Is shipping eating into your profits or leaving customers frustrated? It’s more common than you might think: 47% of online shoppers abandon their purchases because of unexpected costs like shipping.1
While you may not be able to promise two-day or overnight shipping like other e-commerce giants, having an optimized shipping strategy is essential for small businesses. Not only can this save you money in the long run, but it also helps increase customer satisfaction and foster brand loyalty.
Read on as we unpack various shipping methods and how to choose the right one for your small business.
The first factor to keep in mind when exploring shipping methods for your small business is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. By understanding your specific shipping needs, you can pick methods that may save you time and money.
But what are your shipping requirements? Here are some key points to consider:
From ground shipping to air freight, various shipping methods offer distinct advantages depending on your unique business needs and the products you sell, whether that’s pallets of sneakers or boxes of fragile glassware.
Ground shipping, also known as parcel or package delivery, is a popular shipping method thanks to its cost-effectiveness. Meanwhile, its typical delivery times, which range from overnight to a week for domestic shipments, make it a reliable choice.
Given its affordability and predictability, ground shipping is a favorite among businesses selling products that don’t require rapid delivery or specialized temperature control, such as books, apparel, or other non-perishable items.
When time is of the essence, air freight is typically the go-to option. Compared to other methods on the list, it offers the quickest delivery times.
This makes air freight shipping especially valuable to businesses operating on tight schedules where delays can be costly, such as those shipping perishable food, flowers, or pharmaceuticals.
For businesses that don't always have enough cargo to fill an entire truck, LTL or less-than-truckload shipping offers a convenient solution. The idea behind LTL is simple: Multiple businesses share space on the same truck, each paying only for their portion of the trailer.
This method is cost-effective and offers flexibility in shipment sizes, making it a top choice if you have fluctuating shipment volumes or if you’re shipping to multiple destinations within the same route.
FTL is when you do have enough cargo to fill the entire truck, making your business the sole occupant from the point of origin to the destination. One of the primary advantages is the reduced handling of goods, leading to a lower risk of damages. And since there are no other stops or offloads, delivery times can be quicker.
FTL can be a good choice for transporting sizable amounts of valuable or fragile items that you prefer not to mix with other businesses’ goods.
As its name implies, expedited shipping guarantees faster delivery times, significantly reducing the wait compared to traditional ground shipping.
Because carriers prioritize these packages, expedited shipping can come with a hefty price tag.
There are several scenarios where the need for speed makes expedited shipping essential:
Beyond merely considering how you’re getting products from point A to point B, it’s also essential to carefully manage the cost considerations of shipping — because every dollar spent on shipping is a dollar less in profit. On the flip side, investing insufficiently in shipping can mean delayed packages or even broken products, leading to returns or lost customers.
The first step in balancing profitability with customer satisfaction is understanding the costs of different shipping methods:
Fortunately, there are ways to optimize shipping costs:
With modern consumers accustomed to goodies arriving at their doorstep as quickly as possible after they click Buy, shipping isn't just a logistical concern — it's directly tied to customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.
Meeting — or better yet — exceeding shipping expectations can translate to five-star reviews and word-of-mouth referrals from customers who return for more. Meanwhile, missed delivery dates or slow shipping can lead to dissatisfaction, negative feedback, and lost business.
The appropriate shipping method for your business will require you to understand customer expectations for each product or order type. Different shipping methods naturally lead to different delivery speeds:
To satisfy customer demands, consider:
A dependable shipping partner is the key to timely deliveries, fewer damaged goods, and a consistent experience that aligns with your brand's promise. This reliability not only builds trust with your customers but can also lead to operational efficiencies and cost savings for your business.
When determining which carrier is best for your business, several factors come into play:
Packaging isn't just about wrapping a product — it's about making sure it arrives at its destination in perfect condition regardless of shipping method.
To achieve this, striking a balance between weight and protection is essential. While heavier packaging can increase shipping costs, skimping on protection can lead to damaged goods and returns.
Different shipping methods also present varied risks:
Today’s customers expect real-time tracking of their shipments. Not only does this provide them with a sense of control and assurance, but it also reduces the likelihood they bombard your customer service with “Where’s my order?” messages.
When it comes to shipping and tracking best practices, consider sending automated notifications about order status changes, including when packages are dispatched, in transit, out for delivery, and delivered. If there are delays, inform customers proactively and provide reasons and revised timelines.
If this sounds like a lot of work, don’t worry: Modern tracking tools, integrated with shipping software, can offer precise location data, expected delivery dates, and even delay alerts — no manual handling needed.
Returns are an inevitable part of the e-commerce landscape. Unable to see a product in person, shoppers may accidentally order the wrong size, color, or even a completely different item than intended.
But a well-structured returns policy can turn potential customer dissatisfaction into a positive experience and reduce potential disputes. Make sure your returns policy:
When it comes to which shipping method you should use to process returns, it depends on your priorities. Generally, ground shipping will be the most cost-effective option, but this also means the customer must wait longer for their return to be received and processed. Conversely, expedited shipping can boost customer satisfaction but may eat into your profit margins.
To streamline reverse logistics and manage returns effectively, keep these tips in mind:
As the world grapples with the threats of climate change, modern consumers are becoming more environmentally conscious – in fact, 34% of U.S. shoppers prefer companies that actively limit waste.2
Here are the environmental impacts of different shipping methods:
So, what can you do to lower your shipping’s carbon footprint? Several initiatives are reshaping the landscape of eco-friendly shipping:
By now, you're well-equipped with information you need to elevate your shipping strategy. No matter the size of your business or the types of goods you sell, make your shipping choices wisely to align them with your specific needs and goals.
Learn more about tools like PayPal Shipping that can help simplify the process.
In partnership with three expert business owners, the PayPal Bootcamp includes practical checklists and a short video loaded with tips to help take your business to the next level.