Two Sides of the Coin, Part 2
In our previous article, E-Commerce Shipping – Two Sides of the Coin, Part 1, we discussed different models of how to price shipping. This article addresses how to efficiently create and print your labels to get those packages out the door.
There are different types of out-of-the-box shipping software solutions available for e-commerce sellers. The most common options are:
- Carrier-provided shipping solutions
- E-commerce built-in shipping solutions
- Third-party shipping solutions
Carrier-provided solutions are the most obvious shipping systems. Carrier solutions, such as FedEx Ship Manager® Software, can be installed directly onto your shipping computer. Carrier-provided tools can also be web-based, meaning shipping is managed using an internet web browser at fedex.com or other carrier sites. Typically these solutions are free from the carrier and support all the carrier's available services. Another benefit is that the carrier provides technical support.
A drawback of some carrier systems is that they are self-contained, meaning they do not pull information from or post data back to your e-commerce system automatically. This means you may need to re-key or copy/paste address information from the e-commerce system into the carrier shipping solution. After printing the label, someone may need to manually update the e-commerce system to reflect that the order has been shipped, and copy/paste the tracking number from the shipping software into the e-commerce system. This process is cumbersome and can be costly in terms of time spent and human error.
It should be noted this article addresses out-of-the-box solutions only in an effort to simplify the discussion. If you do want to take a more customized route, check with your carrier about more sophisticated, integrated options that they may have available.
E-commerce built-in shipping solutions are found in many of the larger e-commerce systems such as eBay and Amazon, both of which have
their own built-in label printing solutions. Convenience is the major benefit of these solutions as you can manage your orders and shipments in the same application.
Built-in shipping solutions are usually very basic and offer few bells and whistles. They are great for low-volume shippers, but since they're typically designed for one-at-a-time shipment processing (not bulk or batch shipping), they can become tedious as your business grows. E-commerce solutions don't always support all of the desired shipping carriers, and often they are missing some of the less-common shipping options such as collect-on-delivery (COD), hold for pickup, return shipping labels, etc.
Third-party shipping solutions tend to be more robust and are tailored to solve the specific needs of higher-volume shippers by offering direct integrations with e-commerce systems. This can be a timesaver as the shipping application can automatically download the orders to be shipped, print the labels, send e-mail notifications to the buyer, and post back the shipping details to the e-commerce system.
One of the most useful features third-party solutions offer is batch or bulk shipping. Shipping in bulk means you print labels for several orders with the click of a single button. Bulk shipping and using a shipping tool designed to work directly with your e-commerce system will greatly increase efficiency and the number of packages you're able to get out the door on a daily basis.
The primary con for third-party shipping solutions is that they generally cost money to use - either on a monthly or annual basis. There are a few free solutions that are subsidized by the carriers, so keep your eyes open for those options!