Why is domestic shipping important?
Delivery is one of the final customer touchpoints for eCommerce businesses. Expectations around eCommerce delivery have changed dramatically over the past decade, with many consumers craving fast, flexible, and free shipping.
51% of US consumers want multiple couriers to choose from at checkout
Pay for Shipping
81% of US consumers are willing to pay for faster delivery
Easyship merchants on average offer at least 2 shipping options at checkout
52% of customers blame eCommerce SMBs instead of the courier for bad delivery
Therefore, developing your shipping strategy should be a priority on your list.
In this guide, we’ll teach you the ins and outs of domestic shipping at the beginner’s level, providing you tips and tools along the way that will help your small business be smarter with shipping while at the same time, manage customer expectations and deliver happiness consistently.
Plan your shipping strategy
Anticipate what your shipments require and where you will ship to
Find the right couriers
Understand different courier types and decide which ones work for you
Set up shipping rates
Learn best practices for displaying rates and communicating your policy
Start shipping domestically
Know the basics of shipping a parcel
Helpful shipping tips
Master these to stay on top of your shipping game.
Chapter 1: Planning your domestic shipping strategy
Here’s what you should think about to ensure you are doing what’s best for your small business shipping and fulfillment needs.
What destinations will you be shipping to?
Depending on the nature of your product, you should ask yourself if it makes sense to ship within your city limits, your state, country-wide, or all of the above.
If your item is:
- Regulated differently across state borders
- Includes liquids or batteries
...it may place limitations on where you can ship.
Shipping restrictions and prohibited items
There is a difference between shipping restricted items and shipping prohibited items.
If an item is restricted, it means that it’s possible to be shipped, but it must meet certain requirements set by your courier before they decide to accept it.
If an item is prohibited, it means it cannot be shipped at all. Couriers have the right to deny service if your shipment’s content is prohibited.
Shipping restrictions and prohibitions vary by courier. Learn more:
Will my product require special handling?
In shipping, dangerous goods are classified as items that can cause harm to those handling them in transit, if not handled properly.
Common “dangerous goods” include the following:
Alcohol: There’s a lot of regulation around how to ship alcohol, especially within the United States. Each state has different importing laws, and you may need additional licenses to legally ship and deliver.
In the United States, you are limited to using express couriers to handle alcohol shipments as the US Postal Service doesn’t allow any shipments of alcohol. Still, express couriers like UPS and FedEx may restrict shipments of beer and other alcohol between certain states, with wine shipments dependent on the laws of the destination states.
Expect to pay a surcharge since a recipient signature will be required to accept the shipment. Additionally, the person receiving the shipment must be at least 21 years of age, and identification will need to be checked to confirm.
Liquids: If your product contains liquids, it may require special handling by your shipping courier. There may also be restrictions on shipping via air freight (for example, each shipment can have a maximum of 100ml of liquid). You may need to rely on ground transportation, which can affect your delivery times if shipping by plane is too expensive.
- Nail polish: If it contains alcohol and is flammable, some couriers may ask you to provide additional information such as the flash point and toxicity. Expect the need to adhere to specific packaging requirements.
- Perfume: Similar to nail polish, perfumes containing alcohol may be prohibited for air transportation, but eligible for ground transportation.
Gases: Products that come in aerosol spray cans (think hair sprays or air fresheners) can be shipped, but they must be properly classified and follow courier packaging instructions. They may be transferred by air, though there may be restrictions on quantity.
Due to courier restrictions for dangerous goods, you may need to adjust your shipping budget due to higher costs and longer delivery lead times.
Will my shipments require insurance?
For non-fragile items valued under $100, we don’t recommend purchasing additional shipping insurance. This is because services like FedEx shipping insurance and UPS package insurance normally insure shipments valued up to $100.
USPS shipping insurance varies; USPS Priority Mail Express may include up to $100 of insurance while USPS Priority Mail shipments may be insured for up to $50.
However, if you ship items valued over $100 and are concerned about damage or loss of your inventory, it may be best to purchase additional shipping insurance. Insuring your shipment shouldn’t break the bank – on average, express couriers charge 3% of the declared value. For USPS, pricing begins at $2.10.
What type of packaging will you use?
The way you package your items can impact your shipping costs.
While some couriers base their pricing on the actual weight of your shipment, others may implement a pricing structure based on the amount of space it takes up on a truck or aircraft.
This is known as volumetric (or dimensional) weight. To calculate this, couriers multiply the length, width, and height of your package, then divide this number by a cubic divisor. They will then compare this number to the actual weight, and will charge the higher of the two.
If you need a visual, imagine shipping a box full of styrofoam cups. The weight of the box itself is pretty light. However, because of the size of the box, a truck could be quickly filled to capacity with very little actual weight.
Couriers are always looking to maximize the number of packages on a vehicle while maintaining profitability, so they take this into account and use a pricing structure that will charge accordingly. This is why it’s to your advantage to have efficient packaging; don’t lose money due to unnecessary volume!
There are a variety of packaging options you can consider that will best fit your item:
Boxes: For those starting out, couriers such as FedEx, UPS, and USPS offer their branded boxes in standard sizes – for free. You can also consider getting something custom made and branded with your logo.
Padded envelopes: This is a great option for books, DVDs, jewelry, fashion accessories – small items that may need a little protection during shipping.
Poly mailers: This is a popular, economical option for non-fragile items like clothing. It’s lightweight, which can really lower the weight of your shipment. However, when choosing poly mailers, ensure you choose one with strong material as cheaper ones have the tendency to tear easily.
Take time to plan your domestic shipping strategy
It’s wise to take time and focus on the details of your domestic shipping strategy, as the delivery experience is an extension of your brand. It can also influence your customer satisfaction.
Knowing the destinations you will ship to, anticipating issues that may occur, and choosing the best packaging and shipping solutions that will prevent these issues will best prepare your business to handle any incoming order.
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Chapter 2: Creating your shipping strategy
In the last chapter, we shared the benefits of being detail-oriented about your domestic shipping strategy. Now that you know where to ship and how you’re shipping your items, it’s time to decide who will be shipping your items.
Types of couriers
As eCommerce has a high adoption rate in developed markets, it’s increasingly important that the last-mile and last-yard delivery experience is seamless. Small businesses should work with reliable courier services with good tracking options that can deliver their products safely and on time.
It’s common for eCommerce stores to work with a variety of postal, express, and/or regional shipping couriers.
What is a postal service?
A postal service is a shipping organization that is normally run by a national government. Examples of postal couriers include the United States Postal Service (USPS), Singapore Post, Hong Kong Post, Canada Post, and Australia Post.
In many cases, postal couriers offer straightforward pricing that is very affordable, making it the primary choice for eCommerce businesses who are looking for economical shipping options.
What is an express courier?
An express courier is a company that is not government-run and specializes in faster delivery services that a postal courier may not provide. As these couriers usually offer speedier services with all the bells and whistles (such as frequent tracking updates and more flexibility on delivery times) their pricing is higher and more complex.
Examples of express couriers are UPS, FedEx, and DHL Express.
What is a regional courier?
As the name may suggest, regional couriers are shipping companies that only do deliveries within a certain region. Finding a good regional courier that services the areas you are looking for can be the best of both worlds, as they may have more competitive rates than express couriers and speedier services than a postal courier.
Examples of regional couriers are Lasership (focusing on the eastern coast of the United States), Aramex (focusing on the Middle East and Southeast Asia), and SF Express (focusing on Mainland China).
Choosing the right couriers for your business
Between postal, regional, and express couriers, it can already be overwhelming to decide which couriers you should work with.
You may think that it’s best to keep it simple by choosing one courier, but working with multiple couriers has its benefits:
- It prevents you from overspending on shipping. Certain couriers can offer competitive rates to different areas. If your customers are not all in one place, you can benefit by getting a better rate than what your primary courier provides.
- Offering a variety of couriers gives your customers flexibility in delivery. Every customer will have a preference in delivery, and offering more shipping options with a winder range in delivery times and pricing will allow you to appeal to a bigger customer base.
- Not all couriers are equal when it comes to tracking. Chances are, if you’re using a cheap solution, you’re most likely getting a limited tracking service (if you even get tracking at all). Offering an option with regular or frequent tracking can reduce the chances of your shipments getting lost, while at the same time, keeping your customers updated on where their shipment is.
When shipping domestically, you should consider working with a mix of trustworthy couriers that can meet your delivery needs based on your customer’s location and delivery time frame expectations.
As customer delivery preferences will vary, it’s recommended to offer three shipping options, each focused on the following:
- Fast delivery
- Cheapest price
- Best Value
Offering more than three shipping options can overwhelm customers, while offering less may not satisfy customer needs.
Service pricing options
Here are the common pricing options that you can expect couriers to offer.
Dead weight: This is pricing based on the actual weight of your shipment, regardless of its size. Postal couriers normally use this type of pricing.
Flat rate: This is when one price is charged for a shipment, regardless of weight. Normally, couriers would have a specific size for a box, assign the flat rate shipping price to it, and regardless of what you put in the box and how much it weighs, you will be charged one price.
Volumetric weight: Also known as dimensional weight, this is calculated by multiplying the length, width, and height of a package and dividing it by a cubic divisor. Express couriers usually use this type of pricing structure to ensure that shipments are packed as efficiently as possible so it doesn’t take more space than needed on a delivery plane or truck.
How long does domestic shipping take?
Domestic delivery lead times vary depending on the distance your shipment is travelling and the service option you choose from your courier.
For example, USPS domestic shipping include services such as Priority Mail (1-3 business days), and Retail Ground (2-8 business days).
DHL domestic shipping offers a domestic Parcel service with a 2-8 business day timeframe, and an express service that delivers the next possible business day.
How do I calculate shipping costs for my business?
You can decide whether you would like to charge your customers the exact cost based on your shipment’s weight, dimensions, and the distance it’s being shipped, or if you’d like to offer flat rate shipping pricing.
Flat rate pricing can work for you if you want to easily forecast your shipping costs per month. It’s also a good marketing tool that can encourage customers to buy more.
However, you may not always get your money’s worth with flat rate shipping. Most of the time, unless the items being sent are very heavy, regular postage rates usually end up being cheaper.
Also, calculating the break-even point for cost savings with flat rates requires a very complicated comparison of package volume, weight and distance.
If you’re against the idea of possibly overcharging on shipping, offering calculated rates based on the customer’s location is a good alternative. Using a third-party app such as Easyship’s Rates at Checkout will take the guesswork out of what to charge, automating this task for you!
Before you start shipping, you can also estimate costs and compare couriers for your domestic destinations using Easyship’s Rate Calculator.
Work with multiple couriers to provide delivery flexibility
Thanks to the abundance of domestic shipping solutions available, SMBs should take advantage by working with several couriers to optimize their checkout offerings.
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Chapter 3: Setting up shipping for your small business
In Chapter 2, we discussed courier types, solutions, and the importance of working with multiple couriers.
Now that you know which couriers you want to partner with, it’s time to connect your chosen shipping services to your online store.
Create an account with your couriers
Opening a business account with a courier can be very useful for you, as you can negotiate lower rates based on your expected shipping volume.
With some couriers, you can easily create an account online and start shipping immediately. If you already have a steady volume of shipments, you may also choose to speak with an account manager to see your business qualifies for additional discounts.
To negotiate lower rates, you should provide your account manager data such as the number of shipments you’ve processed in the past few months, and what your expected shipping volume will be.
If the idea of contacting multiple couriers to negotiate lower rates sounds time consuming, it may make sense to find a shipping software or platform to scale this process.
Use shipping software to scale
Shipping software companies create products that help you manage your eCommerce logistics end-to-end.
A major selling point is that they work as a third-party reseller, partnering with a variety of couriers to offer discounted rates to their customers. With no minimums to meet, it’s a useful service for up-and-coming eCommerce stores to have access to.
Other benefits of using a shipping software include:
- Automated shipping. Compare courier rates, generate labels without manual data entry, efficiently process returns, and send tracking emails post-shipment.
- Enhanced checkout. Allow customers to see calculated rates, taxes, handling fees, delivery time frames, and courier quality ratings when they checkout so they are fully aware of all costs.
- Centralized management. Integrate all the platforms you sell on for full visibility on shipping costs.
Easyship is an end-to-end shipping platform that does all of the above, and more! Creating a free account only takes a few minutes, and once you connect your store you can start shipping immediately. It’s one shipping shortcut you won’t regret!
Implement your shipping policies
Everything you’ve learned up ‘til now will be useless if you don’t have a section on your eCommerce site that explains the shipping policies and details you’ve worked hard to create!
One best practice would be to have a dedicated page that lays out your shipping policy. It doesn’t have to be long or complicated, but it should include the following:
- Names of the couriers you’ll be using
- Courier service types - Same day, overnight, and standard, for example
- Pricing - Mention whether you offer free shipping, flat rates (you can include the pricing table here) or rates based on a customer’s location
- Handling times - Number of business days it takes you to ship an item
- Delivery timeframes - Number of business days it takes your courier to ship an item
- Restrictions - List places that you can’t deliver to (such as PO Boxes, APO, FPO, or DPO; states that may prohibit your product)
- Returns - Explain what can be returned and what the process is
Consider using Easyship’s shipping policy generator to get a policy tailored just for your eCommerce store – in minutes.
In addition dedicating a page for your shipping policy, it can also be useful to include shipping information in your product pages so customers know what to expect before reaching checkout.
Use your shipping policy as a marketing tool
SMBs who are looking to scale quickly should strongly consider using a shipping platform so they can offer competitive rates at checkout.
Showing affordable shipping rates and promoting a generous shipping policy are a few ways eCommerce stores can use shipping as a marketing tool.
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Chapter 4: Start shipping domestically
Now that you’re equipped in the ways of leveraging shipping as marketing, don’t be surprised when the orders start coming in!
Ensure your shipments include important order information and are labelled properly by following these steps.
When you start shipping your packages, you’ll need to include a packing slip and a shipping label for each shipment.
A packing slip is a document that lists the products inside the shipment and their description, to ensure everything was included in the customer’s order.
A shipping label will include the following information:
- Name and address of sender (your business)
- Name and address of your customer
- Courier barcodes that contain information about the delivery
- The service option you’ve chosen
- Tracking number (if your service includes tracking)
You can print a shipping label on a regular 8”x11”/A4 size paper, or invest in a thermal printer, which will print sticker labels (usually with 4”x6” dimensions).
Shipping dangerous goods
In addition to packing slips and shipping labels, dangerous goods shipments have special requirements that you’ll need to adhere to. Some couriers have special dangerous labels that you’ll need to attach, and declarations you must fill out and include with your shipping label.
You can contact your courier directly for their specific requirements to ensure your shipment will be processed.
By using shipping software like Easyship, you can automatically generate labels for these goods. We also have staff with dangerous goods training who can answer any questions you may have.
Labelling your shipments and paying for postage
If you’re shipping items in a box, it’s best to put your shipping label on the top of the box as it is the easiest part to be seen. If you’re using courier branded boxes and other packaging, they’ll include markings on where to attach the shipping labels.
With shipping software, you can automatically generate both packing slips and shipping labels with all the information needed without doing any manual data entry. You’ll also have the opportunity to pay for postage before the label generates, allowing you to skip the line at the post office, or simply drop off your package at your courier’s office.
Automate shipping paperwork for better accuracy
Shipping documents such as packing slips and shipping labels require accuracy to ensure that orders are correct and shipments are deliverable.
SMBs should avoid manual data entry by using shipping software to automatically generate these required documents at scale
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Chapter 5: Helpful shipping tips
In the last chapter, we discussed the importance of generating accurate paperwork to avoid incorrect orders and failed deliveries.
Here are other details to consider that will help you carve out a holistic shipping policy.
3 ways to reduce shipping costs
Here’s how small businesses can save on shipping.
1. Take advantage of postal solutions
Postal couriers will normally base their shipping rates on the actual weight of your package. By opting out of additional services like tracking or express delivery, the cost of postage turns out to be very economical for many.
There are also couriers that offer low-cost solutions in conjunction with postal services such as the USPS. At times, they could even be cheaper than using the postal service itself. Examples include DHL eCommerce and UPS Mail Innovations.
2. Reduce packaging for your shipment
Smaller dimensions save you from being charged for unnecessary volume, which is important if you need to use a faster solution that charges rates based on dimensional weight. Efficient packaging also secures your items from potential damage. If possible, use lightweight packing material to reduce weight.
3. Opt to use your courier’s packaging
Couriers such as USPS, FedEx, and UPS offer free envelopes, boxes, and labels, which is very useful if you need to cut costs on shipping supplies.
How can I offer free shipping?
You can leverage shipping in different ways to increase sales conversions. The most popular option is free delivery.
Thanks to Amazon, consumers have been conditioned to expect free one day or free two day shipping from all eCommerce merchants.
While free shipping can result in a conversion rate increase, it can be pretty difficult for new businesses to offer this service, as it will affect their bottom line too much.
It’s very possible to offer free shipping responsibly by doing the following:
- Only offer it when your best selling products are in season
- Have customers spend a certain amount before offering free shipping. One way to determine your free shipping price is to figure out your average order value and increase by 10-15%
- Limit your losses by capping your shipping costs for certain destinations. For example, shipping outside the continental US to Alaska and Hawaii can be costly, so if shipping rates to those customers go over your threshold, they can pay for the difference.
Here are additional ways to offer free shipping:
- Limit it to first time customers, or customers located within your city or state
- Limit to a specific day or timeframe (only on Wednesday, only for 48 hours)
- Make it applicable for certain items only
Delivering happiness through customer service
A seamless delivery is a great way to provide value, as it is the last customer touchpoint before they come in contact with your product.
To minimize the chances of a bad delivery experience, consider doing the following:
- Ensure you’re collecting accurate delivery information. Having a good address verification system at checkout will reduce the chances of entering typos that can result in bad information and worse, a failed delivery. If possible, collecting additional contact information such as the recipient’s phone number can help couriers reach the recipient should there be an issue with their delivery.
- Keep in touch post-shipment with tracking notification emails. Once your shipment is on its way to your customer, be sure to send them a confirmation email with their shipment details and tracking number. Not only does this allow your customer to monitor the shipment on their own, but you can also use this opportunity to upsell more products or share a discount code on their next purchase.
- Have a good returns policy. Allowing returns for your store can give peace of mind to customers who want to avoid buyer’s remorse. Keep your policy simple, and ensure that it clearly answers key questions such as who will pay for return shipping, paperwork that needs to be included, and anything else specific to your business that will help you process the return quickly.
Shipping software like Easyship can help you generate a USPS return label for any shipment within the United States, regardless of which courier you used to ship to the customer. Learn more.
Handling missing shipments
Customers may contact your business (rather than the courier) should their shipment be missing or lost.
While services that offer good tracking may be a little pricier, it definitely pays off when a shipment goes missing.
Tracking quality widely varies between couriers. A courier that offers excellent tracking can provide updates as often as every few hours, while one that offers limited tracking might only provide updates every few days - and might not even confirm whether the package was delivered or not.
For many couriers, you can submit a claim online if a shipment goes missing. Some express couriers are open to receiving claims once the shipment hasn’t been delivered 24 hours after the expected delivery date and time. Postal couriers vary; for example, USPS starts accepting claims for missing shipments if it hasn’t been delivered after 7 business days.
When submitting the claim, it’s good to have the following information on hand:
- Tracking number
- Recipient contact information (name, address, phone number, email)
- Sender address
- Pickup or mailing date
- Description of the contents
- Value of the item
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Domestic shipping: Key takeaways
We hope you’ve found this guide useful in helping your SMB create a holistic shipping policy that will convert more customers, increase average order values, and deliver a good customer experience.
Anticipating shipping issues, working with reliable couriers, and taking a customer-focused approach to shipping will help elevate your brand and enable you to reach your community, beyond borders.
Articles and guides
- eCommerce Fulfillment Guide - Learn what to look for in a 3PL, and how they can help you achieve scale through automating your logistics.
- International Shipping Guide - Ready to expand overseas? Read our step-by-step guide to going global!
- Go Global - User Stories - Here’s how our merchants are using shipping to connect to their communities, beyond borders
- Courier Comparison Tool - Easyship’s courier comparison tool, featuring ratings, pros, cons, and other important service details.
- Free Shipping Policy Generator - Get a free customized shipping policy for your business within minutes!
All the shipping terminology you need to know to ship with confidence.
Airway bill: Shipping labels that couriers use
Consignee: The receiver of a shipment
Consignor: The sender of a shipment
Dead weight: the mass of your package, including all packaging materials.
Flat rate shipping: a single rate charged for shipping a package, regardless of weight or size.
This article is not meant to be a static piece, but rather a piece that will be updated regularly as domestic shipping changes from time to time! For any comments or suggestions, please email us at [email protected].