Now’s the perfect time to get into online shipping. More people in more countries are exploring eCommerce and loving it. And where there's online shopping, there's online shipping.
At the start, everyone has questions about online shipping. For example:
- How do you find the cheapest shipping rates?
- What happens once you make the sale?
- What if the recipient is overseas?
This blog answers these key questions and more. We’ll also point you to the best online shipping services for your specific needs.
Easyship is an all-in-one shipping platform that makes online shipping, well, easy. Our partnerships with top shipping companies give you access to the cheapest rates and most reliable deliveries at a price you can afford.
Use this beginner’s guide to online shipping to find the best online shipping services, get the cheapest rates, and make a successful leap into online shipping.
Table of Contents
1. Define Your Online Shipping Goals
Everyone has different needs for online shipping. This is because everyone has a different business, different customers in different locations, and different costs. For best results, your approach to online shipping should reflect your unique goals.
Ask yourself – what do both you and your customers need from an online shipping service? Do you want to:
- Offer better shipping options to reduce cart abandonment?
- Increase profits by cutting shipping costs?
- Ensure speedy delivery?
- Start shipping internationally to scale revenue?
It’s best to think of shipping as a form of customer service. People give you money and it’s up to you to deliver as promised. Of course, you need to find the cheapest rates. But your shipping must also satisfy customers’ expectations. In the age of Amazon, this means offering timely and affordable delivery for every order.
Consider that nearly three in four shoppers (69%) say they are less likely to purchase from a store if their delivery is delayed. Meanwhile, almost two in three (63%) shoppers say they abandon shopping carts because of high shipping costs.
Shoppers don't expect you to be Amazon, but they do want timely and affordable shipping options. Once you determine what shipping success looks like for you and yours, it's time to explore your options.
2. Explore Online Shipping Options
With eCommerce exploding, it seems like every day brings a new option for shipping. In reality, most shippers figure out a few options that work for them and stick with that. Here are a handful of ways you can offer online shipping.
Free shipping is popular. The vast majority of shoppers say they’re more likely to frequent stores with free shipping. Problem is, free shipping is hard on merchants because it eats into the bottom line. Many sellers offer free shipping on orders over a certain value (i.e. $100 or more) to ensure they don’t lose money on shipping.
The benefit of free shipping is that it makes your shipping costs predictable. For this reason, merchants often start with free shipping then switch to more cost-effective methods as they grow.
Flat Rate Shipping
Flat rate shipping charges all customers a single fixed amount. For example, $10 on US orders and $20 for international orders. Fortunately, Flat Rate Shipping from the United States Postal Service (USPS) is often the cheapest way to ship.
Like free shipping, flat rate shipping helps you predict your costs. However, flat rate can help you earn higher margins. The drawback is that price-conscious shoppers may balk at flat rate fees, so it’s best to experiment instead of just setting-and-forgetting this amount. To be cost-effective, your rate should be slightly above the cost of your average shipment.
Table Rate Shipping
Table rate shipping is an option that increases based on the shopper's distance from your inventory. Say you’re a New York company. Customers in Brooklyn might get $5 shipping while those in Philadelphia, PA pay $15 due to the greater distance. However, if you use a warehouse to store inventory in Philly, now you can offer $5 shipping to both sets of customers.
Hybrid Shipping Options
Hybrid shipping is a mix of the options above, however works for you. For example, you could offer free shipping on low-value items and orders of $100 or more. Then you could offer flat rate shipping on all orders in between. This way, you can offer multiple options – which customers love – and manage your costs by only using shipping options you can afford.
Live Shipping Rates at Checkout
Offering real-time shipping rates benefits both you and your customers. Accessing the cheapest rates in real time is the best way to reduce your shipping costs. You'll never don’t overpay like with free shipping or flat rate pricing.
Also important, customers won't bounce when they see higher flat rates at checkout. Instead, both you and customers get the best rates on shipping direct from the couriers themselves.
Most eCommerce stores can’t offer live rates at checkout because their store software doesn't communicate with courier service websites. With Easyship, though, you can add live Rates at Checkout to your web store and save on all shipping orders. It’s automated hybrid shipping!
3. Choose The Best Online Shipping Service
The best online shipping service is affordable for both you and customers. However, it’s tricky to nail down the cheapest shipping rates for every order. This is because shipping rates vary depending on what you’re sending, to where, and with which courier.
The following factors impact the cost of shipping:
- Package weight: Heavier packages cost more to ship
- Package size & dimensions: Large and irregularly shaped packages cost more to ship
- Distance to delivery: Sending packages to faraway locations costs more than shipping nearby
- Delivery speed: Courier services charge more for expedited delivery
- Value-added services: Delivery features like insurance, tracking, weekend delivery, and more raise the price on shipping
Every online shipping service prices its services differently based on the factors above. To find these rates, visit the websites of top courier companies, including
- USPS (United States Postal Service)
Come prepared with the estimated weights of your packages as well as the expected locations. With this information you can get a sense of your estimated shipping costs.
To save time on comparing rates, use a Free Shipping Rate Calculator.
This tool gives you real time, accurate estimates for shipping rates based on package weight, delivery location, speed, and value-added options. It’s the fastest way to get the best rates from all couriers in a single place.
Seen below are the cheapest rates for sending a 5 lb. package from Denver, CO to Singapore.
Here we see the real-time rates for our 5 lb. shipment plus delivery timelines. Need rates for other weights and destinations? Just adjust the details in the calculator.
Being able to accurately predict your shipping costs makes a rate calculator a handy tool for identifying the best online shipping service for you.
4. Choose Your Packaging
A variety of packaging exists to ensure your parcel arrives in top condition. The right packaging will suit your product without adding to your expenses.
It’s recommended that you use the smallest package possible, without cramping or cramming. Couriers charge by weight or volume, whichever is greater. This means you can avoid overpaying by using the lightest, smallest packaging possible.
Choose from a range of packaging that fits your products, including:
- Letter envelopes
- Cardboard boxes
- Padded bubble envelopes (Poly mailers)
You can source your own packaging or use the free packaging provided by your chosen shipping company. Couriers like USPS, UPS and FedEx all offer free packaging at different sizes. Each package type is limited by weight.
For example, UPS offers boxes from small to medium to large – even pallets for heavy items.
Though lightweight packaging is always cheapest, the packaging must be sturdy enough to protect what’s inside.
For example, fragile items should be wrapped in padding to restrict movement and protect from breakage. You’ll also need a slightly larger box or mailer to contain the extra padding. By contrast, heavy items might get damaged en route if they’re not in a sturdy box made from corrugated cardboard or plywood.
All packages must be labelled before they can be sent via courier. You’ll need to include the contact details for the recipient, and for you, the shipper.
Labelling just means writing out the delivery and return addresses by hand. The downside of this method is that it’s tedious. For growing businesses, labelling all their orders can be a huge drain on time and energy.
You can also print your labels online. Batch-printing your labels with shipping software like Easyship lets you generate shipping labels in a couple of clicks, plus any necessary packing slips or customs declarations forms.
5. Consider International Shipping Factors
The best online shipping services offer delivery to domestic and international locations. If you’re shipping internationally, here are a few things to consider:
Customs duties and taxes
All shipments that cross international borders are subject to import duties and taxes. This means you’ll need to complete customs documents, and pay any import duties incurred by your shipment.
To determine upfront what you’ll pay at customs, use our Duty and Tax Calculator.
This is a key step in predicting the costs of international shipping. Easyship can also help you generate all the customs paperwork you’ll need to clear customs and get the package to the customer’s doorstep.
Every country restricts or prohibits the entry of certain goods. Be sure to look up the restricted items in the country you’re shipping to. This way, you can ensure a smooth delivery that ends with a happy customer.
Warehouses and Third-Party Service Providers (3PLs)
Merchants that import goods regularly save on shipping costs by using warehousing and fulfillment centers. Storing goods in the destination country lets you sidestep the import fees from individual shipments.
Additionally, you can secure cheaper shipping rates and shorter shipping times for bulk shipments. If you have questions about finding a good warehousing partner, read this full guide to eCommerce warehousing here.
Starting With Online Shipping in 2021
Success with online shipping starts with knowing your costs as well as your options. Be mindful of your customers expectations for shipping, both in terms of delivery times and price. The best online shipping service for you will offer rates both you and customers can appreciate.
To find the cheapest shipping rates, you can use our free shipping rate calculator.
All the best online shipping services are available on Easyship. Our all-in-one shipping platform gives you direct access to 250+ affordable shipping solutions, customs document generation, and live Rates at Checkout so you can always ship the cheapest way possible. To start, create a free account here.