Best practices for shipping toys and holiday gifts

November 28th, 2016 Comments off

Stamps.com Blog Shipping ToysKids of all ages are busy writing their letters to Santa asking for all sorts of fun and playful gifts. Whether you are a toymaker, sell toys on your ecommerce site, or just plan to ship a gift to a loved one, Stamps.com can offer some advice! 

Stuffed Toys 
Stuffed animals and plush toys are meant to be lovingly squeezed, not squashed during transit. The best way to guarantee a great impression and the safe delivery of your stuffed toy is to ship the product in a box. However, for added protection and to prevent damage to a teddy bear’s plastic or glass eye, for example, you may also want to wrap the stuffed animal in transparent sealed bags, packing paper or bubble wrap. Remember that your recipient may open the box with a sharp cutter or a pair of scissors, so the best way to prevent damage to the stuffed animal is to use a box with some extra space for cushioning material. If you use a sealed bag or shrink wrap, clearly mark it with a suffocation warning label.

Action Figures and Boxed Collectibles
Some toys, such as action figures and collectibles, will already have packaging of their own. We recommend placing this package within a slightly larger box when shipping. Fill the empty spaces between the shipping container and the packaged toy with plenty of padding and peanuts. If you’re sending vintage or fragile toys, we recommend marking the package “Fragile” to prevent breakage. If the original packaging of the toy is vintage itself, collectors may be upset if there is any damage to the box’s corners, so you may want to wrap the original packaging in clear plastic.

Battery-operated Toys
Sending a remote-control car or robot? Keep in mind that restrictions exist for shipping lithium cells and batteries. For domestic mail, batteries cannot contain more than 1 gram of lithium content per cell and your package must have a complete delivery and return address. Restrictions vary depending on whether the lithium batteries are installed in the equipment, mailed with the equipment, or mailed without the equipment. For international mail, items may be prohibited by the destination country.  Check out USPS battery restrictions here. 

International Restrictions 
Remember that, if you’re shipping internationally, restrictions can exist regarding toys. These vary by country. For example, non-wood toys cannot be sent to Italy, toy guns cannot be sent to the United Kingdom, and children’s toys operated by steam or electricity cannot be sent to Indonesia in commercial shipments. Learn more about international shipping restrictions by country here.

Using Stamps.com to Ship Toys 
Reduce stress for your recipients by using our Shipment Notification feature. When you check the “Email Recipient” box on the Packages, International or Batch sections, the Stamps.com software sends an email to the package recipient indicating that the package has been sent. Under our “Packages” section, you can select one of our “Shipping Label” options. You can easily print a trackable label on plain paper or on one of our self-adhesive labels, such as the 4 1/4″ x 6 3/4″ shipping labels. With Stamps.com, you can print barcoded shipping labels for Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes (order your free USPS supplies at the Stamps.com Store!) and receive the discounted Commercial Base rate. If you want to use your own box, just select “Package/Thick Envelope” as your mailpiece and print out a barcoded shipping label. You’ll still receive the discounted Commercial Base rate! With Stamps.com, you can send First Class Packages with barcoded Shipping Labels as long as your package does not exceed 15.99 ounces. Otherwise, you can use Priority Mail, or if you need packages sent at the speed of a magic reindeer, Priority Mail Express. Remember that toys cannot be sent by Media Mail.

How to Create a Social Media Strategy

November 14th, 2016 Comments off

SDC_Blog_Social Media PlanSocial media is a great way to build your brand and develop a relationship with your customers. Still, while many ecommerce businesses have already established a social media presence, devising a plan for your posts leverages the power of social media even more.

Here’s some information about creating and implementing an effective social media plan for your ecommerce business.

Be choosy. While it’s tempting to jump on every social media platform, be realistic about how much you or your team can keep up with. Consider too how well your business translates to the different platforms. Sometimes, a service-oriented business can skip photo-dependent sites like Instagram. If your audience skews older, that demographic is more likely to check Facebook than Snapchat. 

Be easy to find. When you create social media accounts, choose usernames that match your business name as closely as possible, and try to keep them consistent across all of your social media platforms. Include as much information about your business in your profile as possible, as this indexable content can help search engines direct interested parties to not only your social media accounts but your business website as well. Once you’ve established the accounts, be sure to add your handles to your email communication, signage, stationery and other methods you use to make your business visible.

Be organized. Develop an editorial calendar to help you build out timely and newsworthy content. Creating compelling social content can be challenging, and utilizing a calendar can help a company focus on current topics and trends.

Build your following. Put thought into your content, and followers will pay attention when what you post is original and shareable. Don’t shy away from engaging well-known bloggers, influencers and media outlets. One great way to do this is to respond with useful information when users ask a question on one of your social media channels. Offering discounts to customers is another method to consider in order to grow your following.

Be responsive. Social media is worthless unless you’re ready to have conversations with your followers. Post regularly, be prompt when answering questions and concerns, and follow any interested parties yourself. Keep your content fresh and consistent so followers have a reason to check in frequently.

Be yourself. Social media gives you an opportunity to infuse your personality into your business. Consider sharing the story behind your business, interesting links you’ve found and inspiring words with your followers. You might also want to consider sharing any challenges you faced when starting your business—chances are, other businesses will encounter the same challenges and can benefit from your experience and insight.

Be innovative. Social media gives small-business owners unique opportunities to try out new products, programs and communications. Offer your followers the first look at a new item in your shop, a discount on the first shipment or the chance to sound in about their opinions. Once your promotion or experiment is over, track the kind of response you got and add the results to your social media plan.

Christmas in July? 5 Reasons Why it Pays to Plan Ahead for the Holiday Selling Season

July 21st, 2016 Comments off

Christmas in July Blog PostThe weather outside may not be frightful…but successful ecommerce is so delightful! And just imagine how delightful it will feel just a few months from now when you fully appreciate your advance preparation for the 2016 holiday season. Remember, many retailers find November and December alone makes up as much as 30 percent of their yearly revenue. It definitely pays to be proactive in planning, even if you’re presently thinking more about sandcastles than Santa.

Here are 5 reasons why it pays to get into the holiday selling spirit well in advance.

1. Your customers are already thinking ahead. Google Trends indicates searches for “Christmas Gift Ideas” begin in August and only go up from there. With a plethora of holidays stacking up once October hits – including Yom Kippur, Halloween and Thanksgiving – almost everyone gets busier and more frazzled as the year draws to a close.

2. Non-calendar holidays are key. You know about Black Friday (Nov. 25) and Cyber Monday (Nov. 28), but these aren’t the only retail-friendly dates to mark on your calendar. They may not appear on everyone’s to-do list, but as an ecommerce seller, you absolutely need to be prepared for Green Monday (Dec. 12), a shopping holiday similar to Cyber Monday that tends to fall on the second Monday of December, and Free Shipping Day (Dec. 16), a one-day event when merchants are encouraged to offer this perk with guaranteed pre-Christmas delivery. Create a holiday calendar so you know exactly which ecommerce promotions you’ll be participating in so you can be sure to plan accordingly as well as alert your customers.

3. Expanded holiday payment options and generous return policies appeal to shoppers. Many retailers extend additional payment options, discounts and loosened return windows during the busy holiday season. By taking the time to consider these factors now, you can make informed decisions once the busiest shopping season begins.

4. Intuitive mobile platforms attract shoppers on the go. Studies have shown that mobile shoppers make quicker purchasing decisions than desktop users. If you haven’t already done so, optimize your mobile site now to make it more responsive to mobile browsing.

5. Connecting with customers can benefit your bottom line. Whether it’s a curated Pinterest board of your holiday gift ideas, enthusiastic Tweets about products or personal emails to customers, your social media and personalized marketing can have a big impact on customers, especially during the stressful shopping season. Start your campaigns now by reaching out via abandoned-cart and after-sales emails or posting “Only 130 shopping days left!” teasers on social media. The more you connect with customers, the more you can be sure to offer them the products they want.

The bottom line
It’s often said that the days are long, but the years are short — so don’t let the holiday shopping season sneak up on you. Take steps now to consider your options and plan ahead for the busiest shopping season of the year. That way, when fall rolls around, you’ll be prepared to celebrate a successful season.

How To Offer Customer Service Through Your Order Fulfillment

June 15th, 2016 Comments off

sdc_ShippingStrategyCustomerServiceTo run a successful business, you need to have great customer service. While brick-and-mortar stores capitalize on the face-to-face communication we often associate with customer service, online businesses can still master the art of communicating with their customers – namely, through their shipping process. Here are five ways to master customer service by improving your shipping strategy.

1. Be clear about shipping expectations
Negative feedback is overwhelmingly related to issues associated with shipping. To hedge your bets and negate this, provide very realistic expectations for when an item should arrive. Be transparent, and explain the difference between shipping (when an item leaves your possession or warehouse to begin its journey to the customer) and delivery (when the package arrives on the buyer’s doorstep). During high-volume times like the holidays, provide a shipping time table that lets buyers see how soon they need to order packages to expect them by Christmas. Always try to get items to the Post Office the day the order was placed or within 24 hours, if possible. If and when packages show up early, buyers will be pleasantly surprised and more likely to leave positive feedback.

2. Include a custom packing slip
Marketplaces like Amazon have strict rules on how you can contact and interact with a buyer. The packing slip is a safe way to connect, and can help personalize the buying experience. Write a brief note within the packing slips thanking buyers for their patronage, letting them know that they are welcome to contact you, if necessary, and leaving the best method of contacting you. This will reassure buyers that you care, and that you’re just a phone call or email away should they need to reach out. The best packing slips I’ve seen also include a handwritten thanks with the signature of the employee that packaged my item. A reported 68% of customers will stop supporting a business if they feel that the company is indifferent towards them. Bring some humanity to the shipping experience and let buyers know you care.

3. Offer a discount for their next purchase
Discounts and coupons encourage repeat salesand demonstrate that you appreciate a customer’s business. As always, you must abide by each marketplace’s rules when offering discounts or coupons. It is legal to extend a discounted offer, but you cannot do so in exchange for positive feedback. A coupon for their next purchase may encourage feedback organically, but you can’t use it an as incentive.

4. Brand your packaging
The more you can make your buyers’ shopping experience stand out, the better. A 10-year study found that brands that can evoke an emotional connection with buyers can effectively charge up to 200% more than competitors. Branding your packaging will contribute to this. If you sell on your own website, you have free rein to package as creatively as you like. That said, you can still offer a unique experience on stricter marketplaces. After you have the appropriate packing materials, like bubble mailers or sturdy boxes, what can you add to set yourself apart from competitors and create a fun experience for customers? What unique addition would make sense with your brand persona? I recently ordered balloons from a small, party supplies seller on Etsy. When the package arrived, I opened the bubble mailer and confetti came out. It was fun, surprising, and totally consistent with the brand. Creating a genuinely fun shipping experience for me set this seller apart from her competitors, and demonstrated to me that she thinks about her customers from start to finish. I loved it, and I will definitely purchase from her again.

5. Make all returns free
We know not every seller is able to make free shipping work with their budget. Free, unconditional returns is a great alternative to offering unlimited free shipping, and benefits the customer and retailer alike. Here’s why:  a reported 49% of consumers believe shipping costs to be the most exasperating aspect of returning an item. Another 88% of consumers would rate free return shipping as either “important” or “very important” when making purchase decisions, and 82% of another test group affirm that they would complete an online purchase if the seller offers free return shipping. Making returns easy and free for the buyer is a great way to nail customer service and promote buyer trust. And if a buyer does make a return, they are more than likely going to shop from you again in the future, if your return shipping is free.

Offering exceptional customer service through your shipping process doesn’t just impress customers – it encourages future purchases, stewards repeat buyers and helps you win out over competitors. Get creative with branding, be generous with returns and communicate with buyers that you’re a reliable and considerate retailer. If you can nail this, you will reap the benefits. Happy selling!

ecomdash_logo_smallEcomdash is an award-winning multichannel inventory software for e-commerce retailers. It offers an end-to-end e-commerce solution to complete workflow, including inventory and sales order management, product listing, dropshipping and fulfillment management, reporting and more.

How to Offer Free Shipping on a Small Budget

May 25th, 2016 Comments off

267203_Blog-Free-Shipping-on-a-Small-Business-BudgetJust as e-commerce evolves, so do its shoppers. Online shoppers span across generations, interests and buying habits. Though we all tend to browse for products a little differently, there’s something just about all online buyers look for when shopping – free shipping. In fact, they almost demand it. One comScore report found the following data regarding free shipping for e-commerce orders:

– 81% of consumers would rate free shipping as a top priority
– 93% of shoppers would take some type of action (add more items to their cart, search online for promo codes, etc.) to qualify for free shipping
– 58% would add items to their cart to qualify for free shipping
– 83% are willing to wait two extra days for delivery, if the item would ship for free

separate report by comScore found that Free Shipping Day 2012 helped increase sales the final week before Christmas by 16% compared to the previous year. That was a boost kicked off from a single day promotion. Imagine what your profit margins would look like if you offered free shipping all the time.

Great stats aside, a small business doesn’t have the budget that an enterprise might, and therefore may not be able to offer free shipping year round. Free shipping is too great an opportunity to pass up, and even small businesses can partake in it. Here are five ways a small e-commerce business can offer free shipping without breaking the bank.

Offer free shipping during holidays
Allowing free shipping during the holidays is a great alternative to offering it all the time, and won’t cost you beyond what you’re able to spend. Orders will be higher during this season, which will help eat the cost of shipping goods for free. Another option is to offer free shipping during a specific holiday. One-day sales and free shipping incentives are popular on Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve/Day, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

Set a minimum cart value
Target does it. There’s no reason you can’t, too. Determine the minimum order value a buyer must purchase in order to qualify for free shipping, and offer it under those conditions. A case study found that when one company added a minimum shopping cart threshold to earn free shipping, orders increased by 90%. Moreover, the average order value also increased by 7.32%. Pull together some numbers to help determine a minimum order value that would work for your business. You need to know:

– Total Orders Received
– Average Order Value
– Average Profit Margin
– Shipping Fees per Order
– Shipping Costs per Order

Once you have these variables, plug them into this calculator, which will tell you your shopping profit. You can then find your minimum shopping cart threshold for free shipping with the following equation:

[(Minimum Cart Value – Average Order Value) x Gross Profit Margin] – Shipping Cost = Minimum Order Value

Plug and play with different estimated Minimum Cart Values to find an order value that works for you.

Offer it to email subscribers
Extending free shipping to customers on your distribution list is essentially creating long-term profits. Subscribers will be the first to be notified of new products, sales, offers and marketing efforts. These customers are already your biggest source of revenue. E-commerce businesses that have 40% of their customers making repeat purchases generate nearly 50% more revenue than other sellers with only 10% of their customers returning. By offering free shipping to your most loyal buyers, you’re encouraging them to make new purchases and shop from you long-term.

Free shipping for returns
More and more online businesses are implementing free returns as part of their return policy. Zappos offers free, unconditional returns for all products (in addition to free shipping). Offering free returns works for small businesses for two reasons: 1) you will pay for return postage only sparingly, and 2) free returns create buyer trust and encourage shoppers to follow through with a purchase…which they likely won’t return, anyways. Researchers found that businesses that offered free shipping on returns saw sales increase by up to 357%. Even if you have to bite the bullet and pay for a few returns, you’ll more than make up that cost with better profits.

Make it available for certain products
If you don’t have room in your budget to offer free shipping on all your products, try making it available for just a few. Have any product you need to move in order to make room for new inventory? Offer to ship it for free. In industry speak, this is called order-level shipping. Offer free shipping on best sellers, sale items, or products that will be popular during a given event. If you’re an online florist, you could offer free shipping on red roses in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day. Or, if you ordered some new stock and want to test its popularity, advertise it with a free-shipping guarantee. You’ll incentivize people to buy it. If it does well, you’ll feel safe ordering a large quantity from your supplier.

Free shipping positively impacts profit margins and customer relations. It is increasingly becoming the norm across e-commerce industries, and shoppers are growing to expect it. Offer free shipping in a modified way that makes sense for your business, and you can reap the benefits too.

ecomdash_logo_smallEcomdash is an award-winning multichannel inventory software for e-commerce retailers. It offers an end-to-end e-commerce solution to complete workflow, including inventory and sales order management, product listing, dropshipping and fulfillment management, reporting and more.

 

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