Woman boxing and stacking packages for shipment.
Creating a strong, reliable shipping strategy with the right shipping provider can help save businesses time and money in the long run while boosting customer satisfaction. — Getty Images/svetikd

Amid the pandemic, shipping became an irrefutably vital part of many businesses that might not have relied on it much before.

“The COVID pandemic forced consumers to change the way they shop and small businesses to rethink their business model, taking the e‐commerce boom to a whole new level,” said Ryan Kelly, vice president of e-commerce and alliance marketing at FedEx Services. “The rise of e‐commerce is expected to continue to rise, which means merchants are going to need to ensure they have the right click-to-door experience.”

Because of this shift, having a strong shipping plan or process in place can not only save businesses money, but also increase customer loyalty and potentially drive sales. Here’s how shipping affects small businesses and a few shipping strategies to help your business grow.

Why good shipping (and a good shipping partner) matters for small businesses

For small businesses, there is the ever-present question of whether or not shipments will arrive on time to customers. The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a large burden on the supply chain and shipping companies as online sales soar. This has caused multiple delays in shipments which can lead to a decrease in customer satisfaction.

That’s why it’s so important for small businesses to focus on the quality of their products and to have a strong shipping strategy. In fact, as Kelly points out, how you ship your orders can be just as important to your sales success as what you ship.

“A shipping strategy will help you save time and money in the long run by establishing a holistic plan that works for your business and your customers’ needs,” Kelly told CO—. “Whether it’s a typical online storefront or operations that rely heavily on the return‐and-reuse process, the shipping, packaging and fulfillment choices can’t be an afterthought. These are strategic decisions that can make or break the bottom line and a crucial factor in long‐term growth.”

You want to feel as though your shipping provider is an extension of your business.

Ryan Kelly, vice president of e-commerce and alliance marketing, FedEx Services

What to look for in a shipping partner

Choosing the right shipping partner needs to be part of any e-commerce business’s overall growth strategy, said Kelly. A good partner will offer a variety of packaging solutions that will satisfy your business needs, customer expectations and budget,

Here are a few core services and offerings to look for in an ideal shipping partner:

  • Packaging consultation. Packaging engineers available through providers like FedEx can help you determine the best way to box your products, create cost‐effective custom packaging for unique items and even provide free package testing so they arrive safe and sound, said Kelly.
  • Online management tools. A shipper partner’s digital tools should help you manage costs, track shipments, process claims, get rates, pay bills and process returns, all in one convenient location.
  • Small business resources. Partners like FedEx offer numerous resources designed specifically for small businesses, like FedEx's Small Business Center, Tech Chat and E-commerce Center.
  • Rewards programs. For small businesses with high-volume shipping and printing needs, programs like My FedEx Rewards can help you get the most out of your partner relationship with discounts, special offers and free gifts, including name-brand retail gift cards. Once you join the program, you can sign up for limited-time offers that reward you for using eligible FedEx services. You’ll receive personalized offers on the first day of every month, which you can activate any time before the 15th of the month. Best of all, any eligible purchases made earlier in the month will still count toward your offer goal.

Shipping strategy tips for small businesses

Looking for your small business shipping partner? These tips can help you find the right one for your needs.

Think beyond the post office

Kelly noted that many new startup companies default to their local post office for their shipping needs, but as you grow and scale, you may find you need more options than the USPS alone can provide. For instance, tracking is only available if you pay for Priority Mail service, which may not be feasible at scale for small businesses that ship a large volume of packages

“[If] you can’t track your package, it will disappear from your business and then reappear at your customers doorstep sometime in the near future, hopefully,” he said. “If you truly want to control your supply chain so that you can be purposeful in exceeding your customers’ expectations and win the sale, then you will need to find a shipping carrier that can work with your company holistically.”

Ensure you can support flexible, convenient shipping options for your customers

Today’s customers have come to expect a variety of shipping speeds from e-commerce businesses and are often willing to pay a premium for faster arrival. The shipping partner you choose should be able to support those types of expectations.

You have a range of options, from customer-paid premium shipping in one to two days or a subsidized or free option that has longer transit to lower the cost,” said Kelly. “Some shipping companies, like FedEx, will deliver seven days a week, which adds a new element to your customer’s experience.”

Kelly noted that FedEx also offers delivery options that can help balance the expectations of your customers and shipping costs. For instance, you can offer alternative pickup locations and create a hassle-free return process that gives the customer a more pleasant and efficient experience.

Think about your long-term shipping needs

Just like any other vendor, choosing a shipping partner requires you to think beyond the present and plan ahead for future growth. Kelly advised asking yourself these three questions before signing up with a provider:

  • What meets our needs not just now, but in six months or longer?
  • What do my customers need when it comes to speed, visibility, flexibility, delivery options and cost?
  • What tools are available to help us manage our business?

“You want to feel as though your shipping partner is an extension of your business,” said Kelly. “Just like ordering your inventory, setting up your website, hiring your employees and marketing your product, selecting the right shipping partner can make or break your business.”

If your small business is searching for a shipping partner, FedEx can help you scale, earn rewards and exceed your customers’ expectations. Get more shipping insights and solutions from FedEx’s Small Business Resource Center.