Of course I have learned that when you run a business, the devil is in the details. It took us some time to figure out the very best possible shipping processes and procedures. We still constantly evaluate any new options and weigh the possibilities to offer our customers more cost effective shipping methods.
The shipping details that have to be addressed are beyond the realm of most people. What details you might ask - well of course I am about to tell you.
#1- Which shipping services should you offer? In the early days of HairBoutique.com when we were very small, we only used the US Postal Service. USPS did not deem us large enough to pick up our packages so we endured long dropoff lines at the back door of the local Post Office or had to stand in line for International or other custom services in the front of the building.
As we started to grow, UPS took us under their giant wing, and helped us grow as a partner in their corporate family. They have been an incredible long term partner. Like Donald Trump, I am very loyal to partners that have helped my company grow.
In those early days Fed Ex would not work with us because we were "too small" for them to bother with. UPS looked at the future and stepped up to the plate hoping we would grow with them. Which is why UPS is our preferred shipping company and we still do not offer Fed Ex as an option.
The US Postal Service also made new shipping arrangements for us as we got bigger, as did DHL. We appreciate our various shippers very much and try hard to be a good partner in return.
#2 - What shipping options should we offer? It used to be that we offered all types of USPS options from 1st Class all the way to International. In the early days, since we had to make daily trips to the post office, it was no big deal to offer all of the USPS options.
After getting bitten several times by sending out packages that were not guaranteed or couldn't be tracked by either the USPS or UPS, we abolished those options. When packages went missing, we were the ones that had to eat the loss. The bigger we grew, the more packages we lost due to lack of tracking.
Yes, it increases the cost of shipping, but packages that get lost can be tracked and if they are truly lost, the shipper takes responsibility and replaces the costs. Both UPS and the USPS do an amazing job of tracking lost packages or replacing them.
#3 - Should we offer shipping methods that can't be tracked? Good question which I have been mulling over recently. We had some customers who wanted to buy $20 of hair accessories that could conceivably be shipped in a padded envelope and sent out 1st Class mail. Again, no tracking would be available.
I have had customers say they would take all personal responsibility if the package got lost. Really? Would that work?
So we considered all the options. Would we ask customers to sign a waiver if they requested a shipping method that could not be tracked? Of course that adds more complications to online shopping. Do the customers fax in their waiver? Who tracks the waivers?
We currently do all our processing in a paperless manner. Does that mean we have to start paper files for all requests for untrackable shipping methods? Or can we link the faxes somehow to the accounts?
Of course there is also the problem of International. If we ship at the lowest cost for International, we have to again trudge back to the post office to fill out custom forms that can be done automatically when we offer the tracked USPS options. If no tracking is included, we have to personally go to the Post Office. Which means an hourly employee driving to the Post Office, stands in line and gets a receipt for a package that if it is lost, can not be found. So what's the point there?
History shows that employee trips to the Post Office always take a minimum of 15-20 minutes, on a day when the Post Office is not busy. It can take as long as 30 minutes. None of my employees work for free. Although it would be nice to have volunteers - it is not reality. Even my least expensive employee makes way above minimum wage and would turn in their mileage for any trips to the Post Office. We all know that gas is no longer cheap.
While a customer buying a padded envelope worth of non-breakage hair accessories (which could still happen with the cheap shipping methods) might be able to save $2-3, it would cost me as much as $5-6 in employee time + expenses. On small items like $20 worth of hair accessories my margins are paper thin to begin with. Which means on those small orders if we offered non trackable shipping, I would lose money on every order.
While I care very much that we offer our customers the very best possible shipping options, prices and services, there is a point of diminishing returns for "exceptions". There are also so many "What Ifs".
For example, what if the customer changes their mind and demands that we pay for lost items? Even if they signed a waiver it definitely can and would happen. I have been lurking in the HairBoutique.com Customer Care databases for years and am amazed at some of the claims.
What if the item is damaged? Even metal can get twisted or rough handling can make crystals pop out. Hurricanes and tornadoes happen along with plane crashes and delivery truck accidents. Murphy's Law is always a reality. Since the buck always stops with HairBoutique.com, I have to think about even the most bizarre possibilities.
Do all of these nitpicky shipping details make your head swim? Mine too. Unfortunately after running HairBoutique.com for the past ten years I have learned to filter everything into dollars and cents. The bottom line always has to be - how much is it going to cost the company to offer special shipping?
Maybe it seems crazy, or even petty, to worry about the various pennies, but over many thousands of packages those pennies all add up, slowly chipping away at a healthy business. Regardless of the costs - they have to come from somewhere including costs passed onto customers, employee salaries or other operating expenses. All savvy businesses deal with this - or should - but a large majority of customers don't think about the overall cost to the companies they do business with.
Even a simple task involving sticking a few stamps on a padded envelope can spiral into a major deal.Of course I am always open to new options so if you have some regarding shipping, please speak up. Until then, I will be pondering the pros and cons of using trained pidgeons to carry headbands and other assorted hair accessories to our customers. Nah...just kidding, but maybe there's a business in there somewhere.
Please follow us on Twitter at: https://Twitter.com/HairBoutique. I look forward to meeting new people from all walks of Twitter and learning from their Tweets.