The two most exciting parts about online shopping, for the merchant, is making the product (usually) and hearing the proverbial sales click (or the cash register ring, if you are in a brick-and-mortar storefront). After that, at least online, comes the important but not-so-fun work of logistics, also known as shipping product.
Packaging up your product and getting it into the hands of a shipping company is not always easy. For many small and midsize companies, this means an arrangement with the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), FedEx, or UPS. There are pros and cons to each. What many people do not realize is that the USPS will come and pick up at your location and ship your small business packages. Plus, their packaging, though completely branded, is free if one of their standard sizes can work for you.
When you get to the point where you want to outsource your order fulfillment and shipping, this post should give you some ideas and insights from the SMB community. I mentioned Shipwire, which provides order fulfillment services via a powerful software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform from fulfillment centers around the globe, in a previous post, Selling In (and Beyond) the Age Of Amazon. To avoid potential competitive conflicts, merchants have opted for companies like Shipwire over Amazon. They have a drop shipping guide that is helpful, too.
When I asked Shipwire about what trends they were seeing on the SMB front, Nate Gilmore, VP of Order Fulfillment, sent a quick response: “Retailers are trying to add more and more products to their catalogs (to compete with the endless aisles of other big online stores). Managing suppliers is an art and a science.”
But, if you are doing a lot of this yourself, solo or in a small department, here are some packaging and other kinds of resources.
- Uline is probably one of the biggest and best known packaging suppliers. They send you a slick, full-color print catalog that weighs more than a small dog. They specialize in “standard size” packaging supplies, which is a super-wide range, but they also customize some items (not the boxes, though).
- Etsy has a seller handbook that offers some great do-it-yourself tips.
- UPS offers a terrific 16 Ways to Benefit from Logistics booklet. It includes packaging ideas, but goes way beyond that to include customs, cost estimating for all aspects (a big deal, really, and one worth attention), organizing invoices, and more. Of course, those are all likely UPS services, but if you pick them as your shipping and logistics team you will want to know the full menu of options.
- Speaking of customs and international selling, the Small Business Administration (SBA) and SCORE often have experienced experts who can help you. Small Business Logistics and Distribution Made Easy, a resource-rich post, should help get you started.
On the path to getting to more sales, don’t lose sight of the behind-the-scenes work that keeps your customers excited to do business with you. These logistics and shipping options should help you stay focused on the parts of your business that you love the most: making products and delighting customers.