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Shipping Methods & Fulfillment: Everything You Need to Know

Written by Kathryn on May 14, 2020 Blog, Shipping.

Shipping products successfully is one of the most important parts of the customer experience. Shoppers expect to pay as little as possible for shipping, receive their order quickly, and find all their products in perfect condition.

While there are a lot of moving pieces, shipping doesn’t have to be complicated. Let’s take a step back and define some common shipping terms: carriers, methods, and fulfillment solutions.

Shipping carriers

A shipping carrier is the person or company that physically delivers your products to your customers. They charge a certain rate for each delivery, which is typically based on a combination of weight, speed, and distance. If your business is located in the United States, common shipping carriers are USPS, Fedex, and UPS. View a full list of shipping carriers that WooCommerce integrates with here.  

When you choose a shipping carrier, it’s important to find the right fit for your business and products. Consider:

  • Pricing. You’ll end up passing shipping costs on to your customers, or adding them to your business expenses, so it’s important to compare providers based on what they charge for packages. Consider ways to get discounts, like shipping in bulk or using extensions like WooCommerce Shipping to get reduced rates on shipping labels.
  • Weight limits. How much do your products weigh? Some carriers have weight limits, so make sure that your items qualify. 
  • International shipping. If you ship internationally, choose a carrier that can accommodate your needs.
  • Delivery experience. Some carriers have unique offerings or services that make them more successful at delivering packages to customers, such as pickup locations, special door access, etc. 
  • Special considerations. Do you sell alcohol, fragile items, or products that must be kept cold? Ensure that your carrier can work with those requirements. Here are a couple examples of WooCommerce customers who do this extremely well:
    • Brown Brothers, a wine company, only ships to regions that aren’t “dry” and doesn’t allow people under 18 years of age to accept their packages. 
    • Nantucket Chocolate ships their candy, which can melt, with ice, insulation, and expedited delivery to warm areas. 
  • Insurance. If you want to provide extra protection for packages, choose a carrier that offers insurance coverage.
  • Weekend delivery. Do you want to offer weekend delivery to customers? Some providers only ship on weekdays.

You may also want to use multiple carriers for different reasons. You might use one specifically for heavy items and another for everything else. Or you could use different providers for expedited and regular shipping.

Shipping methods

Shipping methods are the rates and services that customers can choose from at checkout. They’re often based on the carriers you work with, and determine what shoppers pay for shipping and how quickly they’ll receive their purchase. Here are a few ways you can charge for shipping:

  • A variable amount based on weight, location, and delivery speed
  • A flat rate, such as $5.00, no matter what items are ordered
  • Free shipping

You might want to have different shipping speeds, like standard, expedited, or overnight. Or you might offer free shipping for orders over $35.00. It all depends on your shipping strategy.

If you decide to charge a variable amount for shipping, the best way to get accurate rates is to connect your store to your carrier using an extension. The extension will automatically calculate shipping charges in real time, based on weight, box size, destination, and other factors so that customers never overpay and you’re never stuck with higher costs than anticipated.

See all shipping method extensions.

Fulfillment solutions

Fulfillment solutions involve the process of delivering your products, from determining shipping costs to printing labels, and everything in between. Let’s take a look at a few of the steps involved in the fulfillment process:

Printing shipping labels 

Shipping labels tell your carrier where the package is supposed to go, when it’s supposed to arrive, and how much you paid to get it there. While you can get shipping labels from your carrier’s location, like the post office, it’s often easier to print them from your place of business. 

create shipping label screen from WooCommerce Shipping

With WooCommerce Shipping, you can pay for the label and print it at the same time, straight from your WordPress dashboard, which allows you to just drop your package in a box or arrange for pickup at your front door.

Choosing the right packaging

Product packaging is a chance for you to delight customers when they open the box and ensures that your products arrive safe and sound. You might want to design special envelopes, wrap breakable items in extra material, or ship perishable products in dry ice. Packaging also impacts the rates that you charge customers, since it’s an additional cost to you.

Though standard boxes won’t help you stand out, you may be able to reduce costs by taking advantage of free packaging provided by carriers for select services. For example, USPS offers this for Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express options.

Putting packages in the mail

Of course, you have to actually get your products to your customers. How does that work for your company? Who’s responsible for pulling inventory off the shelves? Packing each box? Setting up a pickup or dropping packages off at your carrier’s location?

It’s important that every aspect of the fulfillment process works seamlessly, which minimizes returns and speeds up overall shipping time. Depending on your business, you might want to invest in a tool or extension that connects your store to your inventory management system to synchronize data.  

Updating your customers

Customers should know where their package is and when it will arrive on their doorstep. Tracking information is one way to help with this — a buyer can check on their order at any time of day without having to reach out to your support team. 

You can also email customers each time their order status changes. Is their order boxed up and ready to go? Has it been shipped? Is it sitting on their front porch? Let them know where they are in the process from start to finish.

If you want to completely offload the fulfillment process, you should consider a fulfillment center. It houses your products in bulk and packs, labels, and ships each order. One common example of this is Amazon Fulfillment, which automatically integrates with your WooCommerce store and syncs order information.

While this does mean a lot less work and hassle for your team, it can also be expensive and turns over quality control to a third party.   

Check out a full list of WooCommerce fulfillment extensions.

Connect all the pieces

As you can see, shipping carriers, methods, and fulfillment processes all work together to deliver a seamless experience for your customers and your staff. WooCommerce provides the tools you need to connect all the pieces.

And if you’re shipping within the United States, WooCommerce Shipping connects your store to USPS, offers discounted rates, and allows you to print labels and schedule pickups right from your door. Save time and money with WooCommerce Shipping.

Save time and money with WooCommerce Shipping

4 Responses

  1. Jan Ferrigan
    May 18, 2020 at 11:35 pm #

    I would like to change “Shipping To” text on cart page. How do I do that? We only offer Local Pickup and Local Delivery. It doesn’t make sense to say “Shipping To” on cart page. Would like it to say “Your location” Also, can we can change “Change Address” link on cart page to “Change Location”. How do we do that?
    I tried logging into Woocommerce support but it is keeps saying I need to verify email on WordPress.com. I did verify my email twice and still saying that, can’t get support on Woocommerce.com
    Thanks

    • Ryan Ray
      May 29, 2020 at 11:01 pm #

      Hi Jan,

      I’ve tried sending you an email from our ticket system now to work through the issues you mentioned here. I hope you’ve received that and we’ll get to work helping out via email there.

      Thanks!

  2. Kola
    May 21, 2020 at 8:20 pm #

    If I have U.S vendors selling on my multivendor marketplace and shipping internationally e.g to Africa, and have Africa vendors selling and shipping to the U.S how can you assist with my shipping setup?

    • Ryan Ray
      May 29, 2020 at 10:28 pm #

      Hi Kola,

      Out of the box Product Vendors uses the default shipping methods setup in your store under **WP Admin → WooCommerce → Settings → Shipping**

      This is not accessible by the vendors, but there is an additional option in Product Vendors where they can set up a per product shipping rate. See our docs on that here. –> https://docs.woocommerce.com/document/product-vendors/#section-20

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