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Ultimate Ecommerce Merchant Guide PART 2

Ultimate Ecommerce Merchant Guide: Owning Your Ops in 2023 PART 2

Congratulations! If you’ve read PART 1 of our Ultimate Ecommerce Merchant Guide then you are halfway through absorbing the best lessons any entrepreneur can learn from the previous peak season, and are primed with the right knowledge to restructure for a stronger 2023. And if you haven’t read PART 1, no worries. Welcome to the ecommerce party! We’re happy to have you and can’t wait to share our secrets for a successful ops strategy. Let’s get started.

Ensure First-Rate Customer Service 

While it may seem more prudent to spend money on packaging, faster shipping options, or marketing, the fact is that your ecommerce brand lives and dies with customer satisfaction. So if this part of your ecommerce business was stressed or stretched too thin during peak season, don’t make that mistake again; take steps to beef up your customer service experience now. 

Ideas for Improvement

Ecommerce businesses can reduce customer frustration by clearly communicating shipping policies, return policies, claims filing, and processes for returns, refunds, and exchanges. Your ecommerce website should make all this information easy for customers to find. It is also important to offer a dedicated support page that provides clear instructions. And you can make your customers’ lives much easier by enclosing a return label with instructions inside your orders as well. 

Make sure your fulfillment center also knows exactly how to handle returns, refunds, and reshipments. A 3PL like ShipMonk can also help automate a lot of the process for faster resolution.

Quick Follow-Up

Merchants that follow up on delivery status alerts and quickly respond to customer claims rank higher in customer satisfaction than those who are slow to respond or do nothing. Example—In the case of a lost or undeliverable package, a customer-first ecommerce merchant can step up to the plate immediately by contacting the shipping carrier to determine the cause of the problem and sharing this information with buyers so they know when to expect delivery or reshipment.

Claims Processing

First and foremost, when it comes to claims, you need to make it easy for your customer. They’re already upset for one reason or another, so ensure the claims filing process doesn’t overtax them, is easy to locate on your ecommerce website, and can be completed through a variety of ways—phone, email, or online.

Your fulfillment center or 3PL should be able to handle the returns and reshipments, as well as claims processing to recover costs from shipping carriers. You can simplify this entire process and enjoy other benefits regarding the post-purchase experience with MonkProtect™, which simplifies the recovery process for ecommerce merchants by keeping all the documentation in one place.

Follow a Delivery Management Checklist

There are plenty of ways that ecommerce businesses can improve the delivery management process. If you ran into problems at different points in the order fulfillment and delivery process during peak season, it can help to have a checklist of areas to pay particular attention to going forward. We have an example of such a list for you below, but we also suggest visiting our Delivery Management 101 article for help with avoiding and managing delivery delays, mistakes, and unhappy customers.

  • Avoid stockouts
  • Partner with a 3PL as order volume grows
  • Pack fragile or heavy items carefully
  • Verify shipping addresses
  • Automate the shipping process
  • Offer delivery protection for high-value shipments
  • Monitor fulfillment center and shipping carrier performance
  • Offer real-time order tracking for customers
  • Monitor delivery delays
  • Quickly respond to delivery exceptions
  • Streamline the claims process
  • Communicate with customers

Estimated Shipping Dates and Estimated Delivery Dates

Not all peak season customers are compelled to pick an expedited shipping option like 2-day shipping or overnight shipping; some may not even select a specific option at all. There could be an array of reasons for this—to save money, lack of concern about an ecommerce order making it on time, faith in the ecommerce brand as a whole. Whatever the reason, or lack thereof, in order to prevent peeved customers should a peak season order take much longer than anticipated, in 2023 make sure you correctly utilize and offer estimated shipping dates and estimated delivery dates.

Estimated Shipping Dates

Estimated shipping dates provide an educated guess about when orders will be shipped. In addition to offering customers peace of mind with this prediction, the “estimated” verbiage allows ecommerce merchants a little leeway—making it okay if the day a package is sent out is a bit later or earlier than expected. Estimated shipping dates are also important because the exact hour an order is made can influence when it is shipped. For instance, a purchase made on Thursday at 1:00PM will reach customers much faster than an order placed on Friday at 5:00PM.  

Shipping estimates are also helpful for setting realistic expectations for backordered items i.e. goods that have gone out of stock before an ecommerce order can be fulfilled. If peak season shoppers make a purchase fully aware of a backordered item’s estimated shipping date, that helps manage expectations tremendously. They can’t be upset if a gift arrives after the holidays if you told them that was likely going to be the case. 

Note – you’ll have a drastically better shot at preventing backorders by implementing strong inventory management systems and technology to more accurately project what you’ll need and when (not just at peak season; during all seasons).

Estimated Delivery Dates

Estimated delivery dates also give customers reasonable, flexible expectations about when an ecommerce order will arrive. You could display this information on your ecommerce website at the time of checkout and/or send it to a buyer after an order has been placed. Like with estimated shipping dates, the point is not to guarantee a timeline, but offer transparency about your ecommerce brand’s delivery intentions if all goes smoothly. 

Bear in mind, estimated delivery dates can be changed once an order has left its fulfillment center. If a shipping delay occurs once the package is in the hands of a major shipping carrier, new estimated delivery date information needs to be sent to customers immediately to keep correctly managing expectations and avoid disappointment and negative reviews. While there may not be a fast or easy solution to every shipping issue, how you handle it with follow up ETAs and transparency has huge ripple effects. 

Estimates and Expectations 

Even if peak season customers play it cool as cucumbers when placing ecommerce orders, the fact is that sometimes supply chain and shipping issues can delay things WAY more than they (or you) could’ve reasonably expected. If that’s the case, even these chill customers who ordered something at the start of November could lose their cool with you if their packages still aren’t arriving in December. 

Whether the delay is caused by weather, transit issues, labor shortages, etc. doesn’t matter. What does matter is having the right data to order the needed inventory, the right systems in place to pack and pick rapidly, and the right order fulfillment partners to get packages shipped and delivered at the best speed and cost. Technology and experience can fine-tune a lot of this, hence why so many ecommerce brands like working with ShipMonk—an advanced 3PL that puts you in the best position to meet shipping and delivery expectations no matter what season it is.

Learn Different Delivery Status Definitions  

Being informed on any subject is key to success. If you haven’t mastered the differences between various delivery statuses that shipping carriers utilize, or perhaps don’t make these clear to your customers, now is the time to change that. ShipMonk’s blog has many helpful topics ecommerce merchants can benefit from, for example, understanding delivery statuses and their meanings. So give it a read today to discover the specifics behind delivery status notifications such as:

  • Scheduled Delivery Pending
  • Out for Delivery
  • In Transit
  • Delivery Not Attempted
  • Awaiting Delivery Scan
  • Exception: Action Required
  • Delivery Exception

Better Deal with Delivery Exceptions

A delivery exception is any type of unforeseen interruption that a shipping carrier experiences while a package is in transit. This could delay an ecommerce order from being delivered by a day, a week, a month, or even indefinitely. Delivery exceptions (or delivery delays) typically are due to one of the below:

  • Weather
  • Holidays
  • Customs Delays
  • Incorrect Shipping Information
  • Damaged Shipping Labels
  • Nobody Home to Sign for Package
  • Barriers to Delivery—gates, street closures, construction, etc.

If your ecommerce customers experienced delivery delays during peak season, when the stakes are significantly higher, chances are there was a lot of stress on both sides. So how do you better manage delivery delays going forward? Well, to start with, communication is key. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Wouldn’t you appreciate a heads up (with enough lead time) if a package is delayed? 

Consider a Christmas gift ordered the second week of December with an estimated delivery date of December 22. Getting a notification on December 22 that the package is delayed another week is incredibly unhelpful because that order was more than likely a gift for December 25, and now you have left your customer scrambling to find a different present for the intended recipient. 

In sum, if supply chain issues, bad demand forecasting, shipping carrier delays, or a shortage of labor in warehouses where inventory is picked and packaged caused any problems getting ecommerce orders to your customers this past peak season, the only thing in your corner to minimize anger and frustration is alerting customers with enough lead time so they aren’t left hanging. 

Preventing More Problems

Managing expectations at the point of purchase is also key going forward for dealing with delivery delays. With unpredictability always playing a part in ecommerce ordering and peak season deliveries, it’s best to underpromise and over deliver. In other words, err on the safe side when promising a certain shipping speed. Furthermore, make sure your website clearly states expected delivery dates that take into account package point of origin, destination, weight, etc. Other tips include:

  • Your ecommerce brand can make order tracking available on your website so customers don’t have to dig for information about their orders.
  • Utilize shipping insurance. Most of the major shipping carriers automatically offer “limited liability”, similar to insurance of up to $100 on packages. If a regional carrier you rely on doesn’t, you may want to consider offering a way to pay for extra insurance.
  • In case something goes wrong, make filing claims easy for your customers, and just as easy for your company to review with a fully-integrated post-purchase suite like MonkProtect
  • If a delivery delay occurs, contact the shipping carrier for all available information so you can adjust and act quickly, for example by refunding or reshipping the ecommerce order. A tech-forward 3PL can automate this process and offer ecommerce merchants the option to reship the order immediately, rather than waiting and risking the loss of a customer.

What Else Can You Do?

You can take steps to deter delivery delays by utilizing advanced 3PL software like the end-to-end platform ShipMonk uses to verify addresses, automatically correct them if needed, and flag those that cannot automatically be corrected. Automatic triggers like this help prevent certain delivery exceptions out the gate. 

Our tech-forward 3PL also generates alerts about delays in shipping. Diving deeper, ShipMonk’s Shipment-At-Risk feature automatically notifies us if the first scan by the major shipping carrier doesn’t happen within the expected timeframe, or if there is a delay in the time between scans. If a package is undeliverable or damaged, the system flags it as such, and it is returned to one of our eleven state-of-the-art fulfillment centers for resolution of the problem.

Learn How Ecommerce Order Fulfillment Can Enhance Your Business

If you’ve been fulfilling your ecommerce orders in-house, you may have run into issues this past peak season in terms of data, speed, storage, costs, labor, and so on. Naturally, you want to grow your ecommerce business, not just perpetually struggle in the same place. Enter the value of outsourcing your order fulfillment process in 2023.

What is Order Fulfillment?

Ecommerce order fulfillment refers to the entire process of completing an ecommerce order. That begins when a customer clicks BUY on an ecommerce website and concludes when the customer’s order is delivered. There are a lot of layers to this process, but in general ecommerce order fulfillment can be categorized into four main areas: Receiving, Picking, Packing, and Shipping. That being said, there are so many intricacies to the order fulfillment process that can help ecommerce businesses grow, or hold them back if they’re not executed well.

What Else Ecommerce Order Fulfillment Brings to the Table

When you work with a first-rate order fulfillment company like ShipMonk, there are many benefits that can enhance your ecommerce brand in 2023, and all the years after that. Specifically, our order fulfillment services:

  • Anticipate demand through real-time data, so you can keep track of all your SKUs and prevent backorders or stockouts.
  • Utilize the best technology so ecommerce orders are picked, packed, and shipped as fast as possible while maintaining our famous 99% picking accuracy.
  • Store your inventory in a variety of state-of-the-art locations across the country, and globe, to minimize your shipping costs and shipping times.
  • Brand your ecommerce orders consistently in everything from packaging materials to customer email updates.
  • Keep your customers in the loop about order updates, shipping notifications, delivery delays, and other important info.
  • Provide a backup plan (like our Virtual Carrier Network or post-purchase suite MonkProtect) in case external factors cause delivery delays or ecommerce orders get damaged, lost, or stolen along the way.

Overall, if any of the above sound like elements your ecommerce brand could benefit from in 2023, begin building a stronger infrastructure for your businesses with ShipMonk’s ecommerce order fulfillment services today. Our 3PL is always ready to step in and alleviate stress from businesses with tightening bandwidth. Learn more about our order fulfillment services or contact us directly now!  

Better Prepare for Black Friday and Cyber Monday

The Black Friday Cyber Monday weekend is the big kick-off to the holiday season and sets the tone for many ecommerce merchants for how the rest of peak season will run. Throughout 2022 there was ecommerce growth, but also supply chain and freight issues, inventory challenges, and pricing increases across most industries. If you did not plan ahead, or your budgeting and supply/demand forecasting were off, BFCM may have brought significant challenges.

This year, plan WAY in advance to have the best BFCM season ever. The Black Friday Cyber Monday blog on ShipMonk’s website is an excellent tool for ecommerce merchants who want a checklist of to-dos in advance. See below for major tips from that article, but visit the BFCM blog for the full details!

#1 Plan Ahead… Way Ahead

#2 Analyze Your Past Data and Compare It to Current Trends

#3 Get to Know Your Demographic… Again

#4 Reassess Any Issues Within Your Current Ecommerce Operations

#5 Let Your Customers Know What’s Up

#6 Get the Scoop on Surcharges

#7 Find the Right Fulfillment Solution

Utilize ShipMonk’s Virtual Carrier Network

If your ecommerce orders were held hostage during the holidays due to inflexibility in terms of shipping speeds, unexpected delays with your shipping carrier, or costs that were more than you bargained for, it sounds like you’d benefit from ShipMonk’s Virtual Carrier Network. But what is the Virtual Carrier Network?

ShipMonk’s Virtual Carrier Network (VCN) is an advanced transportation management strategy that guarantees orders are delivered on-time at the best possible rate. Our VCN removes the guesswork and workarounds of other 3rd party systems as it’s integrated with the ShipMonk 3PL platform and can be implemented with just a few clicks.

Basically, you could get “rate shopping” services and transportation management services from other 3PLs, but ShipMonk takes these traditional services and enhances them by accounting for capacity, performance, and other crucial factors.

Why Does VCN Matter?

If you’ve ever had to switch shipping carriers on the fly, for example at the holidays to get customers their ecommerce orders by a specific date, you may have experienced the burn of added hassle and cost. ShipMonk’s Virtual Carrier Network helps ecommerce brands like yours navigate shipping services, shipping rates, and shipping carriers—all of which have different pricing models. We ensure your ecommerce brand can pivot and adjust quickly to get the best shipping solutions available and you’re not handcuffed to any one shipping rate, service, transportation network, and so on.

We utilize a nationwide network of the most-trusted shipping carriers and methods (ex: USPS, FedEx, UPS, DHL, LaserShip, OnTrac, ACI). When you add this extended network to the 75+ integrations and features across ShipMonk’s worldwide fulfillment center footprint, ecommerce merchants have incredible shipping flexibility that leads to lightning-fast deliveries and adjustable pricing.

With the VCN, no matter what happens to any shipping carrier, ShipMonk’s 3PL team has plenty of options to ensure packages are delivered on time at no additional cost. Whereas if an ecommerce merchant was rate shopping on his or her own and had to change carriers, pricing would also change. In summation, at a glance, the Virtual Carrier Network’s benefits include:

  • Leverage ShipMonk’s Buying Power to Reduce Shipping Costs
  • Predictable Spend and Performance Analysis
  • Shipping Carrier-agnostic
  • No Additional Cost
  • Shipping Performance Metrics
  • Effortless Shipping Mapping
  • Managed Allocation by Carrier Capacity Constraints 

Learn More about ShipMonk’s Virtual Carrier Network Now!

Bring it, 2023!

Every day is another chance for a person to be his or her best, and every year is another chance for every ecommerce business to rise to the top of the industry. In both cases, whether this is achieved or not comes down to learning from experience, thinking things through, proceeding with passion, and making the best choices you can.

So learn from your peak season experience last quarter, think about the different strategies and recommendations we’ve detailed in PART 1 and PART 2 of this guide, fuel your operation with entrepreneurial passion at all times, and make the best choices you can in all aspects of order, warehouse, inventory, and fulfillment management. To start with, work with the best 3PL and ecommerce order fulfillment leader around: ShipMonk. 

Contact one of our fulfillment experts today to learn how we can help make 2023 your ecommerce brand’s best year yet! And save the link to this article so you can review strategy on the regular, and read our peak season guides in the summer to dynamically prepare for next holiday season!

Peak Season 2022 Guide for Ecommerce Brands PART 1

Ecommerce Peak Season Problems and Solutions

Peak Season 2022 Guide for Ecommerce Brands PART 2

Tips for Peak Season 2022

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