Small business owners have always worn many hats. They often serve as buyer, marketer,  salesperson, accountant, and human resources – a true one man or woman show, if ever there was one. These days, as more brick and mortar retailers are moving to online sales, many for the first time, retailers are finding themselves in a new role: fulfillment and shipment manager.

Accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no surprise that ecommerce sales skyrocketed in 2020. The pandemic fueled a shift in consumer behavior that’s not likely to be reversed – in fact, it’s estimated that by 2023 U.S. ecommerce revenue will hit $740 billion.

It is incumbent on small businesses to adapt to the consumer mindset shift, and do so with an effective shipping system.

Know Which Service to Use and When

All shipping services are not created equal and each serves their own niche of the shipping business. Generally speaking, USPS is often the most effective method for shipping smaller items, UPS is best for larger items, and FedEx will typically deliver your items the fastest, even offering a same-day delivery option. All three offer small business programs to help businesses best manage their shipping operations.

Hybrid Shipping Programs

Both UPS (SurePost) and FedEx (SmartPost) offer cost-effective programs that allow you to utilize the infrastructure of their network for the majority of the shipment while USPS handles the “final mile” of the delivery. These options usually offer less predictability in terms of delivery time.

Utilize Redirect and Intercept Options

With unprecedented shipping volumes, packages are often delayed beyond the typical timeframe, and occasionally lost altogether. Customers are often eager to receive their packages and when they are delayed, may become impatient. If you do send out a replacement item, make sure that you redirect the original shipment to return to you. USPS, FedEx, and UPS all offer redirect or package intercept options provided the package is not yet out for delivery.

Alternatively, you can institute a policy that if the customer fails to return a duplicate item by a certain date their credit card is billed for the item.

Free Shipping or Fast Shipping?

Like it or not, Amazon has trained consumers to expect free two-day shipping. Indeed, shipping costs are one of the highest reasons for cart abandonment, but the answer isn’t always one size fits all. While some customers are willing to trade free shipping for fast shipping, others still are often willing to add items to their cart in order to reach a free shipping threshold. Ultimately, the onus is on each business to understand which shipping options best incentivize their customers – but one thing is clear, customers appreciate shipping options.

Don’t Neglect the Unboxing Experience

Brick and mortar stores have long touted the experiential aspect of shopping in their stores. In today’s ecommerce driven world, that experience is, more often than not, relegated to a computer screen at best, and a tiny phone screen at worst. But there is one way that small businesses are finding a way to stand out from the crowd in an experiential way. If you search #unboxing on Instagram you’ll receive nearly 2 million hits of people sharing the packages they received in the mail – and those are just the ones who used that hashtag. Indeed, a Dotcom Distribution study found that 40% of consumers share interesting or creative packages online via social media resulting in a huge opportunity for brand awareness for brands. Branded or colorful tissue paper, logoed stickers, boxes, or bubble mailers, are just a few of the easy ways companies can make a package delivery an impactful experience.

Have a Plan for Returns

Sometimes, things just don’t work out and customers appreciate you recognizing that. Studies have shown that generous return policies tend to increase sales without increasing the number of returns. People ordering online may not be able to get to a store to return an item within 30 days, but may feel more at ease knowing they have a longer window should their purchase not work out.