By Ryan Higginson, Vice President and UK/ROI Country Leader, Global SMB Solutions, Pitney Bowes
The borderless world of commerce has opened up markets and generated the shipping and sending of diverse products. Online marketplaces like Ebay, Etsy and Notonthehighstreet have brought the world to the doorstep of small ecommerce companies, with great success: there are said to be 2000 UK-based millionaire sellers on eBay; Etsy has 1.6 million sellers; and Notonthehighstreet boasts 39 million unique site visitors. In fact, 62% of shoppers questioned in a recent survey1 of 12,000 consumers from 12 global markets said they preferred to buy cross-border from online marketplaces.
At a time of year when ecommerce firms are gearing up for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, new research reveals an explosive 48% growth in parcel volume over the last two years, in the strongest evidence yet of the impact of changing consumer behaviour on the parcel market. The research2
forecasts an increase in parcel volume of up to 28% every year between now and 2021 as the ecommerce boom continues. As figures show the broader appeal of Black Friday and Cyber Monday outside the US – UK consumers, for example, spent £5.76bn in 2016 on Black Friday, and £1.9bn on Cyber Monday3 – it’s an exciting time for ecommerce companies.
However, there’s a warning light flashing: research shows that the ecommerce boom and the resulting surge in parcel shipments creates new challenges for businesses as they strive to keep up with customers’ rising expectations. 47% of online shoppers surveyed4 reported frustration with everything from shipping, to returns, to lost products and miscalculated duties and taxes during the 2016 holiday shopping season. The number of unhappy online holiday shoppers increased year-over-year in every single one of the 12 major markets surveyed. Shoppers in Asia Pacific – particularly India (73%), Hong Kong (69%) China (64%) and South Korea (58%) – reported the most challenges.
Shipping cross-border can be complex, as senders must stay on top of local taxes and duties, and select the most reliable local carriers. After ordering, shipping is often the first experience the customer will have with your business – and for some, it will be the last. We’ve all ordered products online and have based our entire perception of a business on a bad shipping experience. Conversely, a great shipping experience is likely to lead to repeat business.
To make sure your business is ready for the surge in parcel volume and ensure your shipping strategy is part of delivering a great customer experience, here are our top ten tips for perfect parcel sending:
1. Check what you’re sending is not on a list of prohibited and restricted items: these differ from country to country. Some are obvious, some less so. Some perfumes and nail varnishes are prohibited, for example, and there are lots of restrictions around electrical goods and batteries.
2. Check its weight: guessing or estimating doesn’t work, no matter how short of time you are. Weigh your parcel on an accurate set of digital scales. Integrated shipping and mailing platforms sometimes include the ability to weigh parcels on an integrated scale included as part of a subscription to the solution.
3. Select the right shipping method for your customer: do they need it tomorrow? If not, don’t choose the most expensive option. Stay on top of carriers’ different services. Even better, give your customers the option to choose their own shipping method from a selection, with as much accuracy and visibility as possible.
4. Confirm delivery: this summer, Royal Mail launched Online Delivery Confirmation with Royal Mail 1st Class and 2nd Class small and medium barcoded parcels. You’ll receive free delivery confirmation when you include barcoded labels on your packages, giving you peace of mind that it has reached its intended destination and recipient and help stop potential fraud.
5. Check local taxes and duties carefully: if you don’t, your parcel is likely to find its way to Customs – and stay there for a while. Check whether there are any duties charged after your parcel has been delivered.
6. Check it’s correctly addressed: different address formats around the world can make addressing complex: does the house number come before or after the street name? Does the zip code come before or after the city? Do you need to write the recipients surname in capital letters as you do in France, for example? Some shipping platforms make this easy by including address validation software to help ensure your parcel reaches its intended recipient.
7. Check the address is clearly printed: automated shipping labels ensure not only that the address is legible and all the correct details are included, but look professional too.
8. Check you’ve completed all documentation prior to sending: have you included a Customs Invoice? What about a Returns Label?
9. Don’t use unnecessary packaging: you don’t want the item to move around in transit and risk being damaged, but nor do you want to over-package your product. Excessive packaging is unnecessary and costly. It’s not just frowned upon by consumers, it’s unethical: there are entire websites dedicated to naming and shaming brands guilty of over-packaging. Today’s lightweight, carefully engineered packaging materials offer senders better value than ever. Also on the subject of packaging: some of the ‘restricted items’ mentioned in point 1 require certain packaging. You need to ensure your parcel complies with these requirements.
10. Make the most of the software available to you: use digital tools to better manage your physical deliveries. Advanced shipping platforms have now been right-sized to suit even the smallest organisations. Some of these might be cloud-based for fast access and improved collaboration; they might include APIs which enable your systems to connect with carriers’ own systems, or apps which enable a multichannel process.