Shipping Products: A Step-by-Step Guide

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Setting up your own ecommerce business is pretty exciting. From sourcing or even making your products, to building your online store and promoting the heck out of it, there’s a whole list of fun tasks to check off as you set up your brand.

Shipping can often be left as a somewhat reluctant afterthought – it can be complex, tedious, and downright frustrating to set up, making it one of those jobs to do later. However, it’s also one of the most important parts of building any online store – or any successful ones, anyway!

79% of US consumers* would be more likely to shop online because of free shipping – but does that mean you should offer free shipping on all your products? And how do you go about packaging your products, finding carriers, and – shock horror – calculating shipping rates?

We’re here to walk you through the shipping process, with helpful tips on choosing the right shipping method for you, and step-by-step instructions on how to get shipping right first time.

Shipping Products: 9 Steps for Shipping Success

  1. Decide on your shipping method.
  2. Calculate shipping costs.
  3. Pick your packaging.
  4. Choose a carrier.
  5. Play it safe with insurance and tracking.
  6. Shipping abroad? Tick off legalities. 
  7. Label your shipping products. 
  8. Communicate, communicate, communicate. 
  9. Offer a clear returns policy. 

We’ll walk you through these steps, and also explain the shipping process once you’ve received an online order. Are you ready to deliver next-level shipping to your customers? Then let’s go!

Find out more

Before You Start

Before you get going on our step-by-step shipping guide, there are a few things you should know, or at least start thinking about:

  • Products – are all your products similar in size and weight, or do they vary drastically? This will impact the type of shipping you choose. Shipping jewelry, for instance, is quite different from shipping something heavy like furniture!
  • Destinationswhere are you willing to ship to? Be realistic about whether you’re ready to ship abroad or not. We recommend starting out small, and expanding outward as you grow in confidence.
  • Budget – how much money do you have set aside to cover shipping costs? It’s no good offering free shipping to all your customers if it’ll cripple your bank account, so assessing your budget now will help you make important decisions about which shipping method to offer customers.

To kick us off, here’s a start-to-finish summary of the shipping process once you’re all set up:

  1. Receive an online order
  2. Source the products that need shipping – check their size and weight
  3. Double check and confirm the shipping destination
  4. Decide which carrier you’re shipping with
  5. Calculate the shipping cost
  6. Package the product
  7. Label the product
  8. Ship the product

To get to the stage where you can start shipping products, you need to set up your shipping process first – and that’s where we come in. We’ll be walking you through each stage of setting up shipping for your business, from how to calculate costs to choosing the right carrier for you – starting with deciding on your shipping method!

#1. Decide On Your Shipping Method

There are different shipping methods you can offer your customers, such as free shipping or flat-rate shipping. Here’s a run-down of the main methods to pick from…

Free Shipping

It’s everyone’s favorite, isn’t it? Free shipping can do wonders for getting customers through the checkout process without abandoning their order. Unexpected costs are the number one reason for shopping cart abandonment, meaning you need to be careful about shipping costs.

One of the easiest ways to remove the issue of extra shipping costs potentially putting off buyers is to remove them completely!

shipping products superdry free shipping product page
If you’re offering free shipping, make sure to shout about it on your product pages, like this example from SuperDry!

Free shipping is a popular and successful shipping method – however, it’s not possible for everyone. Here are some ways to offer free shipping without breaking the bank:

  1. Include shipping in the price of your product – you need to be careful it doesn’t push the product price through the roof, but it’s a good way of making sure you still cover your costs. You can cover the full cost, or just some of it to lower shipping fees.
  2. Offer free shipping once the customer has spent a minimum amount – for example, “free shipping on orders over $50!” This can even help increase sales, as people add extras to their basket to qualify for free delivery.
  3. Reward customers with free shipping – this way, you only have to offer free shipping every now and then. You can use free shipping as a first-time incentive for new shoppers, or as a reward to engage existing customers.
Top Tip! You can offer free shipping and paid shipping, but make the free shipping a slower delivery service. This can work to encourage people to pay for the faster delivery option without feeling as though you’ve sprung any extra costs on them, as it’s still their choice. You can also offer the choice of a curbside pickup. Or, follow ASOS’ example below and use fast free shipping for large orders!
asos free shipping example how to ship products
ASOS uses free shipping to encourage bigger customer orders by offering next-day delivery to customers who spend over $150.

Flat-Rate Shipping

Flat-rate shipping is perfect if you’re selling fairly uniform products that don’t vary too much in size and weight. This is where you charge the same amount per order, no matter how hefty your products are.

You need to be careful not to overcharge or undercharge your customers, so it’s best to avoid flat-rate shipping if you sell a large range of different sized products.

shipping products happy socks flat rate shipping
Happy Socks only sells one type of product – we’ll let you guess what it is – making it perfect for flat-rate shipping. All US shipping costs $4. Simple!

One of the main benefits to flat-rate shipping is that it simplifies the shipping process for the customer, making it super easy for them to prepare for shipping costs. This in turn should make them less likely to abandon their order.

An example of flat-rate shipping would be when all shipping costs $5, no matter the order value.

Real-time Shipping

Charging real-time carrier rates provides the most accurate shipping pricing for customers. The easiest way to offer real-time shipping is to integrate your store with a shipping carrier. You can create an account with a particular carrier and negotiate rates, then display these on your store.

This is easy to do using an ecommerce builder such as BigCommerce, which offers tons of shipping features and integrations.

Which Shipping Method Should You Choose?

The good news is, you don’t have to just pick one and stick to it until the end of time. Instead, you can pick a main method, such as flat-rate shipping, and then offer free shipping on more expensive orders or as part of a sale promotion.

Just be careful not to confuse your customers by mixing up shipping methods – make the messaging as clear as possible, and don’t overwhelm customers with too many options.

Before moving on, make sure you have: 
  • Decided which shipping method is best for your business
  • Thought about ways to engage customers using different shipping methods

Find out more

  • Need a hand sorting out your product prices alongside your shipping costs? Check out our guide on How to Price a Product for some handy tips.
  • When budgeting, remember to factor in your website costs. Our pricing guide How Much Does a Web Site Cost will help make sure you’re not overpaying on your website.
  • Learn more about ePacket Shipping and how it can help your business.

#2. Calculate Shipping Costs

This is often the part that puts people off. Calculating shipping costs might bring to mind tons of equations and complex math, but in reality, it’s hardly rocket science.

Working out how much it costs to ship a product boils down to a few basic things:

  • Product weight
  • Product size
  • Where you’re shipping from 
  • Where you’re shipping to 

Extra shipping costs you might come across include tax, customs fees, and insurance or tracking charges. But on the whole, the four factors above are the main things that will determine the cost of shipping a package.

It’s hard to make any concrete predictions about shipping costs because each store and each carrier will vary. However, the general rule is that larger, heavier products will cost more to ship, and shipping abroad will be more costly than shipping locally.

Shipping costs can add up quickly, so it’s important to put in the research to find the best deal you can. You can do this by using a carrier’s shipping calculators – that’s right, you don’t have to do all this math alone!

Simply enter your product details (such as weight and dimensions), where you’re shipping from and to, and your shipping dates, and the carrier will generate shipping costs and options.

shipping products fedex shipping costs calculator
This FedEx shipping calculator makes it easy to work out how much shipping a product will cost depending on its weight and your shipping destination.

Instead of having to work it all out yourself, you can compare different carriers’ prices using shipping calculators like the one above. Each one is slightly different, but most of the key information you need to get a quote is the same – and it’s quick, easy, (and free) to fill out.

Here are some popular carriers to get started with:

Before moving on, make sure you have: 
  • Gathered the information you need to calculate shipping costs
  • Generated quotes from different carriers
  • Compared different quotes to find the best rate for your business

#3. Pick Your Packaging

Packaging serves two functions. The first is to get your product safely into the hands of your customers. The second is to market your product and work to increase your brand image.

We’ll cover packaging’s first job to begin with. The packaging you choose will depend largely on the type of product you’re shipping. Delicate items will need extra protection, while heavy items will need sturdy packaging that won’t fall apart.

In general, though, packaging should be: 

  • Sturdy – a battered, broken box doesn’t make for a great first impression.
  • Well sealed – you don’t want the parcel coming open.
  • An appropriate size – the smaller it is, the easier it is to ship!
  • Easy to handle – for both the courier and the customer.
  • As light as possible – this will help reduce your costs.
Top Tip!

Cardboard boxes are a classic favorite for shipping items of all sorts and sizes, but if you’re putting them together yourself, make sure to reinforce all the seams with strong tape to avoid them breaking in transit. Try dropping it from one meter before packing your products and see if it survives – if so, your box is good to go!

Once you’ve got the practical side covered, you can think about how your packaging can become part of your branding. Your packaging is the first thing your customers see when their order arrives, so it’s a chance to make a great first impression.

Think about how you’re presenting your products within the packaging, as well as how the packaging itself looks.

how to ship products amazon boxes packaging
Cardboard boxes are a trusty go-to for shipping products – just ask Amazon! But that doesn’t mean you can’t brand your boxes, or put important messages on them such as “Fragile”. Still, not the most exciting packaging around.
how to ship products beauty pie packaging
Subscription company Beauty Pie goes a step further with its packaging – pink boxes and bold branding make these instantly recognizable!

Whether it’s simply making sure your packaging is on-brand with its messaging, font, and use of color, or including a personalized thank-you message inside, adding small touches can really help your business stand out.

If your business is all about eco-friendly products, then try to source recycled packaging. If your brand has a rugged or industrial vibe, then your packaging can afford to be a little more rough around the edges than if you were selling, say, fancy tech.

Before moving on, make sure you have: 
  • Sourced secure and suitable packaging for your products
  • Thought about how to add branded touches to your packaging
  • Come up with ideas of how to present your products within their packaging

Find out more

  • Packaging is an important part of your branding. Read our guide on How to Build a Brand Online to find out more about branding your business.
  • Marketing is essential for getting your products in front of more people. We walk you through How to Market a Product Online in our expert guide.

#4. Choose a Carrier

You’re already one step closer to choosing the right carrier for your business after researching and comparing shipping costs. But there are a few other things to help you choose too.

1. What are their product policies?

Depending on the type of product you sell, there might be shipping restrictions or extra fees – for example, on very heavy or fragile items. Selling food online often comes with a lengthy list of rules and regulations, so do your research to avoid any surprises.

2. Where are you shipping to?

Not all carriers will offer international shipping, or they might charge much higher fees to do so. If you’re planning on delivering abroad a lot, make sure your carrier is fully set up to cater for your needs.

3. How trustworthy are they?

Reliability is a huge factor when picking the perfect carrier. In fact, it’s probably the most important next to price – you need to be able to trust that your carrier is going to deliver your products safely to your customers!

Read reviews and even run a few practise orders to check the reliability and professionalism of the carrier before trusting them with your precious customer orders.

4. How speedy are they?

This goes hand in hand with reliability, but is important enough to warrant its own step here! Speed really is of the essence when shipping – nobody wants to wait six weeks for their product to arrive. In fact, 54% of US consumers under the age of 25 said that same-day shipping is their main purchase driver!

While you may not be able to offer same-day shipping, it shows the importance of speedy results. If you’re shipping locally, then use a local supplier, and prioritize fast shipment guarantees – even if that means paying a little extra.

5. Will they come to you?

If you’ve ever had to queue at the post office on your lunch hour, you’ll know it can be time consuming. This is less than ideal, especially if your business is dependent on getting deliveries sent out quickly and with minimum hassle.

If you’re busy working a second job, or need to focus your energies on running your business, you can find a carrier who will come and collect packages directly from you!

This means you don’t have to go out and about, lugging parcels along with you – instead, the carrier will pick up packages from your house, office, or warehouse, saving you time and effort.

Top Tip!
Once you’ve chosen a carrier, it’s a good idea to create a business account, as this can unlock discounts or extra services that might come in useful when you start shipping regularly.

The care, speed, and effort your carrier puts into shipping your products will directly impact your business, and the way your customers perceive your brand. So make sure to take the time to pick the right carrier, rather than simply the cheapest.

Before moving on, make sure you have: 
  • Researched different carriers
  • Compared each carrier, using the criteria above
  • Picked the right carrier for you

#5. Play It Safe With Insurance and Tracking

Are you selling high value items? If so, adding insurance can offer some much needed peace of mind. Most carriers offer insurance, and it shouldn’t cost you the world either. Some will have it as an optional extra, while others automatically include it in the shipping price, so it’s worth checking.

Tracking is a feature that can offer peace of mind to both you and your customer. You can see when your shipment has been delivered safely, while the customer receives updates on their package’s progress – it’s a win-win!

shipping products order tracking example
Give your customers the buzz of knowing a parcel is coming their way by giving them updates and a tracking ID.

Tracking is sometimes included under insurance, so again, always check to be sure before sending.

Before moving on, make sure you have: 
  • Decided if you want insurance and/or tracking for your packages
  • Researched whether your carrier provides these services

#6. Shipping Abroad? Tick Off Legalities

Your products are amazing, you love them, and you know the world will love them too. You want to spread the joy – but now the complexities of global shipping stand in your way. Don’t worry: we’re here to help you tick off the legalities, so that your products can cross borders safely.

The main thing you need to consider when shipping abroad is customs. For any package being shipped internationally, you need to fill out customs declaration forms. Be totally transparent about what’s inside the package, where it’s come from, where it’s going, its value, and the fact that it’s merchandise (rather than a gift, for example).

You’ll need to check which forms you need with your local postal service. You can then get the forms from your local post office, or even online through ecommerce builders like Shopify.

Top Tip!

Selling internationally? 75% of people would rather buy products in their own language, while 92% prefer to shop on sites that list prices in their local currency. Cater to all your buyers by adapting your store to suit multiple nationalities, and create a multilingual website.

See also: How to Sell Products Internationally

It’s also a good idea to check if there will be any extra taxes, tariffs, or customs duties that will need to be paid. This will vary depending on where you’re based, so it’s best to find out these details for your exact business.

Before moving on, make sure you have: 
  • Decided if you’re selling abroad
  • Researched which customs documentation you need
  • Collected the appropriate forms
  • Found out if there are any extra costs or fees to pay

#7. Label Your Products

Labelling your products is the last task between you and the final goal of actually shipping your product.

This isn’t as tricky as you might think – in fact, you can start out by simply hand-writing your labels. However, for more professional, reliable, and less time consuming labels, it’s worth getting them officially printed.

Here’s a quick look at the basics to include on your shipping labels:

  • Origin (or return) address
  • Destination address
  • Weight
  • Shipping class (such as First Class)
  • Tracking number and barcode

It’s much easier to create shipping labels when using an ecommerce platform such as Shopify or BigCommerce. For example, with Shopify Shipping, you can select all the orders you’re ready to ship, preview and edit the labels, and then print them out on your own printer!

Here are some handy services to help you create your shipping labels:

Other solutions include apps and services like ShipStation and ShipperHQ.

Before moving on, make sure you have: 
  • Gathered all the information that needs to go on a shipping label
  • Decided how you want to print your labels
  • Created, printed, and attached printing labels to your package

#8. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Congratulations! You should now be in a position to ship your products. But to ensure you end up with happy customers, you’ll need to put in just a tad more work. You need to communicate, and you need to take this to the next level (that’s why we put it three times, see?)

While you’ve been working hard to get your products ready for shipment, your customer hasn’t seen any of that blood, sweat, and careful shipping label prep. They place an order, and then… nothing. Three to five working days later their parcel arrives, and they’re more relieved than excited. Finally, they mutter as they open it, I wasn’t even sure this would turn up. 

Don’t let this be the picture that awaits your products. Instead, send a lovely confirmation message as soon as the customer places their order – if you can’t give shipping details straight away, let them know you’ll be in touch soon with more information.

Top Tip!

Make sure you include an easy way for your customer to get in touch with you if they have any questions or issues.

Try to give an estimated dispatch window – for example, you could say that items are usually sent within 72 hours.

Email the customer when the product has been dispatched, give them an estimated delivery date, and also send them a tracking number if that’s an option. Once they’ve received their parcel, you can always send another “thank you” email asking for feedback or offering a discount to entice them back to your store again.

how to ship products big wild thought email order confirmation
Big Wild Thought gets its confirmation emails spot on, promising further details about shipping and a button so you can follow your order’s progress.

Customers will appreciate the effort – 83% of US shoppers expect regular communication about their purchase.

You can make your life easier by automating some or all of your emails – most ecommerce platforms will have apps that can do this for you.

Before moving on, make sure you have: 
  • Created an email plan to send to your customers once they’ve placed an order
  • Drafted your emails
  • Looked into automating emails to save you time

#9. Offer a Clear Returns Policy

Did you know that 63% of US online shoppers said they wouldn’t make a purchase if they couldn’t find the returns policy?

Make sure you have a returns policy in place, and make sure it’s super easy to find on your website – try putting returns information on product pages for total transparency. Making returns easy – and if possible, free – will instill confidence in shoppers, and give them an extra reason to click “Buy” if they’re unsure instead of playing it safe.

Before moving on, make sure you have: 
  • Decided on a returns policy
  • Made your returns policy clear on your storefront

Shipping Products: Summary

Shipping is a huge part of any business’ success. You can have the best products in the world, but if your shipping is a shambles, then you can say goodbye to happy customers or repeat sales.

By investing your time and effort into setting your shipping up properly, you’re setting your store up for success. You don’t need an endless budget or some secret business sauce to get it right either – you can ship from home, and do an awesome job. Just follow our steps!

Shipping Products: 9 Step Recap

  1. Decide on your shipping method.
  2. Calculate shipping costs.
  3. Pick your packaging.
  4. Choose a carrier.
  5. Play it safe with insurance and tracking.
  6. Shipping abroad? Tick off legalities. 
  7. Label your shipping products. 
  8. Communicate, communicate, communicate. 
  9. Offer a clear returns policy. 

Your first steps are to get to know your products inside and out. You’ll need a tape measure and some scales so you can note down each product’s weight and dimensions. You’ll also need to have an idea of your budget, and whether you want to start off shipping locally or go global from day one.

After that, set out on Step One by researching which shipping method is right for you. We know it seems like a lot of work, but it’s not as scary as it seems. Choosing a good ecommerce builder like Shopify or BigCommerce will also make the shipping process a lot easier – they know what they’re doing, and they’re designed to help you out.

Remember, you don’t have to get it right from day one – learn as you go, and our guide will be here to help along the way!

Find out more

You’ve heard us mention Shopify and BigCommerce as being two of the best ecommerce platforms for shipping. Find out more about them in our expert reviews:

  • Our Shopify Review reveals everything you need to know about this popular ecommerce builder, including how we found it in testing.
  • Our BigCommerce Review dives into the details of this poweful builder, to discover what makes it so good for growing businesses.
  • Torn between the two? Head over to our BigCommerce vs Shopify comparison for a side-by-side look.

*Introduction statistic: Source

Written by:
Lucy Carney is a Content Manager at Website Builder Expert, specializing in website building, ecommerce, and digital marketing. Previously working as a Writer and then Senior Writer on the brand, Lucy has 6 years of hands-on experience testing web building platforms including Wix, Squarespace, and Shopify. Lucy is passionate about using her knowledge to help small business owners build their online presence and achieve their goals. She’s reported on industry trends over the years, attended events such as the eCommerce Expo, and advised readers directly with over 400 comment replies on the site to date. Her work has also featured on other online publications such as the Shopify Partners Blog, Usability Geek, Serpstat, and Open Source, and has over 100 articles published on the Website Builder Expert blog.


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