I've had a lot of fun going over some of the most important features you should look for in an e-commerce platform this past week. Content marketing gets users to your site, newsletters sell them, intelligent recommendations increase order volume, and reports will help you refine and optimize your catalog. All of those are really important but they don't feel that e-commerce-y do they? That's why I want to talk about a topic that every e-commerce store manager can relate to – setting up shipping costs.
Shipping is Important
You'd be surprised how important shipping is to store owners. It's so important that even that e-commerce platforms designed specifically for virtual goods have ways to calculate shipping costs. Easy Digital Downloads has a simple shipping extension and Gumroad has some basic settings you can tweak.
Why am I leading with this? To illustrate that all e-commerce platforms should be customizable because you don't know what's coming down the road. Even people who never think they'll ship a product end up asking for shipping functionality. So for people who do think they'll ship products it's not good enough to have just one way to ship products you'll probably need a variety of methods.
When you're picking a platform it's worth your time thinking about how you want to ship products today and how you might want to ship them tomorrow. Make sure your e-commerce platform is customizable enough to handle your needs.
Fundamental Shipping Methods
Every e-commerce platform should include two basic shipping methods that the shop manager can turn on or off.
1) Flat Rate Shipping
The most basic option is flat rate shipping. This is the best place to start out for a new store manager. Don't worry about getting exact rates from USPS at this moment. Use your flat rate shipping method to charge a fee per item to estimate the costs and keep it simple. When it comes to e-commerce keeping it simple is the best way to get a site launched. If you desperately need live rates then you can hook it up after you've received your first couple orders.
2) Free Shipping
Free shipping is the other basic option that all e-commerce platforms should have. You'd think this is easy peisy but I'm going to put three very important qualifiers on this.
- You should be able to collect a separate shipping address (not all platforms allow this)
- You should be able to restrict this to certain geographic regions (ex. just the US)
- You should be able to unlock free shipping with a coupon, a minimum order amount, or some other qualifier
Free shipping continues to drive purchasing decisions — 58% have added items to their shopping carts to qualify for free shipping and 83% are willing to wait an additional two days for delivery if shipping is free.
Being able to receive free shipping with a minimum order value is very common online and some consumers wont shop at your store if they can't get it. Amazon has Amazon Prime which you sign up for and you receive free shipping for the year. One of my favorite online board game stores has a minimum order amount to unlock free shipping. If you have a brick and mortar store it's popular to have a pick up in store option.
Update 2014/09/11: There's a case study on Monetate which raised the average order by 5.5% by offering free shipping.
Live Shipping Rates
Certain types products are of course easier to estimate than others. A t-shirt shop could use flat rate shipping forever but if you sell all types of clothing it'll be hard to get come up with fair shipping costs for people who order only socks and people who order big winter coats. When you have that amount of product diversity it's worth looking into getting live quotes from shipping providers like USPS, UPS, & FedEx.
I do advise against this for brand new store owners as it's yet another account you have to create and you'll need exact dimensions and weight for every. single. product. If you don't have those measurements for a product you won't be able to ship it. Kind of a pain when you're just getting started.
Table Rate Shipping
You may have started just selling custom painted skate board decks and using a flat rate method working out well. Then you may have decided to sell larger pieces like custom snowboards in addition to your skate board decks and you moved to live rates which also worked out quite well. But now – you're thinking about selling something even bigger. Maybe a snowboard rack to put on top of your car. That's all great until you realize that your shipping provider might not ship something that big. When you get a product like this you need to be able to create a table of shipping rates.
A table of shipping rates can calculate costs based on the number of items, the total weight of the items, or the size of the items. It should also be able to create different rates based on more drilled down geographic zone. If you're delivering sofas you may deliver it for free in your city, or a $50 charge in the same zip code, or a $200 charge in the same state, and then a $500 charge outside of the state. Usually setting up a table of rates is complex but that complexity gives you all of the configuration you need. You should be able to customize it in just about any way you want. If you want to have full control over your shipping rates the best way to go is with a table full of rates.
Shipping Is Complex
I've had projects go sideways because the client couldn't decide how they want to ship their products. In retrospect I wish I would have pushed them to start simple and then work up to more complex solutions based on demand. My advice is to always start simple and build up to more complex solutions after launch. If you really want full control over your shipping costs it will take some time to setup but creating a table of rates is the way to go.
Photo Credit: shootamins (f/1.7)