May 27, 2010, 3:23 PM

Sponsored Supplement: Making delivery special

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“A consumer that orders two different sizes of the same shirt most likely wants to see which size provides the best fit, so one of those items is going to be returned,” says MailExpress’ Clark. “Most retailers can accurately predict the percentage of returns they are likely to incur based on the merchandise they sell, the time of day the order is placed and prior return rates. The easier retailers make it to return an item the better the overall customer experience.”

Retailers can make the returns process more convenient by expanding the network of locations where consumers can drop off a package being sent back. UPS has reached an agreement with the USPS to accept items to be returned with special labels. The program, called UPS Returns Flexible Access, allows consumers to return packages by placing them in their mailboxes for pickup or other location for their postal carrier to pick up. They also can return the package using traditional UPS access channels—The UPS Store, UPS drop boxes, UPS customer centers and third-party retailers. Packages can also be taken to the local post office or placed in postal collection boxes for pickup.

Retailers participating in the program can print return labels featuring bar codes containing information for sorting and shipping that USPS and UPS scanners can read. Packages containing these labels can be dropped at a post office, postal box or returned through a local postal carrier. When the item reaches the local post office, postal employees hold the item and notify UPS that it is ready to be picked up.

“This dramatically expands our network of drop-off points for returns and brings a higher level of convenience to the consumer when they initiate a return,” says Mansour of UPS. “The USPS has 160 million access points.”

In addition to package delivery services, UPS provides supply chain and freight services, and delivers to more than 200 countries and territories.

How to choose
With all these services available, retailers selecting a mail service provider or shipping company should be asking about all the services that can help them manage package delivery, not just about rate schedules and how fast packages get to consumers.

“Mail services are as much about providing businesses with solutions to improve shipping performance as they are about rates,” says DHL’s Tessy.

DHL’s Customer Web Portal allows retailers to track domestic and international shipments, download invoices, and generate reports on shipment volumes and weights. Data can be sorted by day or week, or by such criteria as destination or shipping zone. Retailers can also create reports customized to their own specifications.

“The web portal puts a lot of performance data at the retailer’s fingertips they can use to adjust customer service staff levels to handle inquiries about unexpected delivery delays that may be caused by the weather or other events of nature,” says Tessy. “Performance data is a key component of managing delivery.”

One solution gaining popularity is shipping software that can be integrated with order management and accounting applications. Integrating shipping applications to their operating platform allows retailers to automatically share shipping data across multiple departments.

UPS’ solution to help retailers in this area is UPS Worldship, a full-featured, Windows-based shipping application designed for retailers with high-volume shipping needs. WorldShip streamlines the process of ordering by calculating shipping costs, preparing electronic customs forms, customizing shipping preferences and generating shipping labels. It enables the retailer and its customers to track shipments online, eliminating calls from customers inquiring when orders will arrive.

This application integrates with retailer selling platforms, such as eBay, so retailers can import order information directly to their back-office software and automatically apply a tracking number to the order. The information is then electronically sent to the fulfillment center, which scans the tracking number, triggering automatic printing of a shipping label.

Retailers also can use the paperless invoice feature within WorldShip to electronically print the commercial invoices for international orders that must be presented to customs officials, speeding customs clearance.

“Technology is becoming a much bigger part of shipping because it helps retailers become more agile and efficient when preparing their orders for shipment,” says UPS’ Mansour.

Ease of use
Although sophisticated software can help retailers manage shipping more efficiently, they need to make certain the programs they choose can be learned easily by all the employees who will need to use them.

“Small retailers in particular don’t want to have to spend a lot of time learning how to operate a shipping application, because it takes valuable time away from their core marketing and merchandising duties,” says ShipRush’s Zimberoff. “Any application has got to be easy to use.”

As shipping options and the services around them evolve, retailers that approach shipping as a core element of their business will be better positioned to evaluate service providers and find partners that deliver the right combination of value-added services and low rates. Those partners can add value to a retailer’s brand without limiting the retailer’s ability to offer free shipping and reliable delivery.

“Retailers should regularly look at all their shipping options and weigh the cost and value of each so they understand how they can cost-effectively use shipping to enhance customer satisfaction,” says MailExpress’s Clark. “Shipping is a key part of any retailer’s business and presents an opportunity for savvy retailers to delight the consumer with timely, cost-effective delivery of their order.”

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