News & people

6 Tips to Simplify International Shipping for Small Retail Businesses

International shipping can be a headache for every company, absorbing many work hours that could be better spent driving revenue. You need to juggle numerous processes, from finding a carrier to assessing quotes, usually under time pressure, and managing import-export regulations to meeting customer expectations about delivery times.

It doesn’t help that so many factors are outside your control, such as natural disasters, wars, and political or social unrest that can affect shipments. The entire experience is even harder for small businesses, where every employee wears multiple hats. They can’t dedicate a single individual to the task, let alone an entire team.

Here are 6 ways you, as a small business owner, can simplify shipping-related tasks, to minimise the risk of disruption and redirect time for other activities.

1.  Digitise the process

Replacing paper-based admin with digital workflows can slash through the hassle at a single stroke. Digital processes are more streamlined and open to automation, which saves you even more time and effort. Reducing manual data entry helps lower the risk of errors creeping in, and digital workflows increase compliance with import and export requirements.

As the shipping industry becomes more digitised, traditional suppliers are adapting their offerings to provide better, more streamlined services. For example, many freight forwarders have gone digital, enabling their clients to navigate tasks like organising customs clearance, cargo insurance, import duties, and brokerage services entirely online. Ship4wd is one such example, catering exclusively to SMEs, taking care of all these responsibilities and helping them choose the best shipping option for each situation.

2.  Combine shipments wherever possible

You can also reduce the headache involved in shipping management by minimising the number of shipments you need to send. Smart inventory and order management tools can help you to consolidate many smaller shipments into fewer larger deliveries.

It might result in some deliveries arriving later than customers expect, so you’d need to offer it as a lower-cost, eco-friendly shipping option. It’s an approach that aligns well with the demand for more sustainable shopping, because fewer shipments result in lower emissions.

3.  Automate packing tasks

The more elements that you can automate, the easier it will be for you to manage the entire shipping process. One aspect that is ripe for automation is packing and addressing. Automating these tasks helps prevent mistakes around addresses, and ensure that every item is packaged effectively so that it arrives in the best possible condition.

A tool like Cahoot can automate address verification, generating and printing packing labels, and enforcing fragile and delicate handling instructions for the relevant SKUs. It also records which box and weight to use for multi-product orders and automatically applies them to future orders.

4.  Apply rigorous quality control

Few people enjoy carrying out quality control, but establishing robust QC policies can be key to removing unnecessary stress from your shipping management. It’s a lot more frustrating, not to mention a lot more work, to enable a customer to return an item because it was missing a vital component, or to send an invoice separately because it wasn’t included in the packaging, than to check that everything is present before you send it.

Effective quality control includes formulating relevant procedures, and also making sure that they are followed every time. Some inventory management platforms include built-in order checking, which can help take over some of the burden.

5.  Implement order tracking technology

Packing items, arranging the most suitable mode of transport, and finding the best shipping company is only part of the work. You also need to keep your customers updated about the progress of their order and make sure that they know as soon as possible if there is any delay.

Order tracking technology like ParcelTrackr’s tracking software can help. Preprint labels with barcodes or QR codes, which can be scanned quickly for simpler processing. Then use the app to follow every package all the way to the customer’s door. You can even invite customers to track shipments themselves, instead of responding to questions and sending updates.

6.  Analyse shipping from start to finish

Like every area of your business, you need insights into your shipping processes so you can spot bottlenecks and identify areas that need improvement. For example, you want to know which logistics partners consistently deliver the best results for your company, whether air or maritime freight is more suitable, and what customers think about the condition of their item and delivery speeds.

Supply chain management tools, order tracking apps, and your shipping platform all generate useful data about various aspects of shipping and deliveries. Gather it all into a central repository, and then use business intelligence (BI) analytics to produce the meaningful insights that can increase efficiency across shipping management.

International shipping doesn’t have to cause a migraine

Although international shipping is always going to involve a certain amount of work, there’s no reason why it has to cause you a real headache on a regular basis. Adopting more efficient workflows, automating and digitising as much as possible, and implementing useful tools can help reduce the strain of shipping management. Even small businesses can lower the effort of international shipping and free up time for other tasks.