Shipping can make or break a small business. The right provider will depend on your industry, client needs, the weight of the product, the product itself, and of course, cost.
With major vendors like the US Postal Service, UPS, and FedEx as well as other freight services, where do you begin?
UPS, FedEx, and USPS
For many startups and small businesses, the choice becomes whether to use one of the three big carriers: USPS, UPS, or FedEx.
Larger companies with high volumes of shipments usually pick one shipping provider as the volume discounts the shipper offers makes them a cost-effective option.
However, each shipping option provides advantages for a small business.
USPS is the least expensive and probably the most convenient if you only ship very small packages that weigh less than 2lbs. The United States Postal Service has lots of different pricing options, shipment priorities, and offers free pick up service.
However, the USPS suffers from almost universally poor customer service ratings, while UPS has an excellent reputation for taking care of clients. UPS, usually, has more stores per square mile than there are post offices. UPS also offers lots of services, including free drop-off and inexpensive packing options as well as shipments through the USPS at USPS rates.
FedEx has many locations around the country, and the world, and even has drop-off boxes similar in size and shape to mail boxes. Several years ago, FedEx bought out Kinko printing, so you now have the convenience of doing dropping off your shipments at Kinko stores.
However, both UPS and FedEx, unlike USPS, charge a fee to pick up your items.
What Are You Shipping?
Depending on the size and quantity of your average shipments, not all providers may be able to handle your business. If your items need special handling or are oversized, your options in shipping companies will narrow accordingly.
Especially fragile items may further limit the number of shipping companies that can properly handle your inventory.
Speed of Delivery
Depending when your customers need your products, you may require a certain type of shipping provider who offers an expediated service.
Many shipping vendors provide price lists on their websites, and you can use a site like Intershipper to get cost comparisons to help you research the cost of various shipping providers.
You’ll need to consider options such as returns when choosing your ideal shipping provider. Customers will return items on occasion, and they don’t like paying shipping on an item they don’t want to keep, so finding a carrier that has the bandwidth to keep return shipping costs low may be critical.
Customers also like convenience for returns. UPS, for example, has capitalized on this by establishing neighborhood stores that are very convenient for people to drop off returns. UPS stores will even re-seal the packages for you and provide whatever packing material needed.
Letting the client track his or her own package has become an industry standard for large and small businesses. How good is the shipment tracking and does the company contract out to smaller contractors?
Customers like to follow the shipment movement. If this service isn’t provided, you may spend significant time tracking merchandise for your clients.
Barcode labels can help you, and your client easily track the shipment. Many shipping companies use barcodes to log items in and out of their systems, and the results posted are synchronized with the individual package number so you and your customers can see where an item is in the shipping process at all times.
Customer service is one of the most important components of choosing the right shipping provider. A small business needs a level of customer support from their shipping provider that larger companies may not since larger companies likely have the budget and staff to service their clients directly.
You can perform some due diligence on potential providers by researching their reputation for customer service through reviews online. Look for things like 24/7 support with options such as an 800 number with live assistance, live chat online, and constant email monitoring including regular updates.
One of the office supplies a business uses the most is printed labels for shipping, product identification, and even office organization. Most small businesses find that printing their own labels makes sense economically and practically. Laser or thermal printers can meet many small businesses’ labeling needs.
Many small businesses struggle with whether they should automate the process and pre-print them in bulk, or whether they should print them on their own. There are costs and benefits to each option. Usually, though, unless you need 5,000 labels or more on a regular basis, buying labeling supplies and printers from a quality online company makes more sense as it is much more cost effective.
Clearly, there are a lot of things to consider in finding the right shipping provider for your small business. These include the business location, the logistics of accessing shipping providers, the cost of services, the business profit margin itself to absorb losses involved in item returns, and the item to be shipped.
Every small business has a unique set of needs that will lead them to different providers. In fact, many businesses may choose to contract with several providers to use one for smaller items, one for freight items, international shipping, bulk, or other items depending on size or material.
Shipping provider options for your clients are also a lesson in determining what you should handle yourself in your business or what you can have done by other people.
About the Author
Kurt started Blanco in 1996 after working in the label industry for more than 10 years and has experience with most every known Pressure Sensitive Label application. He’s very involved in production and marketing at Blanco where he works alongside his wife Alice. An avid outdoorsman, he enjoys hunting, fishing and hiking.