Develop Successful Shipping Tactics for Customer Service

Deck: 
Shipping to customers has become more than a matter of customer service—in many ways, it’s a necessity for business success.
Byline: 
by Tracy Morin
Main image: 
Thinkstock.com/Hemera collection

With all of the day-to-day concerns of running a beauty store, the idea of offering shipping may easily be relegated to the back burner. But in today’s 24/7 world, where customers enjoy the convenience of shopping anywhere, anytime, shipping can be a great way to add revenue beyond your store’s regular hours, enhance customer loyalty and even attract new customers outside your store’s immediate area. “In this day and age, there’s no such thing as a local business—and to be a global business, you have to be online so that shoppers can have access to you anytime,” says Tonya Reed, president of the Houston-based Uncle Funky’s Daughter brand. “A brick and mortar is not enough; with people online all of the time, you can really expand your reach through an online store.”

However, even if you don’t have a website, offering shipping can still increase customer satisfaction. Customers who are on vacation or have moved away, or who simply don’t have time to visit the store in person, can benefit from your store shipping products—and if you don’t grab their business, someone else will. Whether you choose to accept orders online or by phone, if you’re considering offering shipping, take these tips from brick and mortars that have implemented successful nationwide—and in some cases, worldwide—shipping service to learn how you can make the most of this in-demand service.

[Image: Thinkstock.com/Hemera collection]

Develop Successful Shipping Tactics For Customer Service, p.2

WHY SHIP?

There are numerous reasons why a beauty store might decide to ship its products. Brian J. Esposito, CEO of AVEYOU Beauty Boutique/AVEYOU.com in Belmar, New Jersey, found that a seasonal customer base would not supply enough year-round traffic for his brick-and-mortar operation. After his flagship opened in Deal, New Jersey, in April 2002, business was booming in the affluent area, but it abruptly halted when September rolled around and the summer homes emptied out. “We had always assisted local shoppers through shipping out items here and there, but it was a real shock that forced us to make this investment,” recalls Esposito. “The summer business was incredible, but not strong enough for us to support the brands we invested in, nor [to] keep the store afloat throughout the off-season; so, without hesitation, I quickly began developing a one-stop beauty shop online—initially to cater to our store’s customer base.” Thanks to a combination of focus on exceptional customer service, product knowledge and smart brand selection, word of mouth spread quickly, and the online site became a destination for beauty buffs around the globe. “Now we have customers driving to our AVEYOU Beauty Boutique flagship store in Deal all year long, and we’re shipping thousands of orders per week to shoppers around the world!” enthuses Esposito.

Indeed, shipping services can drive customers to the brick-and-mortar store, as Scott Catto, managing director of Three Custom Color Specialists in New York City, found out. Though the company started as a mail-order business and always shipped, its informational website launched in 1996, and within a few years ecommerce began and has grown steadily ever since. “Customers’ shopping habits have changed drastically over the last 15 years, and they’re not hesitant to pay for shipping or to purchase enough to qualify for free shipping when they’re getting a product/service they might not be able to get locally,” says Catto. “And each order that we ship has information about our color studio, so we have many customers who come to New York to see us in person when they’re staying nearby or passing through.” In particular, customer feedback has been very positive because the online store allows customers to shop at their convenience—even while on the go. To facilitate repeat orders, the website makes it easy for shoppers to reorder their favorites with a few clicks rather than by visiting the business to stock up, adds Catto.

Esposito reminds his online shoppers about his store with every order: All orders are shipped in AVEYOU-branded boxes and inside AVEYOU eco-friendly reusable shopping bags, which have proven popular with customers. “We have always made our online shoppers feel as if they just left our store when they open their packages,” explains Esposito. “The goal is to make receiving that order an experience.” The efforts have paid off, as the company experiences fervent customer loyalty, notes Esposito, and greater trust in its services. In fact, some customers have contacted brands directly to request that they supply their products to AVEYOU, since it’s the only company they shop with.

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SHIPPING LOGISTICS

When deciding to ship, you’ll need to evaluate the services of different carriers, such as UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service. Some businesses use a combination of shipping services. The Beecher Group—a distributor based in Des Moines, Iowa—uses UPS primarily and a regional carrier as a secondary option for nearby orders. UPS has the benefit of being organized, competent and reliable, says The Beecher Group vice president Alan Beecher, and is available to serve the entire country—including Alaska and Hawaii—while offering package tracking. International orders are also accepted, but restrictions against hazardous goods—such as peroxide, bleach or aerosol products—prevent them from being shipped by air; they must be transported with ground shipping.

Barry Botchko, who works in shipping for Bay Cities Beauty in Santa Monica, California, notes that UPS pickups occur daily at his company, while FedEx or USPS orders can be filled if the customer specifically requests that method. His company ships only to the contiguous United States due to customs and expense issues; and c.o.d orders incur an additional $20 charge, paid for by the customer, because UPS charges a fee. For non-c.o.d. orders, a flat rate of $9 usually applies.

Reed also prefers UPS for its tracking system and convenience, though she is considering other options for greater savings. “From a customer perspective, we want to offer more USPS shipments, but they’re hard to track, and if the package is lost, the reimbursement process isn’t as great as with UPS,” notes Reed. Uncle Funky’s Daughter offers international shipments, but the company informs the customer that duties and taxes may apply to get the products into the country and shipments may get held up slightly at customs. The company’s shipping rates are the UPS fee without any additional service charges, but the company will periodically offer shipping specials throughout the year to reward customers.

Three Custom Color Specialists offers shipping through USPS, FedEx and UPS, though priority mail from USPS is considered most cost-effective. The company ships worldwide with free priority-mail shipping in the contiguous United States for orders of $75 or more, and a $7 credit on shipping for international orders of $75 or more. “[USPS] mail is really the way to go, but we offer the other services because some customers like to be able to see exactly where their package is en route, and [USPS] doesn’t offer this service at the priority-mail level,” explains Catto. “The cost difference is vast, and the service is very reliable. Plus, UPS and FedEx add fuel surcharges and extra fees to ship to residential addresses versus business addresses, which really add up. USPS charges a flat rate, so there are no surprises.”

Esposito also uses the trio—USPS, UPS and FedEx—for orders. Over the past five years, the company has promoted $1 shipping for orders more than $50 and $5 shipping for orders less than $50. Shipments to Canada are charged a $15 flat rate, with a $35 flat rate for the remainder of the world—not including any duties the customer may incur from the local government upon delivery. Esposito has found that using a combination of the three most popular shipping services allows him to get products out to customers as quickly as possible, because each entity has a different pickup schedule. “Carefully weigh out your shipping charges. We spend a fortune on shipping charges, as our flat-rate models are way below the actual costs,” explains Esposito. “However, because we don’t discount any products sold through our company, we look at these charges as pure marketing dollars.” He adds that companies should make sure they’re shipping within the guidelines, not delivering prohibited items by air. If issues arise with the shipment, you could find your store in some very expensive hot water.

Whatever shipping service(s) you decide to use, do your research beforehand and listen to your customers’ needs. After calculating the shipping costs associated with your orders, you’ll be able to price your shipping fees fairly and ensure that you’re not losing a significant amount of revenue in the process.

Develop Successful Shipping Tactics For Customer Service, p.4

THINGS TO CONSIDER

If you’re planning to ship products, you’ll need to think of other considerations besides choosing a carrier and making sure customers are satisfied. Here’s how our experts weigh in on some
of the other, often unexpected, aspects of shipping.

“For returns, if we make a mistake, we correct it and bury the expense. But if the customer simply changes his mind, he can return within 60 days at his own expense, which we think is sensible and fair. We don’t have a minimum order. If someone wants to buy $10 worth of product, we’ll ship it even though we might not make money on it. You can figure that your shipping costs are going to be 8% to 12% of the value of the goods, depending on how heavy they are and the distance they’re traveling. We also use highly integrated software that allows customers to place an order online, after which the ticket automatically prints in the warehouse. The order gets filled, the invoice prints and the credit-card payment is done automatically; so we’ve eliminated handling. Finally, in cases where a credit-card order is placed and the billing address and shipping address don’t match: The business is out of that money if that transaction is made with a stolen credit card.” — Alan Beecher, vice president, The Beecher Group, Des Moines, Iowa

“To advertise our shipping, we have an in-house public relations department that reaches out to traditional print media in addition to relevant blogs and via social media. We also utilize Google AdWords and Facebook Ads to promote our products and services, and do a monthly email blast with news, offers and product launches. In the case of returns, we don’t pay for return shipping like some of the larger retailers are able to do, but if the product is unused and returned within 10 days, we offer a refund. If the product is used, we offer to exchange the item for a different shade or product. We have an amazing track record for customer service—and our customers love to be able to actually speak to a person when they have a question or issue. It makes a huge difference.” — Scott Catto, managing director, Three Custom Color Specialists, New York City

“By [synchronizing] UPS, FedEx and USPS with programs such as the Microsoft Office suite of products, we are able to accurately process shipments at lightning speed. To make customers aware of our services, we have logos on our site and promotion cards that go in each order or shopper’s bag. Our most popular method of communicating our services and flat-rate fees has been word of mouth from customer to customer.” — Brian J. Esposito, CEO,AVEYOU Beauty Boutique/AVEYOU.com, Belmar, New Jersey

“We don’t offer returns, and we’ve actually had no issues with that policy so far because we make sure people understand what they’re buying and know what the product will do. If you’re doing a lot of shipping, you can integrate with programs such as UPS WorldShip, which prints a receipt for the orders that go out so you have a log of them and don’t get stuck missing an order. And always insure your packages. UPS will insure up to $150 automatically, but if you send out a $500 order that gets lost, you don’t want to absorb the cost of all that product.” — Tonya Reed, president, Uncle Funky’s Daughter, Houston

Tracy Morin is a freelance writer and editor based in Oxford, MS.