Small businesses with in-house or even off-site shipping operations have a difficult question to ask themselves: is your logistics and delivery schedule efficient enough? With Amazon, Wal-Mart, AliExpress and several other corporate competitors racing to the bottom of humanly possible shipping speeds, small businesses need to get creative to stay competitive. While it is likely inconceivable that an independent small business could run toe-to-toe with Amazon or other two-day delivery guarantees, keeping an efficient shipping schedule is a great first step to keeping deliveries on time, and maybe after analyzing trends, speeding them up.
Why Do You Need a Shipping Schedule?
A shipping schedule, or delivery schedule, is an active schedule that lays out the manifests of delivery orders, your expected fulfillment date, and delivery timeline. The best shipping schedules are established based on trend-informed customer/vendor demand and shipping service estimated delivery time. While delivery schedules are essential tools for fast-moving warehouses, the organization and efficiency of these schedules can be massively beneficial to small businesses with in-house operations.
Shipping schedules can be simple Excel spreadsheets or drafted on specialized software. However it is done, this schedule is meant to organize all orders in one place with relevant inventory and supply numbers close at hand. A small business’s shipping schedule will certainly be different than a warehouse’s; instead of managing the frequency of delivery for massive orders, small businesses can instead decide how frequently they should request pick-ups from UPS, USPS, or FedEx. Determining the cost-value difference of daily pick-ups versus another less frequent rate will require data and a bit of math, but the only way to get that data is through diligent order management in the form of a shipping schedule.
In order to make a shipping schedule that best fits your business’s needs and size, consider the following questions and criteria:
How Do You Ship?
Your choice of shipping method will massively alter how your business’s shipping schedule will look. If you bring your orders to the post office manually, your shipping schedule will be exceedingly straightforward, as you’ll simply have to decide – based on inventory and distance to the post office – how often you should caravan your orders. But there are more than a few reasons you should consider stepping up your operation from self-caravaned deliveries. If you request pickups from USPS, UPS, or FedEx, your business should weigh heavily which is more cost-effective: weekly set pick-ups or individually requested pickups. While the USPS does not charge for pickups, FedEx can charge up to $4 per package for express pickup and additional service fees on Saturdays. Things get more interesting with UPS: UPS does not charge per package but rather per pick-up: $6.80 for same-day pick-ups and $5.80 per future pick up. This means that small businesses who effectively plan their pick-ups days ahead of time can save some money.
What is Your Anticipated Volume?
Considering the above information from the three major carriers’ policies, your weekly and monthly package volume will likely have a major impact on your shipping schedule. For example, if your company deals primarily in premium goods, and/or in-person and carry out infrequent but urgent deliveries, FedEx could be a better choice of carrier because of their express per-package rate. If your outgoing volume is unreasonable to personally carry and not financially sound for per package pickup fees, consider setting aside a weekly day for deliveries. This, however, has inherent downsides, as a customer who buys an item the day after your selected shipping day will have to wait an additional week before their item even reaches the necessary postal carrier.
Businesses who do not have a dedicated logistics team also need to set aside time for preparing shipments if your operation is still in-house. This means that your shipping schedule may also need to specify dedicated blocks of time for packing and sealing parcels. A nightmare scenario could quickly come to pass if a postal carrier comes for a pickup and your packages still aren’t ready.
Be Mindful of Inventory
Your shipping schedule should be in close relation with your most up-to-date inventory data. Inventory, also, extends beyond merchandise. If your shipping operation is still wholly in-house, inventory includes boxes and general shipping supplies. Inventory numbers must be updated in accordance with your shipping schedule so you can act quickly if an item is in low-stock or overly abundant.
Depending on your industry and customers, your shipping needs may vary widely. For example, are you selling semi-perishable goods? In this case, you must use the quickest shipping methods possible; your customers will likely expect this. If you are a company that focuses on custom goods or fragile products, you will likely need to consider which carriers provide specialty services that will suit yours and your customers’ needs.
It’s not an awful idea to directly reach out to your customers who have ordered with you before, or who may plan on ordering from you in the future, which is more important to them: delivery time or additional attention to fragile items. While large companies don’t have to even consider this trade-off, small businesses with low output or especially fragile merchandise don’t always have the luxury to choose both.
Track Quarterly Trends
Your shipping schedule is a timetable as well as a resource that, after some time, becomes an unparalleled means to track seasonal or quarterly trends. Once businesses have a firm understanding of which products are selling and how many are being shipped, they can make better-informed estimations when purchasing raw materials. If a company sees that every holiday season there is a noted increase in sales, it may mean that altering the number of deliveries or the amount of shipping supplies on-hand could make a difference.
No Two Schedules are Alike
Like the small businesses who draft them, no two shipping schedules are likely to operate in mirror fashion. Those businesses who use shipping schedules, however, are likely to see efficiency and organization shoot up in their workplaces and storehouses. While it was once acceptable for small businesses to package orders as they came and send them to carriers when convenient, consumers have a higher expectation for speedy delivery and transparency on that delivery process. Businesses who have dedicated and well-managed shipping schedules are able to be more upfront about delivery times. They will also be much more likely to notice (and notice more quickly) when a delay may affect their customers. The most important byproduct of a shipping schedule, of course, is the gained efficiency; no one wants to be racing to the post office or begging FedEx for a delivery at closing time.