overall service. Moreover, if any of these shipping providers don’t meet expectations, you can choose others that will meet your standards and improve customer satisfaction.
You can use dedicated multi-carrier software/online platforms to help you out. Some popular choices include:
- Shippo: Offers three service tiers at different price points. It promises attractive shipping rates, integration for tracking orders and customer/merchant information, scheduling and returns, as well as customized shipping labels and other options
- ShipStation: Provides software as a service (SaaS) with many shipping company integrations, including online marketplaces like Etsy. It also features easy order management, solutions for managing shipping workflows, and even branded shipping
- ShippingEasy: Featuring integration with 50 partners such as UPS, FedEx, and even Shopify, they also offer USPS Commercial Rates: “guaranteed lowest shipping rates,” regardless of the shipment size, on top of other discounts on various rates and insurance fees for shipping
- Easyship: This is a cloud-based platform that helps you pay less (as much as 91 percent in savings) for shipping along with dynamic rates, automation tools, and helpful features that improve the customer experience
How About Returns?
At the end of the day, any successful business – big or small – will need to handle returns in a way that’s beneficial for your customers. With a more well-to-do shop, you can improve your return process while minimizing costs. The flat-rate solution is still workable, but you can still explore other ways that can help enhance the overall customer experience.
Free shipping is an attractive option for your customers, but it’s not “free” for you to offer it. Since you’re absorbing the full shipping cost, you’ll need to figure out if it’s financially feasible to offer free shipping in the first place. Besides increasing your margins, you can also consider adding free shipping for larger volume orders as an incentive for customers to purchase more custom items.
Most fashion stores will have an exchange policy, offering free return shipping if customers want to exchange it for something else. However, this strategy doesn’t work for custom apparel. If the customer’s order of 50 shirts had 25 defective items, an exchange would only waste time, money, and effort as you have to reprint a new batch of the same shirt while being unable to do anything about the defective items once they’re returned.
There’s a good reason why print shops usually set a spoilage/damage allowance rate: it encourages customers to order a little extra to account for any potential defects that might happen in an order of custom apparel.
Scaling Your Strategy
It becomes important that your shipping strategy scales with your business as it grows. The tools you used before may not work as well as they did due to their inability to support your growth as effectively. It’s important that you weigh your options carefully so that your tools continue to drive further growth while keeping up with your shop’s business simultaneously.
One example is the use of automation. This doesn’t necessarily mean having expensive robots sort out your packaging. Instead, you’ll focus on automating tasks through software that can help streamline packaging procedures (like labeling), integrates with your shipping carriers for a more efficient shipping process, and more. In doing so, you’ll have more time to focus on completing customer orders while worrying less about shipping as a whole.
Shipping Strategy for Larger Print Shops
For larger print shops with high-volume orders, cost no longer becomes a major concern, and you can have far more flexibility in implementing an effective shipping strategy. Combining elements touched on throughout this article will help ensure you can provide satisfactory customer service to your customers from when their order is placed to when they receive it in the mail.
Long-term Cost Savings
Given the volume of customers your business deals with, you’ll have plenty of leverage for competitive shipping rates from various shipping providers. This allows you to maximize your profitability while giving your customers plenty of incentives to keep them returning: free shipping on large orders, for example, and even preferential/priority deliveries for your loyal regulars (or those who signed up for your shop’s loyalty program).
You can also use a fulfillment service’s shipping solutions if you’re not particularly focused on branded packaging. Alternatively, you can use multi-carrier solutions and fulfillment services to handle different shipping needs for different customers. You can be sure that customers will be satisfied with the many cost savings they enjoy on shipping on top of the quality of your products.
Go Big on Premium Packaging
You won’t go wrong with doubling down on branded packaging, especially when you can get special rates on boxes and other forms of packaging. For example, for a minimum order of 500 items, you can purchase a box between $5 to $20, depending on the type of box you want. Meanwhile, poly mailers can cost between $0.25 to $3, based on your total order size.
You can also opt for specialty packaging that might cost extra, including eco-friendly packaging options such as compostable boxes or mailers or more premium packaging to accentuate your brand identity. You can extend this to your packing materials, like using high-grade cardboard cubes or filler that your customers can reuse at home.
You Still Need to Work Smarter
While being a successful business is nice, frivolous business spending without careful planning will only put your cash flow in the red very quickly. It’s good to want to improve the overall customer experience and get their packages to them ASAP, but you’ll need to make clever use of your available funds to do more with less. The lessons you learned as a small shop continue to pay dividends even when your operations and sales grow exponentially.
Take the time to think some things through with some helpful advice from the USPS:
- What percentage of your current shipments are subject to charges because they were shipped to the wrong address?
- How much are you currently paying for dimensional weight charges?
- How much do you pay for various surcharges in a year?
- How do you effectively handle multiple returns from multiple customers?
- How often are you having issues with customers receiving damaged packaging and/or items?
- How many packages get lost and never arrive at their intended destinations?
- How often do you need to revise your margins to improve profitability?
It’s always important to be able to identify potential problems your shop might be dealing with and find new ways to overcome them. In some cases, switching to a more cost-effective carrier or one that is more negotiable with your shipping requirements might not be the only solution. Asking the right questions and having the right solutions can help you save money while remaining profitable and well-regarded among your customer base.
With the right shipping strategy, you can make a healthy profit while ensuring customers enjoy a hassle-free shipping experience with competitive rates, plenty of shipping options, and fast delivery times. Efficiency and customer satisfaction come hand in hand with a solid plan in place, so it pays to carefully weigh your options and know what your shop and customers need as your business steadily grows.
Thinking of doing even more? Leverage the capabilities of YoPrint to help you implement your shipping strategy. With YoPrint, we offer UPS and FedEx integrations to make shipping easier. Once you connect your accounts, you can create shipping labels directly from YoPrint. You can create unlimited labels and only pay what UPS or FedEx charges you.
You can also view the rates for both carriers, then quickly calculate shipping rates and add markups and tax to be applied to orders, making it super easy to quote your customers. Meanwhile, real-time tracking via YoPrint and your customers’ dedicated portal (available through YoPrint) lets customers know exactly where their package is.
We’re eager to help you out with a powerful shipping strategy that works wonders for your print shop, no matter what scale you operate at. Contact us today to start your free trial and see how else we can help you out!