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Finding The Best Shipping & Return Strategy For Your Ecommerce Store

Your online store exists to facilitate sales. It’s a small victory every time a customer completes a transaction to see another successful checkout in the bag. It’s time to calculate your revenue, right?

Well, not quite.

As they say, “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” Why not? Because you still have to fulfill your end of the deal by delivering the purchased products to the buyers. And you need a contingency plan in case they don’t work out—something that’s very common within the retail industry, especially online where people can’t always personally see and feel products before ordering them.

Finding the best shipping and return strategy for your e-commerce store is imperative. The optimal order fulfillment policies will balance cost to you vs. benefit to your customers, giving your store the best of both worlds.

Shipping in Ecommerce: To Free or Not to Free?

Unsurprisingly, consumers love fast and free shipping. If money were no object, every store would offer these perks. But factors like the size of your business, the size of the products you sell, your location, etc. affect what your bottom line will allow. A small business selling objects with a large volume, for instance, will likely lose money if they make shipping free.

Consider offering free shipping only if customers hit a certain order value threshold. Setting a minimum order value to qualify for free shipping increases average order value (AOV) by motivating shoppers to add more products to their shopping carts. Practical Ecommerce advises setting a threshold by taking your current AOV and adding 10 to 15 percent. Be sure to notify customers when they’re close to the given threshold: “Spend just $X more to get free shipping!”

Customers Want Flexible Delivery Options

Another aspect to consider is how many options you’re able to offer your buyers. Some people value speedy shipping more than they care about price, like when they’re buying a last-minute gift. According to nChannel, 66 percent of shoppers chose to buy from one retailer over another “because the delivery services offered were more appealing.” Above all, make sure to clearly lay out order fulfillment options, including guaranteed delivery dates and fees per option, during checkout. 

Ecommerce website builders like Shopify’s integrate with leading postal carriers—such as U.S. Postal Service—in real time, meaning online shoppers at these stores get instant access to flexible options and live pricing. Only when potential customers know their choices can they pick the most appropriate option in terms of delivery timeframe, expense, etc. 

Returns in Ecommerce: Costly, But Necessary

There will come a day when someone needs to return a product they purchased from your online store for whatever reason. Planning ahead is the only way to provide great customer service while also keeping your margins strong.

Follow these best practices for ecommerce returns:

  • Create a clear, standalone “Returns and Exchanges” landing page with all the information customers need to understand.
  • Use product listings to convey statistics, features, photographs, etc. that will help consumers get a deep understanding of products before they buy.
  • Make sure your shipping strategy keeps products safe during transit so as to minimize unnecessary damage.
  • If you can’t afford to accept free returns carte blanche, consider at least offering free exchanges.

It’s up to you to weigh the costs vs. benefits of offering free returns based on the nature of your business. If you do decide to make this your policy, incorporate it into your branding to boost customer loyalty.

The best shipping and return strategy for your ecommerce store will be a win-win situation for you and your customer base.


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Mindy Wright
Philadelphia native Mindy is passionate about creating lists about anything and everything. She recently moved to New York. Mindy is a frequent keynote speaker at prestigious conferences and universities in the United States and the United Kingdom. Her favorite Quote: "It's a funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it!” Voracious reader. Writer + Editor + Philly girl.
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