Many online shoppers say that the biggest hassle in the purchase process is shipping. If you can turn that negative experience into a positive one, you’ll give yourself a clear competitive advantage. Check out these ideas for boosting business through shipping.

Who Pays?
There are a variety of options that you can offer. Here is a brief analysis of each one’s costs and benefits for you and your customers.

• Free Shipping
This option is fast becoming the norm, rather than the exception. Whether it’s viable for you depends on the size of your business and type of merchandise you sell. However, if all your competitors are offering it, you’ll probably be forced to follow suit.

You may be able to offset shipping costs by raising product prices; but before you do that, do a price comparison with your competitors. In any case, as long as shipping costs are less than 20% of your retail price, you should be able to make it work.

• Real Cost Shipping
With this option, customers will pay the entire shipping charges, based on the size of the package, its weight and how far its destination is from your shipping facility. Although this method assures customers they’re not being overcharged, they still don’t like that they can’t see exactly how much they’ll be paying until they’re far along in the checkout process.

This option will be of particular benefit to you if you ship unusually large or heavy packages, or if your package sizes vary widely.

• Flat Rate Shipping
In this option, you determine a shipping rate and apply it to all products across your inventory. The rate could be based on your historical costs, or simply a nominal amount that makes a good selling point while relieving you of some of the shipping costs (“$2 shipping on all items!”). It’s most cost-effective for sellers whose package sizes and weights are all pretty much the same.

Flat rate shipping saves you the time and headache of doing calculations, and also allows customers to know what they’ll be paying before they get into the checkout system. On the other hand, it’s not as transparent — customers could wonder if they’re being overcharged.

• Expedited Shipping
The faster customers receive their order, the happier they are. And most of them are willing to pay for same-day, 2-day or 3-day delivery if they really need it. This option should be available on your website.

Make a Memorable Last Impression
When the package arrives at your customer’s home, this is your final opportunity in the sales process to promote your business and enhance the customer experience. In fact, studies show that unique, high quality packaging is more likely to stimulate a repeat purchase.

Consider designing your box to match your brand’s logo and colors. It could even be an unusual shape or size. Check out the possibilities for colored tape, stickers and fillers such as tissue paper. Another trending strategy is to use eco-friendly packaging materials: boxes made of recycled or managed forest materials, non-toxic printing inks, biodegradable packing peanuts, etc. Natuarally, this is a great additional marketing message to include within the materials.

Add in Sales Opportunities
Your shipping package is a golden opportunity to advertise additional products and services — at no extra cost. Simply toss one of these items in the box:

• Promotional Material
Include a copy of your latest catalog, discount coupon for their next purchase, new product flyer or your business card.

• Free Gift or Sample
This is the single most effective way to increase sales, as customers get to experience a new product risk-free.

• Custom Note
If your business promotes its personalized customer service, a hand-written thank you note will reinforce that message. It lets small businesses stand out, since large businesses aren’t able to do it.

Shipping can be so much more than a logistics chore. When you think of it as the first step in the next sale — rather than the last step in the current one — you can appreciate its potential to build your brand, increase customer loyalty and boost sales.