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Shipping can get frustrating fast, especially around the holidays. It’s a bit like braving the elements (and the crowds) for holiday shopping—always stressful, never fun. Having worked with thousands of ecommerce owners like yourself, we’ve seen the pratfalls new & experienced businesses make when it comes to shipping during the holidays and we’ve collected a few things to go over before the holiday season to make it as smooth as possible for yourself, your employees, and your customers.

Physical Shipping Space: Is It Efficient?

Just like weeding through the family garage, it’s easier to leave the system you’ve had in place for months or years where it is. But revisiting pre-holiday to find gaps in efficiency is key to getting orders out the door.

1. Maximize Space: Everyone has a few consistently top-selling items. If you plan on running sales, bundles, etc., keep them near your packing and shipping station for easy access. If these items sell all the time, find a way to pre-pack them.

2.  Clearly Label Storage Area: Ask a friend to locate a product and get it to your shipping station ASAP.  If they disappear for too long, calculate the time and ask where the issue was. You might decide on a new process to help new seasonal employees quickly find a product.

3.  Ease of Access: Put frequently bought items in the easiest to reach places. Keep items that are frequently bought at the same time, like socks and belts, on the same shelves. Keep visibility clear. Use a labeling system on product bins that matches the spreadsheet or system you keep on file.


4. Efficient Organization: When it comes to your shipping station, are your tools together in a bin for easy access? Do you need to pre-build some boxes? Is there physical backtracking from start to label? Where can you cut steps, literally and figuratively, to save time and money?

5. Location, Location, Location: Evaluate where your shipping station is in relation to your storage space. If it's not a seamless transition from picking to printing, it may be worth a reorganization. If your inventory is growing, is it wise to keep the product and the inventory in your home, or if you would gain efficiencies by renting a dedicated space?

How Much Do You Charge Customers?

What should your customers pay when it comes to shipping? We’ve found three strategies that tend to rule the ecommerce world:

1. Free Shipping: Everyone loves free and more and more sellers are adopting Free Shipping totally or partially. Test the waters if you’re uncertain: offer it as a promotion during a holiday sale or on orders over a certain weight or quantity. That’ll encourage customers to buy more to hit that threshold. Besides that, being able to display “Free Shipping” on your site is a great piece of marketing especially around Black Friday through Christmas.

2.  Flat Rate: You need to know the average cost of shipping a package at certain weights to determine if this will be worth it. You could make Flat Rate an option for shipping after a certain quantity threshold is met as it may not make financial sense for single item orders.


3.  Charge What You’re Charged: There are plugins that allow you to show live rates at check-out but they usually won’t take negotiated rates into play. You’ll see minor discrepancies but you end up breaking even between the charges you collect and what you ultimately pay to ship the package.

How Should You Communicate with Customers?

Every time someone makes a sale, you probably have order confirmations, tracking notifications, and more set-up in your system. These transactional emails have click-through rates almost six times higher than other types of emails. Even better: open rates are often 100% or more (since they are often opened more than once).

Considering the upcoming season, you can dress-up your standard emails, too. Throw some holiday decoration on there with HTML. Include holiday-themed coupons to encourage repeat business before the holidays wind down.


1. Order Confirmation Email: Also known as an order receipt, these emails provide your customer with order information, like products, shipping address, payment method, etc.. It also provides a warm, fuzzy feeling for your customer: they know you got their order and are now working on it.

2. Shipment Tracking Email: Much like the order receipt email, this email is crucial in the ecommerce experience. It let’s your customers know when their order has shipped and how to track it. Make sure you’re also showing your store’s personality, provide “How To” instructions, suggest additional products to buy that are related to the order, and include links to social media. A happy customer is more inclined to leave a positive review and talk about you on social when the link is provided.

What to Include in Your Packages

In the ecommerce world, customers don’t walk into your store, grab a cup of complimentary coffee or tea, and leisurely browse the items for sale. The closest thing you can offer them to physically experiencing your products and brand is the shipping box and what’s inside of it. These are another great spot for coupons and sales, and as the season winds down, coupons that are valid AFTER the holiday wraps up.


1. Packing Slips: If you include a packing slip in your shipping box, you can easily add some information that makes it a marketing tool. Here are some options:
a) Include a coupon at the bottom
b) Include a pre-written or hand-written thank you
c) Suggest that the buyer write a testimonial or follow you on social media

2. Care Instructions / Helpful Hints: If you sell shirts, you probably don’t need to include “How to Use” instructions. But for some products, it’s helpful to include them. This information is generally on your website, but buyers appreciate having the information in-hand when they want to use the product they just pulled out of a box. “How to Use” instructions. But for some products,package at certain

3. Thank You Notes: As Dale Carnegie said, the sweetest and most important sound in any language is a person’s name. We’re pretty sure that “Thank You” is in the Top Five sounds. Many sellers include hand-written thank you notes. If you don’t have the time, you can enclose printed Thank Yous.

Facilitating Returns

You always hope a product stays sold but returns are inevitable, especially at the holidays. Handling returns breaks down quite simply: either include a return label with the order, or send as needed.

1. Include with Order: If you sell the sort of thing that’s often returned or exchanged like clothing, and especially if the order is notated as a gift, you should include a return label. UPS charges 50 cents if it’s unused (and the full price once the return label is scanned) which can work wonders for promoting a hassle-free return policy. Since USPS charges upfront for the return label, if you opt to include it with every product, you could use a cheaper (sometimes slower) service, like Parcel Select or First Class Mail.

2. As Needed: When a customer requests a return, provide them a label! If you use software, like ShipStation, you can create the return label and have it emailed to the customer as a PDF. Quick, easy, and painfree for you and your customer. Straightforward, right? What ties it all together, though, is having a clear and concise return policy in place that’s easily accessible for your customers. Include it in the footer of your packing slip or in the shipment confirmation email. Make sure your customers can find it easily on your website (you can link to it at check-out or even on product pages themselves).


3. Return Policy: Customers who paid for their own return decreased their spending at that retailer by 75% to 100% over 2 years. In contrast, free returns resulted in customers spending 158% to 457% above pre-return spending. Additionally, consider extending your window for returns. 30 days is good, 60 is generous, and 90 is outstanding.

And there it is. Five things that’ll help you make this holiday season easier, more efficient, and more profitable than the last. Free, whether free shipping or free returns, is becoming the new norm so if you haven’t adopted it yet, now’s the time to try it out and see how sustainable free shipping and returns are for your business. You could even run a flash sale before the holiday that offers free shipping. This’ll allow you to manage a rush in a controlled environment while evaluating free shipping.

So go forth and get ship done.


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