Running an ecommerce brand can be all kinds of stressful. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone help you carry the load? Of course it would, and that’s why ShipMonk exists. Our tech-forward 3PL services help take the weight off your entrepreneurial shoulders in every respect from inventory management to packaging. One of the most impactful ways we help ecommerce businesses thrive is by taking the stress out of working with shipping carriers.
Our global fulfillment centers work with an array of the top shipping carriers and offer a wide range of shipping services. However, the element that takes our shipping solutions to new heights is our “Virtual Carrier Network” (VCN). With ShipMonk’s VCN you no longer have to worry about carrying the load of shipping on your own.
What is a 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.
If you haven’t heard of a Virtual Carrier Network before, don’t worry. Speaking frankly, VCN is ShipMonk’s in-house description, not a standardized industry term. Fulfillment companies and ecommerce merchants alike commonly use the generic term “rate shopping” to describe some areas of this type of transportation management. The reason we branded the service differently at ShipMonk is because our version takes into account capacity, performance, and other crucial factors outside of the usual rate shopping. The benefits of this can be pretty compelling. Let’s dive in!
Helping You Navigate Shipping Services, Shipping Rates, and Shipping Carriers
Have you ever had to switch shipping carriers with little to no notice? What is the cost of that to your business?
All shipping carriers have different pricing models, just like all fulfillment centers have different pricing models. The strategy behind creating ShipMonk’s VCN was keeping our fulfillment offering, and our ecommerce clients, from being handcuffed to any one shipping rate, service, transportation network, etc. Our VCN allows the shipping layer of your business to pivot and adjust quickly to get the best shipping solutions available.
Take COVID for example. During this time shipping was a mess on all levels of the supply chain—major carriers were even turning down big brands as shipping centers were overflowed with backed up orders and clogged inventory volume got out of hand.
However, instead of panicking, if we didn’t have the trucks we needed or were promised for a certain day from a certain shipping carrier—no problem! ShipMonk’s Virtual Carrier Network was able to adapt and overcome because we utilize a nationwide network of the most-trusted shipping carriers and methods (ex: USPS, FedEx, UPS, DHL, OnTrac, ACI). When you add these assorted options 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.
This extensive network allows our ecommerce merchants to ship faster and save money because, at the end of the day, the more resources you have to utilize the faster you move and the more you save money. With the VCN, no matter what happens to any one shipping carrier, our 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 their own and had to change carriers, pricing would also change. ShipMonk’s Virtual Carrier Network sorts through these options on your behalf, on the hunt for the best solution.
Benefits of a Virtual Carrier Network
At a glance, ShipMonk’s VCN ensures ecommerce businesses get their orders delivered as quickly as possible at the best rates possible, and removes guesswork and workaround of third party systems as the VCN is native to our 3PL platform and can be implemented with minimal effort. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits VCN brings to ecommerce brands.
Leverage ShipMonk’s Buying Power to Reduce Shipping Costs
At ShipMonk we have a shipping and transportation team that negotiates rates, manages service levels, brings together new methods, and optimizes for better shipping efficiencies. While freight transportation companies charge a ton of money to do this on ecommerce merchants’ behalf with their own transportation management platforms, we do it for you.
Predictable Spend and Performance Analysis
ShipMonk is a technology-driven company. This core part of our foundation is reflected in every level of operations from our advanced 3PL platform to our fulfillment robotics. In terms of shipping solutions, with ShipMonk’s Virtual Carrier Network you get detailed, transparent shipping performance metrics that paint a full picture of exactly what you’re getting for your shipping dollars—a huge difference from the norm.
Other 3PLs or transportation management companies will send ecommerce merchants a bill at the end of the month for the efforts put into their rate shopping for shipping carriers and shipping services. No detailed breakdown. Just a general: “Pay me this because we did the work to get you the best. Trust us.” That’s a big pain point for ecommerce brands.
At ShipMonk, we’re relieving that frustration by offering more competitive visibility than necessary. We give our clients the ability to see their shipping costs line by line, zone by zone, surcharge by surcharge, basic by basic, weight by weight, etc. Merchants can see that information within the order as well.
Shipping Order Example
We believe ecommerce merchants should know exactly what they’re spending on shipping, fulfillment, special projects, and why. And that’s why ecommerce brands benefit from shipping on our accounts; the Virtual Carrier Network will not only work for them, it’ll tell them the nitty-gritty details of the work being done and where their money is going.
Back in the day it was a smart play to opt for just one major shipping carrier so instead of spending money splitting inventory between multiple carriers for two good rates, you get one great rate for giving the selected carrier all your business. Now that ShipMonk partners with so many ecommerce brands and has a global footprint of fulfillment centers, we have the volume and buying power to spread inventory across multiple carriers without paying the price.
Spreading our shipping portfolio this way makes us carrier-agnostic, meaning it doesn’t matter what shipping service we use, we pick the one with the fastest and best shipping rate for each shipment and ecommerce merchant based on what would get a package to the customer for the lowest cost within the advertised timeline.
For example, if we were shipping a package that weighs under 1lb to Miami, FL via ShipMonk’s standard shipping option, the fastest carrier in this case from our Fort Lauderdale, FL facility would be UPS Ground because the delivery would only take one day. However, because DHL ecommerce or UPSMI are significantly less expensive, if timing weren’t an issue for the merchant we would go that shipping route to save the merchant on shipping costs, even though the delivery would take longer. Conversely, if we had a package going to New York from Florida via 2-Day shipping (where specific timing of delivery is important), we would use UPS 2-Day over FedEx or UPS Ground because although Ground would be less costly, we need to fulfill the ecommerce merchant’s promise of getting an order to a customer within that 2-Day shipping window.
All in all, ShipMonk’s Virtual Carrier Network creates A LOT more leverage than other methods of transportation management, always taking into account our ecommerce merchants’ needs and preferences along the way. With our VCN, ShipMonk can change tactics speedily to get the best prices and delivery times (ex. go from Fedex to UPS without changing rates), and we check carrier KPIs so we can pull back and change to something or someone better if we see fit.
Additional Virtual Carrier Network Benefits:
Shipping Performance Metrics – We’re a big fan of data at ShipMonk: real-time, detailed data. The Virtual Carrier Network breaks down shipping performance not by method level, but by SLA level.
Managed Allocation by Carrier Capacity Constraints – One of the best things about the VCN is the flexibility it provides. With the Virtual Carrier Network, our 3PL can adapt swiftly and efficiently if there are shipping shortcomings. For example, if an ecommerce merchant needs eight trucks today and FedEx can only send four trucks, we can send four from FedEx and four from UPS.
No Additional Cost – The VCN is a built-in part of ShipMonk’s 3PL operation. So not only are we looking for the optimal shipping rates that will save you money; we’re not charging you extra for this service. It’s just how we do business.
Effortless Shipping Mapping – The VCN makes it super easy to deduce the best route for ecommerce inventory. It’s very hard for other 3PL fulfillment centers to change mapping on the fly. We can change course at the drop of a hat. In other words, the Virtual Carrier Network lets us pivot like pros, not Ross Gellers.
What about Rate Shopping?
Not to toot our own horns, but no other shipping and transportation management service can compete with ShipMonk’s Virtual Carrier Network. In addition to all the above benefits, our VCN analyzes all key factors that affect your shipping costs. By exploring all the important layers (i.e. rate shopping), we get ecommerce brands the best deals. Specifically, we look at six areas:
1.) Shipping Service Level
ShipMonk offers Economy, Standard, and 2-Day shipping service options to our clients.
2.) Package Size and Weight
Shipping costs can vary greatly depending on product weight—heavy weight items naturally costing more. We’ll include DIM weight when we take this into account.
3.) Ship FROM Location
Our warehouse assignment logic figures out the best place to ship inventory from based on factors like least amount of cost, inventory in stock, and more. While it’s very hard for other 3PLs to do that at such a high level, ShipMonk’s Virtual Carrier Network chooses which warehouse to send each and every order from, each and every time.
4.) Ship TO Location
The number of shipping zones a package has to travel through drastically impacts the shipping cost. A package going to a residential vs. commercial destination also influences shipping rates. The Virtual Carrier Network takes this into account when exploring the shipping services and shipping carriers to best serve you.
5.) Potential Surcharges
There are a number of reasons shipping may cost you extra. There are Delivery Area Surcharges (DAS) and Extended Delivery Area Surcharges (EDAS) on a normal basis. These surcharges are applied to shipments made to and from locations that carriers deem to be in remote areas. There are peak season surcharges when the holiday season approaches. Fuel surcharges come into play at any time, especially when gas prices are higher. Some shipping carriers also charge more for non-machinable products (those that are too big to fit on a conveyor) because someone has to manually put those deliveries on a truck and that is an extra cost that has to be factored in. Whatever the surcharge, you better believe ShipMonk’s Virtual Carrier Network is taking it into account because rate shopping is meaningless if you’re not shopping wisely. We standardize the common surcharges that ecommerce merchants experience across the board. That means you don’t pay a different price, and don’t face an array of surcharges when rate shopping, based on the end shipping carrier you use.
6.) Carrier Capacity Performance Metrics
While other 3PLs, fulfillment companies, and transportation companies may examine one or more of the above criteria when rate shopping, NO ONE is comparing shipping carrier performance metrics; they’re just not. That aspect of the Virtual Carrier Network is entirely unique and gives our ecommerce merchants an edge in terms of getting the best rates while maintaining shipping times to meet your customers’ expectations.
How to Implement the Virtual Carrier Network?
Implementation of this shipping solution is easy, as the VCN is built into ShipMonk’s unique operating model. In fact there are only three steps ShipMonk team members take to get ecommerce brands started with this amazing network.
1. Run the shipping analysis
2. Determine shipping strategy
3. Map shipping in the app
How Does the VCN Optimize Shipping Options?
In short, it all has to line up with the shipping analysis. Our transportation team members look at shipping costs, shipping methods, and inventory levels across our fulfillment centers. From there we will move based on what works best for each ecommerce brand on a custom basis, and what works best to meet their customers’ expectations.
For example, we may recommend a different shipping service (Economy vs. Standard vs. 2-Day). We may split nodes or divvy up inventory, slotting it more appropriately in terms of warehouse/fulfillment center and geography. We may even recommend working on shipping notifications and checkout options for better management capabilities—ex. delayed shipping notifications and varied checkout options (having 15 products with shipping charges and 15 with free shipping all affect shipping psychology).
What the Ship is an Ecommerce Brand to Do?
Shipping is a minefield. You have to deal with zones, carriers, fluctuating costs and surcharges. As an ecommerce business owner you should devote the majority of your time to making the best products possible, not worrying about how they’ll reach the people who buy them. Your job is leadership, not transportation. It’s not like Captain Kirk had to worry about making sure the USS Enterprise had enough gas in the tank before the crew got going. If he did, his job would be a lot more frustrating.
If you’re tired of the stress of managing all layers of your shipping strategy, or are fed up with not knowing what you’re paying for when you outsource your transportation management to someone else, ShipMonk’s Virtual Carrier Network is your shipping solution. Our rates are competitive to all major carriers that offer transportation management shipping services, but it’s not about our costs being the exact same; it’s about what else we’re offering. The VCN provides all the benefits of shrewd rate shopping while being completely transparent about data and costs, leveraging better prices, and adapting instantly so you’re always in the best position.
Connect with our 3PL team today and tell us about your shipping needs, pain points, and goals. Whether it’s a matter of timing, distribution, surcharges, etc. we’ll help you work through the shipping minefield unscathed. Questions? One of our dedicated Client Success team members would be happy to answer any you may have. Go ahead and contact us now to get started, and see how our Virtual Carrier Network can benefit you!