Aug 1, 2023
Kelli is the senior content strategist for Order Protection.
How many times have you opened your door to a package that looks like it went through *a lot* before reaching you? We’re guessing more than a few times.
If you’re lucky, sometimes a package that’s battered and bruised was still able to protect the items inside from getting damaged. But other times, well, that thin layer of cardboard just doesn’t cut it.
As an eCommerce business owner, you know how important it is to deliver products safely and securely to your customers. But the shipping process can be fraught with risks, including the aforementioned damage, but also loss, theft, and other issues that make for a less-than-satisfactory customer experience. These issues not only result in financial losses but also harm the reputation of your business and erode customer trust.
Once packages leave your warehouse, they’re quite literally out of your hands, and many of these issues can’t always be prevented. But even when shipping issues are the result of forces outside of your control, customers will still associate the experience with your brand. Thankfully, there are several strategies you can implement to mitigate these risks and ensure you’re doing all that you can to get your customers’ orders to their door safe and sound.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the root causes of shipping damage and how it can affect your business, plus the best practices for protecting your shipments, preventing damage, and navigating the complexities of the shipping process.
The costly consequences of shipping damage
Shipping damages can have significant financial implications for your business. From the costs of replacing damaged items to the expenses associated with reshipping and managing customer claims, the impact can add up quickly. Additionally, damaged shipments can lead to unhappy customers, negative reviews, and a damaged brand reputation—which can eventually impact revenue as well. Let's take a closer look at the key consequences of and pain points associated with shipping damages.
1. Financial losses
Replacing damaged items can be a costly endeavor. You not only have to bear the cost of the damaged product itself but also the expenses associated with shipping the replacement item to the customer. These costs can quickly eat into your profit margins and erode your bottom line.
And this isn’t just an issue for small businesses—shipping issues affect the big guys, too. For example, way back in 2016, Amazon lost $7.2 billion (that’s billion with a B) due to shipping issues. That’s no small impact to the bottom line. If shipping problems can cause that much damage to a business with a shipping department that’s larger than most companies, it’s safe to say that having a strategy in place to prevent and deal with shipping issues should be top of mind for most eCommerce brands.
2. Customer dissatisfaction
When customers receive damaged products, it negatively impacts their experience with your brand. They may feel frustrated, disappointed, and inconvenienced by the need to return or exchange the damaged item. This dissatisfaction can lead to negative reviews, diminished customer loyalty, and a decline in repeat business.
At the end of the day, the customer isn’t going to care about whether the damage is at the fault of your brand or the delivery courier—they just know it was an issue that occurred when shopping with your brand, and they want their problem solved. A majority of respondents (89%) in a consumer survey indicated that businesses can regain their trust if the brands make an effort to solve their problem.
3. Damaged brand reputation
A staggering 99.9% of customers in a 2021 report said that they read reviews when shopping online. And when it comes to leaving reviews, 52% of consumers are more likely to take the time to write a review when they have a negative experience, while 50% say they’re more likely to share negative reviews on social media.
So in this age of online reviews and social media, news of shipping damages can spread quickly and damage your brand reputation. Whether through word of mouth or online channels, customers sharing negative experiences can tarnish your brand image and deter potential customers from making purchases. Protecting your shipments isn’t just about immediate financial losses but also safeguarding your brand's integrity and credibility.
4. Increased return rates
Shipping damages often result in higher return rates, as customers rightfully expect to receive undamaged products. The need to process returns and handle customer inquiries places an additional burden on your business operations and can strain your resources.
In fact, replacing a damaged product can cost up to 17 times more than the original cost to ship it. And while replacing a customer’s order when it arrives damaged is certainly better than the alternative, taking precautions when shipping the original order to ensure products arrive undamaged can save your business in the long run.
5. Time and effort
Dealing with shipping damages requires valuable time and effort from your team. From processing claims and coordinating returns to managing customer communication, these activities divert resources that could be better spent on other aspects of your business.
Women’s clothing brand, Oh Polly, would go back and forth with carriers for up to two weeks while they conducted investigations into shipping issues. Not only was that time wasted for the Oh Polly customer service team, but it was an extremely poor experience for the customer.
Top causes of shipping damage
Before you can solve issues relating to shipping damages, it’s essential to understand the pain points in your process and the root causes of the problems. Are your products consistently breaking en route? You may need to update your packaging. Are you seeing an influx in customers having their packages stolen? This one is a trickier solve, but investing in shipping protection or insurance can ensure you and your customers are covered in cases of theft
By identifying these factors, you can implement targeted strategies to mitigate risks and prevent damage. Here are some common causes of shipping damages:
1. Inadequate packaging
Improper or ill-fitting packaging is a leading cause of shipping damages. When products are not adequately packed or leave too much empty space in the box, they are prone to shifting and colliding during transit. This lack of cushioning and stability increases the risk of damage.
To address this issue, ensure that your packaging is appropriate for the items being shipped. Use the right-sized boxes or mailers that provide a snug fit for the product. Fill any empty space with suitable packing materials, such as airbags, bubble wrap, or packing peanuts to secure the item and minimize movement.
2. Insufficient labeling
Proper labeling is critical to ensure that shipping handlers are aware of the contents and handle the packages accordingly. If packages containing fragile items are not clearly labeled, they may not receive the necessary care and attention during transit, increasing the likelihood of damage.
To prevent this, always label fragile items prominently on the packaging. Use stickers or labels that clearly indicate the fragile nature of the contents, ensuring that shipping handlers handle them with care.
3. Environmental factors
Changes in temperature and humidity along the shipping route can pose risks to your shipments. Extreme temperature variations or exposure to moisture can lead to warping, corrosion, or damage to sensitive products. Additionally, packages left outside in inclement weather can suffer from water damage.
To mitigate these risks, consider using water-resistant packaging materials and inserts. These can help protect your products from moisture and environmental factors. Furthermore, evaluate your packaging design to ensure it provides adequate protection against temperature and humidity variations.
4. Improper handling
Throughout the shipping process, packages pass through multiple hands and undergo various stages of handling. Mishandling during loading, unloading, and transportation can result in damages. Even packages marked as fragile may not always receive the necessary care.
While you cannot control every individual involved in the shipping process, you can take steps to minimize mishandling. Work with reputable carriers known for their careful handling practices. Properly train your own employees or third-party logistics providers on best handling practices to ensure consistency and accuracy.
5. Theft and tampering
Package theft is an unfortunate reality in the eCommerce world. Stolen packages not only result in financial losses for your business but also disrupt the customer experience. In addition, tampering with packages can lead to damaged or compromised products.
To combat theft and tampering, consider investing in package protection measures. This can include using tamper-evident packaging solutions, utilizing shipping insurance to cover potential losses, and exploring options for secure delivery methods, such as requiring customer signatures or offering package pickup at local designated locations.
Implementing effective shipping protection strategies
Now for the good part: the solutions. With a clear understanding of how shipping damages can affect your bottom line and ways to identify common issues, it’s time to explore the key strategies that can protect your shipments and ensure safe delivery. By implementing these best practices, you can minimize risks, enhance customer satisfaction, and maintain your brand's reputation.
1. Choose the right packaging
Selecting the appropriate size and fit when packaging your products is an important first step in protecting your shipments for a safe delivery. Use sturdy and durable materials that can withstand the rigors of the shipping process. Consider the size, weight, and fragility of your products when choosing packaging options.
For smaller items, opt for padded mailers or corrugated boxes with adequate cushioning materials. For larger or fragile items, consider using double-layered cardboard boxes or specialized packaging solutions designed for extra protection.
2. Ensure proper padding and cushioning
Even with the right size package, proper padding and cushioning are essential for protecting your products during transit, especially for fragile items. Use appropriate materials such as bubble wrap, airbags, foam inserts, or packing peanuts to provide cushioning and absorb shock. Filling any empty spaces with suitable padding materials helps to prevent movement and minimizes the risk of damage.
Additionally, it’s important to wrap each item individually to prevent direct contact and soften any blows from collisions or impacts.
3. Secure and seal packages
The best packaging in the world isn’t worth much if you don’t seal it correctly. Properly securing and sealing packages can prevent damage and ensure the integrity of your shipments. Use strong adhesive tapes that can withstand the demands of the shipping process. Reinforce seams and edges to prevent packages from coming apart during transit.
Consider using tamper-evident packaging solutions that provide visible signs of tampering. These can help deter theft and ensure that customers receive their packages intact.
4. Label fragile items clearly
Clearly label packages containing fragile items to alert shipping handlers and ensure proper handling. Use prominent stickers or labels that clearly indicate the fragile nature of the contents. Place these labels on multiple sides of the package to maximize visibility.
Additionally, consider using handling instructions and symbols to provide further guidance to shipping handlers. This can include instructions to "handle with care" or "this side up" to minimize the risk of mishandling.
5. Work with trusted carriers
Choosing reputable and reliable carriers is essential for protecting your shipments. Conduct research and evaluate carriers based on their track record, reputation, and customer reviews. Look for carriers with a proven commitment to careful handling and timely deliveries.
Establishing a strong partnership with trusted carriers can provide peace of mind and ensure that your shipments are in safe hands. Regularly assess carrier performance and address any issues promptly to maintain a high level of service quality.
6. Provide shipping insurance
Shipping insurance offers an additional layer of protection for your shipments. It can provide coverage for lost, damaged, or stolen packages, minimizing the financial impact on your business. Research different shipping insurance options and choose a policy that aligns with your specific needs and risk tolerance.
Remember to clearly communicate your shipping insurance policy to your customers. This can help build trust and provide assurance that their purchases are protected, enhancing their overall experience.
7. Monitor and track shipments
Implementing a robust shipment monitoring and tracking system can help you stay informed about the status and location of your packages. Utilize technology such as sensors and tracking systems to provide real-time updates on the whereabouts of your shipments. Real-time tracking is also a feature that most consumers expect, so offering this is beneficial to both you and the customer, and can help reduce WISMO (“where is my order?”) inquiries as well.
Monitoring solutions can also alert you to potential issues or irregularities during transit, such as unexpected delays or changes in temperature or humidity. This proactive approach allows you to take immediate action and address any potential risks or incidents that may jeopardize the safety of your shipments.
8. Collect and analyze data
Collecting and analyzing data on shipping damages is crucial for identifying patterns, trends, and areas for improvement. Keep detailed records of damaged shipments, including the type of damage, packaging used, carrier involved, and any other relevant information.
Regularly review this data to identify recurring issues and implement targeted solutions. This can involve adjusting packaging strategies, addressing specific carrier performance issues, or exploring alternative shipping methods.
9. Continuously improve packaging design
As we mentioned, packaging design plays a vital role in protecting your shipments. Continuously evaluate and improve your packaging design to enhance protection, minimize waste, and reduce the risk of damage. Consider factors such as material strength, cushioning effectiveness, and ease of handling.
Engage with your packaging suppliers and explore innovative packaging solutions that offer enhanced protection and sustainability. Stay informed about industry trends and advancements in packaging technology to ensure that your shipments are always well-protected.
10. Educate and train employees
Properly educating and training your employees on shipping protection best practices is essential for ensuring consistency and accuracy. Provide comprehensive training on proper packaging techniques, labeling requirements, and handling instructions.
Regularly communicate updates and guidelines to your team members to ensure they are aware of any changes or improvements in shipping protection strategies. Encourage open communication and feedback to facilitate a culture of continuous improvement and problem-solving.
Protect shipments—and your brand's bottom line
Shipping protection is a critical aspect of eCommerce operations. By implementing effective strategies, you can minimize the risks of shipping damages, protect your brand reputation, and ensure customer satisfaction.
Remember, protecting your shipments is not only about financial considerations but also about fostering a positive customer experience and building long-term relationships. By prioritizing shipping protection, you can safeguard your business, enhance customer loyalty, and position yourself for long-term success in the competitive world of eCommerce.
At every step of the shipping process, make sure to prioritize clear communication with your customers. Provide them with tracking information and estimated delivery dates to manage their expectations. In the event of a damaged shipment, promptly address the issue by offering solutions such as refunds, replacements, or discounts. This proactive approach demonstrates your commitment to customer satisfaction and helps to mitigate any negative impact caused by shipping damages.
Protecting your shipments is an ongoing process that requires continuous evaluation, adaptation, and improvement. Stay informed about industry trends, technological advancements, and customer expectations to ensure that your shipping protection strategies remain effective and aligned with the evolving needs of your business and customers.