The Shipping Process Guide for Ecommerce Businesses
There are several steps that occur before shipping an order, and these steps are crucial to streamlining the shipping process, from receiving the order to preparing the order to be shipped. There are also several different options on how to prepare and ship orders, and it will be up to you, the business owner, to determine how to set up your shipping process.
Although every step of the ecommerce supply chain matters, shipping is one of the most important steps to get right as it can directly influence a customer’s experience with your brand.
In this guide, you will learn the primary stages of the shipping process, who is involved, and the different shipping options for your online store.
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What is the shipping process?
In ecommerce, the shipping process involves everything from receiving a customer order to preparing it for last-mile delivery. Shipping an order involves several factors, such as order management, warehousing, and carrier relationships.
At a high level, the shipping process can be broken down into three primary stages:
- Receiving the order
- Processing the order
- Fulfilling the order
The 3 stages of the shipping process
The three stages of the shipping process consists of receiving, processing, and fulfilling an order. These stages impact how quickly and accurately you can prepare a customer order and have it shipped directly to its end destination. Here is a deeper dive into the different stages of the shipping process.
Stage 1: Receiving the order
Once you receive an order, you will need to make sure you have enough inventory in stock to the process the order.
This begins by working closely with your manufacturer or supplier to purchase and receive inventory at a warehouse or sending inventory to a fulfillment center if you partner with a third-party logistics (3PL) company.
Receiving customer orders can be easily streamlined by implementing an order management system or inventory management software to sync to your ecommerce platform. This can help you track inventory and orders all in one place.
Stage 2: Processing the order
Processing a customer order refers to the process of verifying order data and making sure it’s accurate (e.g., verifying the shipping address) and that the items ordered are in stock. Much of this process is often done using automation and technology, which can help to speed up the order processing stage. From there, the order status is updated in real-time and customers can be notified that the order is being processed.
Stage 3: Fulfilling the order
Once the order has been processed, the order fulfillment stage can begin. This involves picking the right items for the order and preparing them to be shipped.
There are several different order filling options for ecommerce businesses, such as self-fulfilling orders or dropshipping, but the most popular option for ecommerce businesses is to outsource fulfillment to a 3PL or third-party logistics partner.
A 3PL will take care of the entire ecommerce fulfillment process for you, including warehousing, generating picking lists, packing boxes, shipping orders, and more.
Since there are many hidden costs to self-fulfillment and dropshipping comes with a list of challenges, partnering with a 3PL can help save on time, automate shipping, and keep logistics costs down.
Who’s involved in the shipping process?
For shipping orders to consumers, the shipping process is fairly simple. It involves the shipper (in most cases, the brand) who processes and prepares the order to ship, and the carrier who takes care of the last-mile delivery process. Sometimes, a 3PL is involved, which acts as a middleman between the ecommerce business and the carrier(s).
The shipper is the company or individual who processes the order and prepares it for shipping. This could either the be the brand itself or a third-party that takes care of fulfillment and shipping for the business.
Once the order is shipped, it’s up to the carrier to get it safely delivered to the customer (e.g., from a shipping carrier like Australia Post). Once orders are in the carrier’s hands, you can still use order tracking to share updates with your customers, so they can be notified on estimated delivery dates on their orders.
A 3PL offers inbound and outbound logistics services. When an ecommerce business partners with a 3PL, the 3PL company takes of shipping orders directly from the fulfillment center where ecommerce inventory is stored.
3PLs also have close relationships with shipping carriers and are able to negotiate rates, which helps merchants reduce shipping costs, as well as offer a variety of shipping options for their customers.
Once the order ships, merchants can view and manage all orders from one single dashboard and keep customers in the loop on their orders.
“I love that you can view orders based on when they are processing, completed, on hold, and in other stages. It is super helpful for us to have that and track the order every step of the way.”
Ines Guien, Vice President of Operations at Dossier
The warehouse shipping process first and foremost involves physical warehouses or fulfillment centers that store inventory until it needs to be sent to the next point — whether that’s directly to the end consumer, to another distribution point or hub, or even a retail store.
These warehouses can be operated by an ecommerce brand, a retailer, a 3PL, or other parties. The warehouse shipping process entails receiving inventory, storing it, picking and packing orders as they are placed, and then having carriers pick up packages from the facility to complete the warehouse shipping process.
Improving your shipping processes to scale growth
No matter what you sell, preparing and shipping orders is a time-consuming process. What makes it even more challenging is the ability to meet customer expectations by shipping orders out quickly, accurately, and at an affordable price.
The good news is that there are plenty of ways to improve your shipping process, and it comes down to what works best for your business. The right ecommerce shipping strategy for you will depend on your audience, budget, margins, product(s), and a variety of other factors.
However, as a rule of thumb, creating a process that allows you to offer customers different shipping methods and incentives (e.g., 2-day shipping via ground, free shipping, and expedited shipping), can you help increase your average order value, build brand loyalty, and improve your cart abandonment rate.
To achieve this, you will need to find ways to automate different parts of the fulfillment and shipping process, or delegate ecommerce logistics to a 3PL like ShipBob.
“It’s a pain to pick, pack, and print labels, and manage storage. It would be a huge stress for us to do it ourselves, but the fact that ShipBob takes care of it all, both the savings in costs and time, is invaluable to our business.”
Nikolai Paloni, Co-Founder of Ombraz Sunglasses
Shipping processes and your ecommerce platforms
Creating a shipping strategy requires the right technology, starting with your ecommerce platform. Many platforms are designed to make it easy to integrate a shipping solution to your online store. Here is an overview of different shipping options and tools available through leading ecommerce platforms.
If your online store is on Shopify, you will have access to the ecommerce platform’s range of shipping options — from bulk order management to label generation.
As your monthly order volume grows, Shopify offers shipping apps and integrations to improve your shipping process yourself, such as Shippo, Order Printer and ShipStation. Or, you can choose to outsource fulfillment by integrating Shopify with ShipBob’s technology to have ShipBob automatically fulfill orders as customers place them and automate the shipping process.
“My favorite aspect of ShipBob is how easy it is. The software is pretty intuitive, and everything is where you think it would be. The ease of access and automation has helped us sell on our Shopify store.”
Josh Hollings, Founder & CEO of Drop FX
Wix is becoming more popular amongst ecommerce brands, which offers the ability to set up different shipping options for your store. Wix has integrations with shipping apps including Shippo and ShipStation. ShipBob also has a direct integration with Wix and is a great option for outsourced supply chain management, even if your online store is still small.
By syncing your Wix store with ShipBob, you’re able to streamline the retail fulfillment process by automatically sending orders placed on your Wix store to one or more of ShipBob’s fulfillment center locations of your choice. From there, ShipBob picks, packs, and ships orders for you.
BigCommerce is one of the biggest and most customizable ecommerce platforms. With BigCommerce, you will find that there are a lot of different options for managing shipping logistics. BigCommerce allows you to either self-ship or outsource shipping to a 3PL like ShipBob. Also, the BigCommerce Apps Marketplace has different options that support printing of shipping and return labels, dropshipping, inventory management, and more.
“One of my very first customers was an influencer in the ecommerce space. He posted about his experience purchasing from us in his newsletter and, to my surprise and delight, left a raving review about the checkout experience.
An hour after ordering, he had already received an email saying his order had shipped. If I was fulfilling orders myself, it would have taken me much longer.
This was the perfect example of ShipBob working how it should, automatically sending tracking info and giving my customers everything they needed.”
Tracey Wallace, Founder of Doris Sleep
WooCommerce offers a flexible framework to integrate with third-party logistics software to automate order fulfillment and shipping for your online store. One of the best shipping and fulfillment integrations for WooCommerce is ShipBob, which can be done in minutes.
Once connected, orders will automatically be sent to the ShipBob fulfillment center closest with your inventory to prepare orders for shipping as soon as possible.
“Getting our WooCommerce shop integrated with ShipBob was easy, and it’s been fantastic to have; we had no problem with it. ShipBob saves us so much effort, and the opportunity cost savings has been substantial.”
Yannick Crespo, Co-Founder & President of Pot d’Huile
Squarespace offers ecommerce features and integrations that help make shipping orders that come in through your online store a breeze. Although they integrate easily with shipping solutions including Shippo and ShipStation, as the the only tech-enabled 3PL partner for Squarespace, ShipBob can take care of both fulfillment and shipping for you.
ShipBob automatically syncs to your Squarespace account in just a few clicks — it’s that easy! Once you integrate Squarespace with ShipBob, you can manage orders that come through your Squarespace store from your ShipBob dashboard. ShipBob takes care of the order fulfillment tasks, such as inventory management, picking and packing, shipping orders, and more.
“The ShipBob integration with Squarespace has been a huge leap forward, because now I have a tight unification between my web store, my inventory, and my fulfillment.”
Craighton Berman, founder of Manual
Square Online is a website builder built to serve small businesses. The portal offers the self-ship option, which can work if your order volume is really low. Or you can integrate your Square store with ShipBob. As Square’s first 3PL integration partner, ShipBob’s technology easily integrates with Square’s ecommerce platform. All you have to do is sync your store and products with ShipBob’s dashboard and send ShipBob your invenytory.
After integrating your store, any orders that are placed from your Square Online store will automatically be sent to ShipBob to the fulfillment center where inventory is stored. Click here for an overview of the features and capabilities for ShipBob’s Square fulfillment integration.
Let ShipBob take care of shipping
Now that you’re equipped with the tools you need to build an ecommerce shipping strategy that’s right for your business, consider making ShipBob a part of that strategy.
ShipBob’s renowned fulfillment and shipping technology integrates with leading ecommerce platforms and marketplaces to automate shipping for ecommerce brands. With a network of fulfillment centers across the globe, ShipBob offers merchants the ability to split inventory across locations to reduce shipping costs and time in transit.
“Last time we shipped our own packages, it took us 3 weeks. It took ShipBob less than 2 days. I couldn’t wait to delegate this business over, because the stress level was through the roof. I am just so grateful for ShipBob.”
Andrea Hamilton, founder of The Finer Things 1920
Shipping Process FAQs
How do you automate the shipping process?
There are different options in how to automate the shipping process that can save you a lot of time. Many larger ecommerce brands implement an ERP inventory system to automate the process, but the more popular option is to outsource fulfillment to a 3PL like ShipBob that takes care of shipping orders on your behalf, as well as offers discounted shipping rates.
What are the different shipping methods?
Offering a combination of different shipping methods is a surefire way to build brand loyalty and reduce cart abandonment. There are several different shipping methods to offer your customers, including 2-day ground shipping, same-day delivery, and expedited shipping. The type of shipping methods you’re able to offer will depend on your shipping process and where you geographically store inventory compared to where your customers are located.
How can I improve my shipping process?
Be it building a network of distributed warehouses or choosing the right carrier, there are so many moving pieces that need to be managed simultaneously to ensure shipping efficiency. While all of it can be done in-house, it means you have to invest in a great amount of resources (staff and space). Instead, just employ the services of a 3PL shipping solution that automates the fulfillment process (warehousing, picking, packing, and shipping), allowing ecommerce merchants to accomplish more.
What is the process of freight shipping?
Freight shipping is the transportation of large shipments of goods transported domestically or across the globe via air, land, or sea. Any shipment that is larger than 30 inches by 30 inches by 30 inches (or 76.2 cm), or weighs over 150 pounds (or 68.038 kg) is considered freight. Freight delivery shipments can either be loaded onto a truck on pallets or floor-loaded. Similarly, freight forwarders are individuals or organizations that negotiate with multiple carriers to organize shipment of goods from the manufacturer to a final destination (market or customer), acting as an intermediary between a shipper and the shipper’s preferred transportation.