30 years ago, if you told most businesses that customers in 2021 would expect products they ordered to be shipped to their home in two days and that the customers would often expect the delivery to be free, you might just be laughed at. That’s a credit to the audacity of vision possessed by those who have made two-day shipping the standard, but the question remains—what’s a small business to do about it?
Many small businesses are still working on that. Amazon’s game-changing two-day Prime delivery has massively upped the standards for shipping and freight workers, and small businesses are fighting for their lives to keep up. And while no one magic formula will allow businesses to keep up with Amazon, smart businesses are wasting no time in pulling out all the stops to keep customers satisfied. Here are seven ways that businesses are tackling the challenge of two-day shipping in the omnichannel marketplace.
- Choosing 3PLs Committed to Performance
In today’s ultra-competitive retail and logistics environment, choosing the right logistics partner can be a make-or-break decision. That’s why small businesses have to carefully vet each potential 3PL and make sure that they’re packing all of the right credentials, such as insurance and a freight broker surety bond.
Businesses should also ask about how a 3PL integrates technology into their business and how they deal with the challenges of two-day shipping. Tech-enabled 3PLs like ShipBob and Fulfillment Bridge offer an agile and highly distributed approach that can be a great fit for the world of omnichannel commerce, but, ultimately, each business should go with the 3PL that meets their needs most closely.
- Partnering with Amazon
Speaking of powerful high-tech 3PLs, Amazon has made itself the 800-pound gorilla in this field as well, thanks to the massive capital investments that allow them to provide best-in-class logistics. For many retailers, that’s made a partnership with Amazon an increasingly attractive option for providing the fast delivery that consumers demand.
The Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) service provides many substantial benefits. Besides the famous Amazon order fulfillment network, it also includes warehouse services, packaging, and customer service, all from a single source. Finally, FBA also provides a service that even large omnichannel merchants often struggle with: It handles returns quickly and efficiently.
- Streamlining Inventory Practices
A well-managed and well-organized inventory goes a long way toward expediting shipping. Good inventory management helps improve productivity by reducing picking and packing times, but it also helps reduce inventory carrying costs and frees up resources to be allocated elsewhere.
For some small businesses, this means slimming down their product offerings into a more manageable selection that can be easily picked and packed. Others focus on their warehousing and distribution practices or introduce innovations like touchless RFID inventory. In whatever way your business chooses to do it, be sure to stay aware of trends in inventory management, such as the shift away from ultra-lean inventory practices in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Realism and Communication
Sometimes two-day shipping simply isn’t a realistic option. Made-to-order goods, very small businesses, and delivery to remote locations are three circumstances where a customer might have to accept slower shipping. Under those circumstances, it’s critical that businesses communicate with their customers about what they can expect in terms of shipping time.
Whenever possible, make sure the customer gets a general idea of how long their order will take before they’ve placed the order, and maintain communication throughout the process. When you do ship the package, make sure to provide a tracking number for the customer to follow, which you should be doing anyway, regardless of how long it takes you to ship.
- Using LTL Freight
Less than truckload (LTL) freight is an increasingly popular option for shippers who need to prioritize value and performance. LTL freight consolidates cargo from multiple shippers onto the same truck. This can be a great option for small businesses, who often struggle to compete because they don’t ship enough freight to get bulk discounts.
With LTL freight, even small businesses can take advantage of the economies of scale that are normally only available to big businesses. Most large carriers now offer LTL freight, so check with your carrier to find out if LTL is a choice for your business.
- Slower Shipping, but with Perks
Businesses that can’t offer two-day shipping can still find ways to wow their customers. For example, adding a small free gift with a slower-shipping order can be a perfect way to stay in a customer’s good graces. And, of course, never forget that free shipping is a great way to make up for longer shipping times.
It’s also a good idea to offer multiple shipping options. There’s no reason to bend over backward and charge extra to ship in two days if the customer doesn’t need it that fast. In general, your North Star should be the customer’s needs and desires, so let your knowledge of the market and your research into it guide how you deploy your supply chain resources.
- Smart Packaging
Packaging can be a surprisingly costly part of shipping, so small businesses must take a critical eye to their packaging to search for efficiencies. It’s often possible to reduce the cost of shipping an item by trimming a little bit of packaging around the edges—just make sure that your goods are still adequately protected by their packaging.
Flat rate shipping is a great example of how efficiencies can be created by reconsidering how to package your goods. If your business can figure out how to get its goods into a carrier’s flat rate box, you may be able to access faster and cheaper shipping, so consider options such as shipping products disassembled.
Competing as a small business is always challenging, and today’s ruthless logistics market has made it more so. When it comes to the two-day shipping challenge, just remember: Having the correct licenses, a little creativity, and resourcefulness will help much more than making ambitious promises that you struggle to keep.