E-commerce continues to dominate the shopping landscape, with 2015 holiday sales growing more than 13 percent. Small businesses, which typically have fewer elves in their workshops, must be prepared to fulfill a projected deluge of sales in the crucial—and short—holiday shopping period.
“As a small business owner, it's important to recognize customers’ expectations have changed exponentially regarding shipping timing,” says Mark Aselstine, owner of Uncorked Ventures, a wine club and gift basket business.
When he started his online wine club six years ago, customers were fine with monthly shipping, but now immediate gratification has become the norm, thanks to the rise of services like Amazon Prime. “Small businesses need to keep up, especially during the holidays,” he notes.
Here are some smart ways small businesses can ship their goods efficiently—at the holidays and year-round:
1. Stock up on supplies
Pre-purchase all the boxes, packing materials, labels and tape you'll need for the holiday season beforehand and stage them for ease of access, recommends Tao Wong, a marketing consultant who runs several e-commerce businesses through PDB Sales Inc.
See if you can lower the cost of the shipping supplies by looking into envelopes, rather than boxes, for example. For his part, Wong swears by polybags. “They are inexpensive to buy and ship, and one of the most flexible shipping supplies available since they can be used for domestic, international, first class and Priority Mail,” he says.
2. Prepare shipments in advance
For Aselstine, that means prepacking gift baskets and wine club shipments. “We work to get our ongoing members’ packages out as early as possible in the month,” he says, which leaves staff free for the last-minute online purchases that are sure to come in.
Pre-packing items works especially well for businesses that have a few bestsellers. “If you know which products you sell consistently and in what quantities, pre-pack and label them so they’re ready to go,” advises Wong.
3. Do your homework on shipping rates
USPS, UPS, FedEx and more—each small business needs to balance convenience, cost, and dependability to choose a preferred method. Will von Bernuth of Block Island Organics recommends using a tool like Stamps.com or pbSmartPostage to print postage and take advantage of the best USPS shipping rates—commercial rates offered for high volumes that small businesses might not otherwise qualify for. These postage platforms also integrate with many order management and e-commerce systems, points out von Bernuth. “This eliminates the time and error associated with manually entering shipping addresses,” he says.
4. Schedule your pickups for convenience
“We pre-schedule pickups from UPS, our preferred carrier, as soon as the time slots are made available, usually about two weeks out,” says Aselstine, who opts for the latest time slots offered each day.
Wong uses USPS’ app to schedule his pickups. “We then provide our carrier with a big bag and a scannable inventory sheet for efficient pickups,” he says.