Delivering The Goods

Any business which involves selling a physical product requires the ability to arrange delivery of the product to customers in one way or another.

Unlike larger organisations, small businesses don't have huge budgets and people available to develop their own carriage service so the most frequent option is to use a third party whose business is shipping so as to ensure logistics are carried out effectively.

But to do it in the most cost effective way can involve some deliberation of the options. There are no hard rules about how to get the best deal from the post office or a commercial courier service - so much depends on your industry and your customers, on what you sell and who you sell it to.

Begin by identifying your shipping needs. This is the easy part but each of these five questions is important:

·      What do you need to ship?

·      How heavy is it?

·      Where and who are the customers who buy it?

·      How quickly does it have to get to them?

·      Does it need special handling?

Move your search to the Internet and go to all the websites of shipping providers such as FedEx and UPS. Their range of services will give you a good idea of costs and other conditions.

Go to the websites of others in the same business as your company and see what their shipping arrangements are. Most businesses offer at least two classes of service, standard and express, with express naturally being the more expensive. Unless you’re shipping perishable goods this is a good way to manage the problem of getting goods to customers in a specific timeframe - let them decide how soon they need it and pay accordingly.

Shipping services are another option that is available in most areas. They act as brokers to negotiate the best rates for a client company. Because they can ‘pool’ their customers’ shipments they can often come up with really good rates that an individual company couldn’t arrange for itself.

But costs are only part of the package. The service should have pickup times that suit your business, for example in the morning if your packing is done at the close of the previous business day. Some services have more than one pickup daily, and also offer on-request pickups within a specific period of time. Documentation is another matter to examine - reducing paperwork to the minimum will save you time and therefore expense.

Order tracking is another function provided by most shippers. The more sophisticated shipping companies allow their customers to track their shipments using the Internet making it possible 24/7 to handle enquiries from your own customers about their orders.

Yet another consideration is delivery at the other end. What methods do they use for fulfilment? How reliable are their carriers? It never hurts to ask for references from their existing customers, preferably those who ship to the same destinations as you’re intending to.