Record-breaking sales are the dream for any big shopping season. But the reality is, even after you’ve made those sales, you still need to set up shipping and fulfillment processes for every order.
Luckily, this is a great shipping problem to have, and we’re here to help. This guide has all the shipping tips you need to create a seamless, customer-first shipping experience during a rush, including specific ways Shopify Shipping, Local Delivery, and Local Pickup can help you ship more orders to more places, quickly and efficiently.
Table of contents
- Map out your shipping and delivery process
- Stock up on shipping and packaging supplies
- Know and meet 2023 holiday shipping deadlines
- Set your busy-season shipping and delivery strategy
- Label products clearly and accurately
- Make shipping dates, prices, and delivery options clear to customers
- Prepare for returns
- Let customers track their order delivery status
- Prepare to manage customer’s expectations
- The most common cause of holiday shipping delays
1. Map out your shipping and delivery process
It’s important that you’re aware of every step in your shipping and delivery process—and having a rough idea in your head doesn’t count. Ideally, the processes are documented somewhere in your back office that’s easy for all team members to access.
Even if you do have your shipping strategy meticulously documented, it’s a good idea to make sure it’s still relevant for peak season as conditions can quickly change.
To figure out what your process is, pay close attention to the next few orders you ship, or check in with your team if they handle fulfillment. Make a list of each step, and write down how long it takes (approximate times are fine).
For example, it might look like:
- Review all open orders in one place from the Orders tab in Shopify. (1 minute)
- Organize orders by delivery area and method, such as local delivery or in-store pickup. (2 minutes)
- Pick the inventory required for each order based on the delivery method. (3 minutes)
- Print packing slips in bulk or use the Shopify mobile app to view the products for each order. (2 minutes)
- Get out appropriately sized packaging and any extras, such as branded materials, coupons, or free testers. (1 minute)
- Bulk print shipping labels in Shopify admin for the set orders you’re about to fulfill. (1 minute)
- Set up an “assembly line” for your packing slips, inventory, packaging, extras, and shipping labels. (2 minutes)
- Pack each order with the packing slip, inventory, and extras. Then, seal and label each package. (5 minutes)
- Attach a shipping label to each package. (2 minutes)
While you’re outlining the stages of your process, look for any bottlenecks and note how long each step takes to complete. Is there anything you can do to streamline those steps or make them more efficient?
Shaving a minute off each shipment might not seem like much, but if you’re handling 10 shipments and deliveries a day, that’s already 10 minutes you (or your team) could spend on something else.
If you’re shipping several orders per day, it might be time to consider outsourcing your fulfillment. By sending your inventory to Shopify Fulfillment Network, your orders will be picked, packed, and shipped to your customers—giving you time back to focus on scaling your business. Learn more about Shopify Fulfillment Network.
Save time by buying and printing shipping labels in bulk
To save time on every order you fulfill, you can buy and print multiple shipping labels at the same time in Shopify. You’ll also access lower, pre-negotiated shipping rates for USPS, DHL, UPS in the United States, Canada Post in Canada, or Sendle in Australia when you ship with Shopify.
To get started, all you need to do is go to your Orders page and select the orders you want to fulfill.
When you select “Create shipping labels,” you’ll see the full list of shipping prices and details for all the orders you’ve selected, and you can buy shipping labels and print them from that page. If any information is missing, you’ll be able to fill it in right there.
Set up Local Delivery or Local Pickup for local customers
Options like local delivery and local pickup allow you to connect with your local market, putting more control in your hands and less in the hands of a third-party carrier.
It’s quick and easy to set up Shopify Local Delivery. You can then use the Shopify Local Delivery app to build and share optimized delivery routes to simplify delivery. When it’s time to get out there and deliver, delivery staff and drivers can also download the app on iOS or Android to access directions, send notifications, and delivery status updates.
For local customers who want to order online but pick up the products themselves, you can offer BOPIS options, like curbside or local pickup. This is a convenient way for local customers to skip shipping costs and pick up their purchases in-store, curbside, or from other locations you choose.
Consider order routing to speed up delivery times
Order routing involves setting rules to automatically reroute shipments to the closest fulfillment center. This means orders are processed and shipped from the closest warehouse to the customer, reducing delivery time and costs.
2. Stock up on shipping and packaging supplies
Now it’s time to check that you have enough shipping and product packaging supplies to handle your forecasted sales. The last thing you want is to realize you’re out of sticky labels halfway through your pending orders. Replenish your supply of printing labels if you’re using a desktop printer or upgrade to a thermal printer now rather than later. Order your carrier packaging well ahead of time too—for example, US merchants can stock up on free Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express Flat Rate packaging directly from USPS.
Consider adding extras, like a gift-wrapping service. This can incentivize holiday shoppers to increase their average order value, but you need to plan in advance to make sure you have enough supplies to get you through the season.
3. Know and meet 2023 holiday shipping deadlines
Carriers release new holiday shipping deadlines every year to ensure deliveries are made on time. This year, carriers are slowly releasing schedules, but with the ongoing supply chain disruptions and increased ecommerce on a global scale, delivery times may be delayed.
In anticipation of another busy online holiday shopping season, keep an eye on your carrier’s shipping deadlines and factor this information into your delivery times. You can see last year’s holiday shipping dates in our Help Center or visit your carrier’s website.
Shipping deadlines for major carriers
The holiday shipping deadline will depend on which service and carrier you’re using. Here’s a brief overview of the main carriers’ deadlines:
- FedEx: December 21
- UPS: December 22
- USPS: December 19
4. Set your busy-season shipping and delivery strategy
The next step is figuring out the customer-facing details—specifically, what are you going to charge for shipping? The most common options are free shipping, flat-rate shipping, and exact-cost shipping. We’ve got some tips to help you figure out which one is right for your store.
Unexpected shipping costs are the number one reason people abandon their carts. Offering free shipping can increase conversion rates, but it’s not always cheap to provide (even with discounts from the main carriers) and can affect your margins. Find out what rates you need to cover, including how much it costs to ship your heaviest items to your furthest locations.
Consider sending a free shipping coupon code to your current customers to encourage repeat orders, or offering free shipping above a certain order size to increase your average order value. Watch out for shipping cutoff dates. If you’re only springing for free standard shipping, you’ll need to make the expected arrival dates crystal clear so your customers can order in time for the holidays.
- Increase orders and conversions
- Meet customer expectations
- Increase customer loyalty
- Gain a competitive edge
- You might have to charge more for products to cover the cost of shipping
- Economy shipping options tend to be slower
Flat rate shipping
If you want to offset some of your shipping costs and still avoid sticker shock when people check out, a flat-rate shipping policy is a great idea. With flat rate shipping, you set a price that will cover most of your shipping costs, most of the time, and will cover the cost for particularly expensive shipping options or items.
Flat-rate shipping also leads to higher conversion rates at checkout, compared to carrier-calculated rates. Your customers will know the shipping fees in advance, and you’ll still recoup most of your shipping costs.
- No surprises at checkout
- Consistency in shipping prices
- Clarity and transparency around shipping prices
- You may end up eating some of the costs
- Can be expensive when shipping larger, heavier items
- Customers may not get the best deal
Exact cost shipping
Exact cost shipping enables customers to see exactly what it’ll cost to ship their order and pay for it when they check out. They’ll get the same discounted USPS, UPS, DHL Express, Canada Post, and Sendle rates that are available to you as a Shopify merchant when you fulfill your orders with Shopify Shipping.
- Good for heavier items that cost more to ship
- Transparency around shipping prices
- The customer pays the exact amount to ship their products
- Can deter customers from buying bigger items
- Need to implement extra tools at checkout to calculate shipping cost
Get orders to your local customers
You can offer local customers other ways to get their products. This can speed up your delivery time and create a better customer experience while encouraging more local sales with the draw of fast and free (or affordable) delivery and pickup options.
Customers can skip the shipping rates and pick up online orders in-store, curbside, or from other locations.
- Avoid delivery delays
- Cheaper costs
- Convenient and flexible
- Potential location mix-ups
- An extra step for customers to go through
Shipping internationally can open your business up to new markets, but it requires an understanding of customs and related taxes in each country where you’ll sell. You might not be shipping internationally right now because it seems complicated and expensive, but it’s not as tricky as you might think it is.
There are already carriers with international shipping options built directly into Shopify Shipping to streamline the process for you: USPS, DHL Express, UPS, Canada Post, and Sendle. You can ship with the same premium carriers that global retailers use with guaranteed express service, negotiated shipping rates, and service to over 220 countries and territories. Whichever option you use, when you purchase international shipping labels through Shopify Shipping, all customs forms and details are automatically generated for you.
- Expand your reach to other markets
- Sell more products
- Gain a competitive edge
- Can be a headache sorting taxes and customs in each country
- Potential shipping delays that are out of your control
- Returns can be tricker
5. Label products clearly and accurately
Your shipping labels are the key to a successful shipping strategy. They contain all the information a carrier needs to make sure the products get to their end destination on time and within budget. Speed this up by ensuring your products and packages are labeled clearly and accurately with the right information. At the bare minimum, your labels need to include the postal code, country, order tracking number, date shipped, address, and weight.
Adding an accurate weight to each of your products helps customers see accurate shipping costs during checkout. It’s good for them, but it’s also good for you: You’ll be able to quickly print correct shipping labels for each order because you won’t need to update or correct the weight mid-fulfillment.
Need to figure out how much each product weighs? Order a shipping scale from the Shopify Hardware store.
6. Make shipping dates, prices, and delivery options clear to customers
We know unexpected shipping costs can hurt your conversion rates, but “How much will it cost?” isn’t the only pressing question your customers have about shipping during the busy holiday season. Equally important is “Will my order get here in time?”
Don’t be afraid to over-communicate when you’re answering both questions, since the answers are critical to anyone considering buying from you.
💡TIP: Communicating shipping speeds at checkout to your customers improves cart conversion, provides clarity and transparency, and increases confidence. Learn more about how to add shipping speeds directly from your Shopify admin.
This email from Portrait Coffee shows how you can clearly let your customers know the cutoff to place their orders so they arrive before a holiday.
Ways to communicate shipping information and deadline
Beyond email, here are additional ways you can get that information in front of the right people at the right times during the holiday shopping season:
- Add a banner. Promote shipping prices, options, and timelines on a sticky website banner to your store.
- Use a pop-up. Let shoppers know when your shipping deadline is on a pop-up.
- Add a homepage image. Or, a section that clearly communicates all of your shipping information.
- Share on social media. Let your followers know your shipping cut-off dates on social media.
- Send an email reminder. Let subscribers know when they need to order.
- Update your FAQ page. Answer the most common shipping questions in one place.
In addition to your website, product pages, and checkout pages, it’s important to give customers many avenues to get the answers they need. This can include email or social media support, live chat, a shipping policy page, and a help center or FAQ page.
Create a shipping policies page
Many customers will check a store’s shipping policy or FAQ page if they have a shipping-related question. Populating this page with the right information helps customers find answers quickly and reduces the need for them to contact you.
Setting up a shipping policies page is straightforward. Create a new page on your store, add a link to the page in your footer, and make sure to include information about:
The details of any individual policy will depend on your business, your products, and your margins, but having a central location to direct your customers to is the first step in proactively managing common questions about shipping.
7. Prepare for returns
Typically, National Returns Day—the day buyers return the most orders back to sellers—falls on January 2, but given the extended holiday shopping season, expect a higher volume of returns in December, January, and February. The average rate of returns over the holidays is typically 30%, which is a 10% increase compared to the rest of the year.
There are three main ways you can handle the cost of return shipping labels:
- Your customer pays the cost of return shipping
- You pay the cost of return shipping
- A combination of the two
The right strategy for you will depend on your margins, as well as your expected return rate, but keep in mind that return rates can be high during the holidays. Whatever you decide, make sure that you communicate your return shipping information as clearly and prominently as you do your shipping rates—it’ll save you time and customer support effort if people do decide to initiate a return.
Your existing shipping policy page can house any information you’d like to provide about returns. Specifically, there are two big questions you’ll want to answer if you offer returns:
What does it cost to return an item?
Free return shipping is fast becoming a basic expectation. While it’s not financially feasible for every business, sharing your return shipping strategy and cost—whether it’s flat rate, exact cost, or free—on your policy page will help preempt questions and set expectations.
Do you offer returns, exchanges, or both?
Answering this question upfront will prevent disappointment down the line, even if you don’t plan to offer either option. That way, at least customers know ahead of time.
Here are a few carriers that allow you to offer return shipping labels to your customers:
If you’re a merchant in the US, you can use Shopify to manage returns from one centralized place. You can even create USPS return labels for domestic orders directly in your admin, print them, and include them with your shipment. Or you can email a return label to your customer from the Return Item page after the order has been fulfilled. If you have a UPS account added to Shopify, you can also print UPS return labels.
8. Let customers track their order delivery status
After a customer has made a purchase, they’ll want to know when it’s going to show up. Research shows that shoppers are obsessed with order tracking and visibility, which is why it’s important to make shipment tracking available for every order, as early as possible.
The more effectively you communicate available order tracking options, the fewer follow-ups you’ll get from anxious customers. Adding tracking numbers to all fulfilled orders can save you a lot of questions down the line. You can also offer ePacket tracking to put the power in your customers’ hands.
You can also add or customize an order status page on your store. After adding a tracking number, your customers can view shipping updates from their order page.
If you’re a merchant in the US or Canada, tracking is included with most carriers available through Shopify Shipping. Once you buy a label for an order, the tracking number is automatically emailed to your customers.
9. Prepare to manage customer’s expectations
Managing customer expectations is a critical part of the shipping process. Shoppers want to feel reassured, especially if they’ve spent a large amount of money in your store. Throughout the shipping process, make sure you deliver excellent customer service. Not only will this keep current shoppers happy, but they’ll be more likely to come back and shop with you again.
Here are some tactics you can implement to manage customer expectations:
- Provide clear communication. Stay in touch with customers throughout the shipping process.
- Be transparent. Proactively update customers on any changes to their orders, whether it’s a shipping delay or something else.
- Set deadlines. Make sure shoppers are aware of your shipping cut-off point if they want to receive products by a certain date.
- Answer FAQs. Create a dedicated page on your site that tackles commonly asked shipping questions.
- Offer website chat. Implement a chatbot or extra support staff who can engage with customers and direct them to shipping and order tracking information.
10. The most common cause of holiday shipping delays
Sometimes even the best-laid plans go awry. You can do your due diligence and have a solid shipping strategy, but there are still things that will be out of your control that cause shipping delays. Here are some of the top reasons and how you can avoid them.
Mother Nature has no mercy on shipping schedules (especially during winter). Bad weather can delay shipments or, worse, damage them completely. Avoid inclement weather as best as possible by putting contingency plans in place. Use different forms of transportation and optimize your routes to avoid the most at-risk areas.
Rise in demand
A surge in sales is obviously a good thing, but it can come with some downsides. A sudden influx means you need to coordinate shipping for a lot more customers. Be flexible with your carriers and make sure you have enough packaging materials available for a surplus of orders. Even more importantly, communicate with your customers as early as possible if you’re expecting holiday shipping delays because of it.
Shortage of workers
Supply chains are still experiencing labor shortages. While this is mostly out of your control, you can temper customer expectations by keeping them in the loop. Proactively address any delays via email or SMS and regularly update them on the status of their order.
Plan now for shipping and delivery success during the holidays
As a small business gearing up to get a piece of the holiday sales action, it’s important to get your logistics on point well ahead of the busy shopping season. It’ll help create a great experience for your customers, and it’ll definitely help make for a smoother experience for you and anyone involved in helping you get those orders out the door.
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Holiday shipping tips FAQ
Is shipping slower during the holidays?
Shipping is often slower during the holidays because there is an increased volume of packages being shipped.
Is holiday shipping more expensive?
Some carriers charge more during the holiday season to offset the costs of increased demand. This varies from carrier to carrier, but prices tend to go up the closer you get to the shipping cut-off point.
Why are shipments delayed?
Shipments can be delayed for a number of reasons. The most common causes of delay are inclement weather conditions, a rise in demand, and a shortage of staff. It could also be because an item is out of stock or there was an issue with the manufacturing process.
When is the last day to ship before Christmas?
Different carriers have different shipping cut-off points. Check your carrier’s website to find out the last day you can ship products using your chosen service.