Small businesses are increasingly delivering their products through the mail. In the United States, parcel shipment grew 37% year-over-year between 2019 and 2020. With new business trends from the Coronavirus pandemic and the increasing convenience of online shopping, this growing demand from consumers shows no signs of slowing. Instead, it’s a chance for small businesses to gain new opportunities as they provide direct-to-consumer goods through the mail.
Shipping logistics can be confusing and intimidating when you first start your small business. Here are some simple tips that can help you understand the basics of business mail, create a shipping strategy, and confidently ship out your first package.
1. Understand Your Shipping Costs
It’s helpful to understand the factors that will ultimately determine the cost of your business’s shipping needs. Whether you plan on fulfilling your orders yourself or using a third party to help with logistics, you can reference the same factors to calculate the cost, including:
- Speed (When the package needs to arrive at its destination)
- Size (The package's dimensions and weight)
- Destination (Where you’re shipping the package)
- Shipping volume (Businesses that ship more can often receive a lower price)
In addition to these parcel basics, some add-on services may influence the price you pay, including:
- Expedited delivery
- Package tracking
- Signature confirmations
- Fragile, liquid, or hazardous items
2. Get To Know The Carriers
All shipping companies will use the above factors to price their delivery services, but there are still some differences to consider when selecting a carrier. Let’s explore the most popular carriers in the U.S. to see which one is right for your small business.
United States Postal Service (USPS)
The USPS is the most used carrier for small businesses. They’re generally less expensive compared to other carriers but just as reliable. They also offer loyalty programs and discounts for business accounts.
USPS Small Business Resources
USPS offers many small business solutions, including:
- Loyalty and reward programs
- Click-N-Ship Business Pro™ software for label printing, payments, tracking, and more
- Direct mail marketing to help advertise your business
FedEx is a great option if you’re looking for speed. They’re typically more expensive than the USPS, but their overnight services are among the most reliable for fast deliveries. FedEx offers a variety of discounts and tools for small businesses, including yearly grants.
FedEx Small Business Resources
The FedEx Small Business Resource Center offers many tools, including:
- Discounts and loyalty programs
- Management tools and software
- Small business grant contests
DHL is one of the best carriers for international shipments. They offer detailed guides and provide great expertise to help ensure that your products are delivered globally. Like the other carriers mentioned, DHL also offers programs and tools to help small businesses.
DHL Small Business Resources
DHL and DHL Express offer incentives and tools for small businesses, including:
- Discounted pricing
- Online payment and tracking
- International shipping guides and assistance
United Parcel Service (UPS)
UPS has many tools available for small business owners and offers some of the most competitive rates for large domestic packages. Depending on your shipping volume, you could also get up to a 50% discount on shipping as a small business.
UPS Small Business Resources
Business shipping tools from UPS include the following:
- Free supplies
- E-commerce and money management software
- Loyalty and discount programs
3. Review Mailing Options for Small Businesses
Cost, local services, and available tools are all factors that will help you decide on a carrier. While it may be wise to stick with one carrier and build up volume for discounts, many businesses use two or more carriers for different services. We’ll explore some of the most popular mailing options small businesses use to give you a better idea of what’s available.
USPS Mailing Options for Small Businesses
Small businesses can choose from any USPS mailing option. Many small businesses utilize the flat rate envelopes and boxes provided by the USPS as they ship anywhere in the U.S. for a single price. USPS also offers a Media Mail service for items like CDs, DVDs, and digital recordings, and it’s typically cheaper than any other service. Other USPS mailing options include:
- Priority Mail Express (Next-Day to 2-Day Guarantee)
- Priority Mail (1–3 Business Days)
- First-Class Mail (Mail in 1–5 Business Days; Small Packages in 1–3 Business Days)
- USPS Retail Ground (2–8 Business Days)
FedEx Mailing Options for Small Businesses
FedEx offers a One Rate service similar to the popular USPS flat rate. It includes free packaging and a predictable rate on domestic shipping. Other popular mailing options for small businesses include:
- FedEx Ground® (Business addresses only)
- FedEx Home Delivery® (Residential addresses only)
- FedEx First Overnight® (Next business day as early as 8 AM)
- FedEx Priority Overnight® (Next business day as early as 10:30 AM)
- FedEx Standard Overnight® (Next business day by 3 PM)
- FedEx 2Day® A.M. (Next business day as early as 10:30 AM)
- FedEx 2Day® (Next business day as early as 4:30 PM)
- FedEx International Priority® (1–3 business days)
DHL Mailing Options for Small Businesses
DHL offers several options for document and parcel shipping for businesses, including:
UPS Mailing Options for Small Businesses
UPS mailing options for your business include the following:
- UPS Next Day Air® Early (Next business day as early as 8 AM)
- UPS Next Day Air® (Next business day as early as 10:30 AM)
- UPS Next Day Air Saver® (Next business day by end-of-day)
- UPS 2nd Day Air A.M.® (2 business days as early as 8 AM)
- UPS 2nd Day Air® (2 business days by end-of-day)
- UPS 3 Day Select® (3 business days)
- UPS Ground (1-5 business days)
- UPS SurePost® (2-6 business days)
4. Estimate Your Average Shipping Costs
You should estimate your shipping costs early in the process and include packaging and labor costs. International shipping will also add on import and export fees. You can use the shipping calculators below to estimate carrier costs, but keep in mind that you may be eligible for additional discounts depending on the business account and shipping volume.
5. Craft A Shipping Strategy
Once you have the basics covered, you can craft a shipping policy that will work well for your business. Keep your estimated costs and customer experience in mind as you make the following decisions:
- Choose between giving your customers variable rates, flat rates, or free shipping.
- Adopt a system to manage and track order shipments.
- Determine who will handle fulfillment (packaging, postmarking, and delivery).
6. Establish Your Shipping Policy
Use your strategy to create a shipping policy that will be easy to understand for your employees and customers. Your policy should include the crucial things your customers need to know after purchasing your product, including how many days between purchase and shipping, how they'll know when the product is shipped, and payment for return shipping. It will save you a lot of time from answering questions if you identify these things from the start.
7. Identify Tools to Help
As complicated as shipping can be for a small business, the right tools can make it a smoother process. For example, you can track your business’s activities from your warehouse to your customer’s doorstep with shipment and fulfillment software. Some popular small business shipping tools include:
8. Negotiate Rates As You Go
As your business grows and your shipment volume increases, you'll have the opportunity to renegotiate your carrier rates and software costs. Keep a close eye on your shipping volume and research carriers to know when you’re eligible for potential discounts or loyalty rewards.
9. Continue to Improve Your Customer Experience
Try to stay adaptable even if your shipping strategy works. Customers will continue to provide feedback on your shipping, including packaging choices. Do your best to improve the customer experience to help encourage repeat business. This could mean switching to free shipping, offering eco-friendly packaging, or adding customer support to help with package tracking.
Take the Worry of Incoming Mail off Your Plate
You might think there is not enough time in the day to handle the many aspects of shipping that impact a small business. Thankfully, SnapMailbox has created an intuitive online platform that can help you manage, organize, and forward your business's mail. Our virtual mailboxes immediately scan your incoming mail, allowing you to check and read it from anywhere. We're confident that our virtual mailbox service will make running your business easier, so we're giving owners like you a free trial to get started. Just visit our business plans page now to learn more.