Inventory management is all about anticipation and timing. Success is often determined months in advance. The farther you can look ahead, the more advantages you have…
There's no better time to solidify a customer relationship than when a purchase is made, especially in the eCommerce world when you don't have the face-time of a brick-and-mortar shop. To give you an extra edge, we've rounded up five easy ways your shipments can do more for you with online order fulfillment extras.
1. Thank you notes:
Take a cue from your mother—always send a thank you note. Etsy sellers are the most gracious community of business owners out there in this respect. In fact, we don't think we've ever received an order from Etsy that wasn't nicely packaged—complete with a personal note. If your volume is too high to send every customer a handwritten note, have some kindly worded cards printed up to include with your packing slips. These should always include your social media accounts for easily tweetable pictures of their order. If you keep records of past purchases, you could even ask a customer how they liked their last order, which shows them you care!
2. Custom packaging and shipping materials:
Make sure your branding runs throughout your packaging and shipping materials. This can be as simple and affordable or as luxurious and high-end as your business allows. Here are just a couple of ideas for branded packaging materials: a branded self-inking stamp, custom packaging tape (a la Amazon), logo stickers, custom shipping boxes, branded tissue paper, screen-printed cloth dust bags, etc. Not everything has to (or should have) your logo on it, but well-rounded branding shows your customers your attention to detail and helps them remember you as a high-quality business.
3. Free samples:
Have a new product that complements a particular customer's order? Use that opportunity to surprise them with a free sample. Your wholesale suppliers will typically be thrilled to provide you with samples if it means you'll sell more of their products. This is also an effective way to rid yourself of slow-moving inventory, though we suggest making sure the products match well with a customer's order. The last thing you want to do is put someone off by throwing a bottle of wrinkle cream in with an order of baby shampoo.
4. Information about complementary businesses you support:
Say you own a fair-trade jewelry boutique and your friend owns an organic apothecary—and you both make close to the same number of online sales each month. Your target customer base heavily overlaps, but you don't compete with each other so it is a match made in marketing heaven. Capitalize on this by trading cards, so to speak. You include a postcard about their business in all shipped orders and she includes one about your business in hers.
5. Informative literature:
The tea company pictured above includes a cute little booklet with background on all seven types of tea they carry, along with space to journal while you enjoy a cup at home. This is an excellent example of informing your customers about your other products in a non-salesy way.
6. Discounts or other deal-sweeteners for future purchases:
Be judicious about when and where you approach discounts by using your customer profiles. You might try offering a free or upgraded shipping code for their next purchase. Or use the opportunity to let customers know if you have a sale or event coming up. Or perhaps you send every customer a loyalty discount shipped with their third order. You know what's best for your business.
Anything else that's worked wonders for you? Let us know in the comments!
As a retail business, chances are a big chunk of your cash flows right back to moving your goods in and out. If you are regularly shipping a high volume of products to customers and wholesale clients without taking advantage of carrier discounts, you could be spending up to 40% more than you need to. This savings could mean turning a larger profit or could free up the funds you need to offer customers a shipping discount for large orders, which is a powerful tactic to increase sales and revenue. A September 2013 Canadian survey by UPS and comScore conducted found that 3 out of 4 shoppers added items to an eCommerce cart in order to reach a free shipping threshold.
It only takes is a little bit of elbow grease and homework to negotiate shipping discounts and finagle lower freight rates.
1. Create accounts with all of the major carriers. If you haven't done this already, get to it! UPS, FedEx and USPS (through Stamps.com) are the obvious starting points and accounts are easy to set up online. With your own dedicated account, you can arrange for carriers to pick up and drop off directly from you (no more frantic trips to the post office at 4:59 p.m.!).
2. Compare and contrast. When looking at the different options, make sure you answer all the questions that relate to your business specifically. Do they provide postage labels and rent printers? Will you have enough volume to qualify for their discounts? What is each carrier's rate on your most-shipped package sizes? For example, for heavy but small items, USPS can be significantly cheaper than UPS or FedEx. For medium-sized or large packages, though, UPS or FedEx can typically offer better rates. Researching these quirks and understanding your inventory's needs can also help you improve your shipping cost widget so that you don't lose money by accidentally undercharging customers for postage.
3. Make the ask. Once you have established a relationship with the account manager at the carrier(s) you like best, negotiating a lower rate is as simple as asking—even if you aren't quite a high-volume company yet. UPS and FedEx even give a three-month grace period if you're projecting a larger volume of sales as your business grows. You can take advantage of that more affordable shipping now, but be as accurate as you can with your predictions or you will lose your low rate if your goals aren't met. If you need to boost your volume, you may also use your own account to manage inbound shipping costs (rather than reimbursing the manufacturer or wholesaler). Even if you don't walk away with a deep discount right away, you'll know what thresholds you will have to reach to qualify for more significant savings.
Bonus tip: If you aren't able to negotiate a rate yet due to a low volume, check to see if your business credit card has a partnership with any mail carriers in the meantime. You might discover a hidden 5%+ savings there!
Have you had success negotiating discounted shipping? Let us know in the comments!