COVID-19’s Impact on USPS International Shipping Deadlines

October 22nd, 2020 Comments off

A typical year would have us just simply post the USPS holiday shipping deadlines and say “enjoy a great holiday shipping season”, but this year is like none other.

In my 20+ years of work with USPS international services I’ve never witnessed a more interesting year than 2020. I spoke with Kelley Martinez, Vice-President at RR Donnelly (a large international consolidator) and she agreed “It has been a very unique year with every day presenting new challenges. Volume surges during historically slower periods coupled with destination suspensions and resumptions with little notice has been both challenging and rewarding.” 

So, let’s have an honest conversation about 2020 “Peak” and what you really need to know about the international shipping deadlines for the 2020 holiday season.

Holiday Shipping Deadlines at First Glance

After reviewing the holiday shipping deadline (see table below) for major international markets, the USPS deadlines have not changed much from previous years. This is very interesting since postal and shipping carriers across the globe have seen delivery delays due to COVID-19 closures and increased residential delivery due to growth in e-commerce. 

First Class Package International Service201820192020
Africa1-Dec30-Nov30-Nov
Asia/Pacific Rim8-Dec7-Dec7-Dec
Australia/New Zealand8-Dec7-Dec7-Dec
Canada8-Dec7-Dec7-Dec
Caribbean8-Dec7-Dec7-Dec
Central & South America1-Dec30-Nov30-Nov
Mexico8-Dec7-Dec7-Dec
Europe 8-Dec7-Dec7-Dec
Middle East8-Dec7-Dec7-Dec
Priority Mail International201820192020
Africa1-Dec30-Nov30-Nov
Asia/Pacific Rim8-Dec7-Dec7-Dec
Australia/New Zealand8-Dec7-Dec7-Dec
Canada8-Dec7-Dec7-Dec
Caribbean8-Dec7-Dec7-Dec
Central & South America1-Dec30-Nov30-Nov
Mexico8-Dec7-Dec7-Dec
Europe 8-Dec9-Dec7-Dec
Middle East8-Dec9-Dec7-Dec
Priority Mail Express International201820192020
Africa8-Dec7-Dec7-Dec
Asia/Pacific Rim15-Dec14-Dec14-Dec
Australia/New Zealand15-Dec14-Dec14-Dec
Canada15-Dec16-Dec14-Dec
Caribbean15-Dec14-Dec14-Dec
Central & South America8-Dec7-Dec7-Dec
Mexico15-Dec14-Dec14-Dec
Europe 15-Dec14-Dec14-Dec
Middle East15-Dec14-Dec14-Dec

There are two challenges that we feel will have a significant impact on international parcel delivery during the holiday peak period.  After analyzing global parcel delivery over the last 120 days, we feel you should allow for 1-2 weeks of delay for peak this year. So, if take the most popular product by volume and destination (First Class Package International Service to Canada) and the USPS deadline provides a “mail by December 7” date, then I would try to have it out by November 30 to be safe.

Challenge #1 – COVID-19’s Impact on International Airplane Transportation

Many might not know, but those very planes you take to visit your Aunt in France are the same planes that deliver packages to other countries. Reduced routes because of COVID-19 means fewer flights and fewer flights means more packages being held waiting at transportation hubs. The situation became such an issue that USPS has resorted to ocean freight for parcels. If transportation is still limited during the holiday season, then we should expect continued delays from international transportation alone.

Challenge #2 – COVID-19’s Impact on Domestic Parcel Delivery

USPS has five international service centers located around the country in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and Miami. Depending on where you ship your package, your shipments will travel through one of these locations. To get your package to these locations, your shipments will travel on the very same network used for domestic shipments. Right now, USPS is experiencing an increase in domestic parcel delivery (up 46% in July 2020, compared to July 2019 according to data from ShipMatrix) and the holiday peak period is starting to look like a monster. If the domestic network gets clogged it will surely impact the speed of your international shipments to one of those processing centers.

Giving a Refresh on the USPS International Shipping Deadlines

I would start your Q4 seasonal sales promotions by at least two weeks earlier than previous years. By doing so it will allow a little more time to get your packages to your recipient and it will fall outside the typical holiday windows that will impact domestic and international transportation.

Should I Seek an Alternative Carrier?

Not necessarily. USPS still offers a very competitively priced product and with proper planning, you should be fine. Also, other alternatives are not immune to some of the same delivery issues and this year looks to be a challenge for all in the international shipping space. At GlobalPost, we try to address these impacts by using a mix of postal based services using USPS and other postal operators to provide the best possible postal optimized delivery experience. 

What is GlobalPost?

The GlobalPost delivery network leverages partnerships with international postal operators as well as commercial carriers to offer worldwide delivery. GlobalPost services reach over 200 countries and territories and include features not found in traditional international postal services. Get more info on International Shipping.

About the author

Shea Felix, General Manager – GlobalPost

With years of implementing global business solutions under his belt, Shea Felix brings distinct insights into the world of shipping. As the global shipping guru for Stamps.com, Shea inspires and empowers small businesses to take their services global. He is experienced in strategic planning and tactical execution, and has an exceptional understanding of product development, cross-border trade and logistics, e-commerce technology, website and mobile design, and global online marketplaces.

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How to Provide Free Shipping This Cyber Monday

November 18th, 2016 Comments off

Stamps.com Blog Free Shipping

We are big fans of free shipping. Who wouldn’t be? Customers rave about it and it makes conversion easier for sellers. What’s not to love about that? So, imagine our surprise when we learned that offering free shipping during the biggest ecommerce holiday of the year does not significantly impact sales.

ecomdash Free ShippingThe numbers don’t lie. Customers appear generally more willing to pay for shipping on Cyber Monday than normal. But this contradicts traditional knowledge about the positive impact of offering free shipping on ecommerce sales. As business owners, you have a decision to make. Should you use this customer data to remove free shipping and increase your revenue on Cyber Monday? Some people would be extremely uncomfortable doing so, while others would just look at it as a smart business decision.

Luckily, there’s a third option. You can still offer free shipping, but make your customers to earn it. This allows you to maximize revenue from customers who don’t mind paying for shipping on Cyber Monday without punishing your returning customers who are used to receiving free shipping. Here are a few of the ways you can get your customers to earn free shipping on Cyber Monday.

Spend X Amount

This is one of the most common ways that online retailers chose to offer free shipping. Rather than giving every order free shipping, they incentive customers to spend more money to earn it. It’s a simple tradeoff that has been statistically proven to increase both sales and revenue.

Kissmetrics found that presenting a minimum threshold for free shipping on an ecommerce site increased conversion by 26 percent. Average order value increased by 5 percent. The most important part of the process is calculating what the minimum order value needs to be. Pro ecommerce sellers use the formula below to make sure they are getting the most bang for their buck on free shipping.

ecomdash MOV

Create an Account

There are tons of great guides for ecommerce email marketing that will increase your retention and strengthen your connection with your customers, but you can’t even begin email marketing if you don’t capture email addresses. Cyber Monday is likely to be your highest selling day of the year, and if you let it pass by without collecting as many emails as possible, you’ve lost a ton of momentum that you won’t be able to easily get back.

Having customers create an account to receive free shipping is a great way to get the most out of the Cyber Monday mob. Depending on the information you request when they create the account, you can also segment your email marketing based on their gender, age, and interests, ensuring that your marketing hours are being spent in the most effective way.

Add an Item

This method is especially effective if you have items in your store that aren’t moving as fast as other items. Allow your customers to bundle a related accessory with their purchase to earn the free shipping. You get a higher order value and clear up more inventory space. The customer in turn feels as if they’re getting more out of their order, and a discount on shipping.

The item you choose to bundle should be something that a customer would need to go with their new purchase. If you’re selling guitars, your add-on item could be guitar strings or picks. If you’re selling makeup, you can bundle compact mirrors. This makes you look like you care about the buyer beyond their initial purchase.

Share Purchase on Social Media

There are tons of benefits to creating and maintaining a community of your customers on social media.

– Gives you an opportunity to humanize your brand
– Centralizes customer reviews that help new buyers convert
– Raises search engine ranking by adding to your link network
– Allows your customers a location to gather and form a culture surrounding your brand
– Provides a simple venue for quick customer feedback

That’s all easier said than done. Building a social media audience is not simple. One way to kick-start it is to incentivize your customers to share your brand on social media by offering them free shipping in exchange for hitting the share button. It supercharges your social presence by demonstrating that customers excited about your products. Not only have your customers showed off your brand to all their followers, but you now have access to your customers’ accounts.

Final Thoughts

The benefits of offering free shipping can’t be ignored. It keeps customers happy and increases conversion rates. But we also can’t ignore the raw data and revenue opportunities provided to us by Cyber Monday. This is one case where you can truly have your cake and eat it too. However you choose to allow customers to earn free shipping during the ecommerce holiday, make sure that it gives you key assets such as emails or an increased social presence. This allows you to capture momentum from the selling season and carry it with you into 2017. Harness your success and build upon it for the future. Now that’s an incentive we all want to earn.

Dion BearyAbout the author: Dion Beary writes about ecommerce for ecomdash, an ecommerce automation software system. He has more pairs of Chuck Taylors than any one person needs.

 

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.

 

3 Steps to an Easy Returns Process

July 24th, 2015 Comments off

We hear you – managing returns is frustrating. It can feel complex, time consuming, or even like the death of a sale. That said, 60% of shoppers who make at least one return to an online store, a whopping 95% of them will purchase from that store again if the return experience is positive. Moreover, if those shoppers feel that their return or exchange was an easy process, 64% of them will refer that online shop to friends. So even though returns may feel like an e-retailer’s nightmare, they can actually be the catalyst for more sales and new customers. In order to win back those sales, you have to make sure your return process is a walk in the park.

Here are 3 simple ways to guarantee a better return experience for your customers:

#1. Make It Clear
Your return policy must be easy to find on your site, with all policy information clearly stated. Be detailed and include all rules, like what you will provide (return postage, for example), and a step-by-step guide on how to proceed with the return. If you’d like an example, Zappos.com has a detailed and clearly outlined returns process that appears simple for the customer. Model your return policy webpage after theirs.

Zappos

#2. Know The Worth Of Returns vs. Customer Service
Figure out ahead of time the value of letting buyers keep the original item and sending them a replacement, vs. asking that they go through the return process. There are some cases where it is actually better for your company’s reputation, even if you end up eating some of your profit. See below for an example from Practical Ecommerce’s 4 Tips for Better Ecommerce Returns and Exchanges where this special circumstance played out:

A guitarist for a popular party and event band recently ordered a new guitar strap from a merchant on the Amazon marketplace. Unfortunately, there was an error in the shipment, and the merchant apparently sent a shorter strap than expected. When this guitarist contacted the seller about an exchange, he was told that a new strap would be shipped that day and that he could simply keep the smaller strap.

This solution was great for the customer, who did not have to repackage the strap or arrange for a carrier to pick it up. He was generally happy with the experience. This was probably also better for the merchant, who might have simply been able to order a new guitar strap from its distributor for about the same cost as having the strap returned.

In order to determine whether or not you can provide this kind of special customer service, you need to know all applicable variables. This includes cost of return shipping, cost of processing the return and profit lost on the item. Sometimes, a small (or fairly insignificant) loss will lead to a huge gain later. A customer could be so impressed with your service that they will not only shop from you again, but they’ll refer friends. Don’t forget, 64% of buyers will speak highly of retailers that gave them a positive return experience.

#3. Bring The Policy To Them
You already know not to bury your return policy landing page somewhere on your website where shoppers will have a hard time finding it. To keep them in the loop, consider posting (just once) on your social media sites either a link to your return policy page or a cliff notes version for them to quickly scan. Doing this will communicate that you are on their side and want them to be happy with their purchase – and if there is an issue, you want to make the return easy for them. This can be especially timely during the holiday season, and may be a smart post for December 26th. Drive it home with a follow up post inviting social media followers to share pictures of themselves with their new products. The more you can establish an emotional connection between your business and your buyers, the better your business will perform. According to a 10-year study conducted by Hiebing, brands that evoke a strong emotional response can sell more, drive customer loyalty and successfully charge up to 200% more than competitors.

With these tips in your back pocket, you can simplify the return process for your e-commerce store. Your buyers will appreciate it, and so will your bottom line. Of all the customers who make returns, are you ready to bring back the 95% who will shop from you again?

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

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