Shipping packages can encompass the best and worst part of your business. It's the best, in that the more packages you send to your customers, the more money you make. It's the worst, because business shipping isn't exactly cheap, and if you aren't shipping carefully, the less money you'll make.
In any case, hopefully you got some rest and relaxation over the Thanksgiving holiday—because if your business depends on the health of your package delivery, things may be nuts from here on out.
Cain Moodie, head of U.S. operations for DHL Express, says that DHL is predicting that the 2016 peak delivery season (the Monday after Thanksgiving until Christmas) will have volumes that are 19 percent higher than the average daily volume in their third quarter and 12 percent higher than the peak season last year.
"On Peak Day Delivery Day in the U.S., which this year will be December 19, 2016, we expect to deliver 89 percent more shipment than on an average day," Moodie says.
So if you want your packages to travel to their destinations as efficiently as possible, you may want to consider the following strategies.
1. Negotiate with your postal carriers about your business shipping.
Just because FedEx, UPS, DHL, the U.S. Postal Service and the other big and small delivery services tell you that it will cost X dollars to mail a package, it doesn't mean you can't ask for Y. Their prices are just a starting point. If you have something to negotiate with (i.e., a lot of deliveries going to a lot of customers), you can negotiate.
"The next day, FedEx reached out to me," Dowlen says. "Then in December, it was featured in Oprah's 'O List,' and the following day, I was contacted by the USPS, asking if they could visit my office. I found out that most larger post offices have a supervisor, located behind closed doors, who can connect businesses with regional field sales managers."
Dowlen negotiated rates with a regional field sales manager based on her company's current and potential business. She estimates she is saving 10 to 15 percent per item on her shipping rates.
If you don't have much leverage, you may want to team up with other small businesses like Dowlen did that year. She has a group of about 10 other business owners who she has gotten to know through networking. Dowlen used the power of numbers to continue negotiating rates with the USPS, now that the afterglow of the Los Angeles Times and Oprah have somewhat faded.
"Everything is negotiable," Dowlen says. "If you don't ask, you don't get."
2. Work with reputable business shipping carriers.
Most of us don't need to be told that twice, or even once. But it can happen: You run into a too-good-to-be-true scenario. You'd really like it to be true, so you give a cheap delivery service a chance.
"Resist any temptation to save a few bucks by going with an unknown or poorly rated carrier. A disreputable carrier will be twice as likely to botch your freight when the pressure is on," advises Augie Grasis, founder and CEO of FreightorGator, an online less-than-truckload (LTL) freight exchange. (Businesses shipping with LTL freight are able to instantly compare the lowest freight rates from top rated carriers and book and track their shipments online for a flat-rate fee, regardless of volume.)
3. Know the quirks about what you're shipping.
If you're in a certain type of industry, you probably know the finer points of how to package what you're shipping. But it's probably a good idea to get this reminder, anyway:
"Each carrier has unique requirements and restrictions with regards to the shipment of certain goods, like hoverboards or cell phones," says Brian Spindel, the president and co-founder of PostNet, a global printing and shipping franchise.
That is, you've probably seen the news reports of both hoverboards and smartphones exploding. This is especially important to remember when sending packages to customers around the world, Moodie says. (After all, those packages are going to be in airplanes. People will be on those planes.)
"Don't unintentionally ship dangerous goods internationally," Moodie says. "Always declare the contents, full shipper and consignee names. Many common gift items can be classified as dangerous goods for air transport. These include but are not limited to: children's toys that contain batteries; electronics and battery-operated Christmas decorations that have lithium batteries; and cologne, bath sets, nail polish and lighters, and any aerosol cans—all of which may be flammable."
4. Ship the order once you receive it.
You might have 10 days until Christmas Day and think you have plenty of time to get your merchandise to a customer, but this is not the time to be complacent. You might actually have five days, Grasis points out. For all you know, he says, a snowstorm on I-80 is in your package's future.
"And remember, even though the route for your freight is not effected by a storm, often there is a domino effect in capacity when other parts of the country are weather delayed," Grasis says.
5. Make sure your return policy is in order.
Unless you have a no-return policy in place, no matter how stellar your product, you'll probably have some customers sending something back to you.
Moodie advises having a clearly stated and consumer-friendly policy on your website. He points out that a "free returns for the holidays" offer may keep your business competitive.
"E-commerce return policies vary from country to country, so businesses that sell internationally should be aware of the policies affecting their customers," he says. "For example, a European Union rule requires e-tailers to allow customers 14 days to return unwanted goods."
In other words, it isn't enough to think about sending your products out on a trouble-free journey. It helps to keep the possible return trip in mind.