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Shipping Problems? Get 10 Fixes to the Most Common Fulfillment Challenges

A woman working in a warehouse, encountering common fulfillment challenges while shipping.

Shipping can be a headache.

Lost packages. Damaged products. Hidden fees.

Getting your products to your customers is a complex process, and there are lots of things that can go wrong.

Even before you ship your first package, you might find yourself getting lost in all of the paperwork, desperately trying to decode a matrix of logistics, taxes, and customs. And once your packages arrive, you might face a whole new set of challenges dealing with hidden fees and out-of-control costs.

Free Guide: Shipping and Fulfillment 101

From deciding what to charge your customers, to figuring out insurance and tracking, this comprehensive guide will walk you step-by-step through the entire processFship

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Thankfully, for both you and your customers, every shipping problem has a solution. After all, as a business owner, your responsibilities don’t end at sourcing and selling products—you also need to make sure those products actually make it into your customers’ hands.

To help you solve your biggest problems quickly and stop customer complaints in their tracks, we’ve put together a collection of the 10 most common shipping issues and tactics you can use to fix them.

How do I navigate shipping problems due to COVID-19?

COVID-19 has impacted virtually every industry across the globe, and it’s no different when it comes to ecommerce shipping. Businesses everywhere are facing shipping problems due to COVID-19, even as we settle into a semblance of normal.

Some carriers have temporarily changed shipping services and policies, flights are canceled unexpectedly, government regulations change in the blink of an eye, and companies of all kinds are faced with the difficult reality of layoffs and staff shortages. An employee coming down with the virus can throw a whole other wrench into the operation. In the US, merchants may face shipping problems from China due to rising tensions and uncertainty in the trade agreement between the two countries.

We’re experiencing all kinds of product delivery problems due to COVID-19. Moral of the story? In a world of uncertainty, you can be certain of one thing: there will be shipping delays.

The solution

While we can’t just put a pause on the pandemic and go back to business as normal, there are some measures you can take to keep your people and your business healthy:

  • Be proactive in letting customers know about delays. It’s a good idea to over-communicate here. Put a banner on your website, post on social media, let your email list know that deliveries may take longer than usual, and include messaging somewhere during the checkout process.
  • Explore new fulfillment methods. You could offer local delivery for customers who are located nearby, for instance.
  • See what other options carriers have for you. You can purchase discounted shipping labels directly from Shopify and then schedule a pickup or use a dropoff location to ensure a six-foot distance between you and your courier.

How do I ship my products internationally?

Even if your business targets a local market, there’s still a chance you’ll have customers ordering your products from outside your home country.

Shipping overseas can seem difficult at first—international shipping issues like dealing with unfamiliar carriers and accounting for duties and taxes can make you want to avoid global expansion entirely.

The solution

Even though it seems complicated, international shipping is easy to understand with the right resources in your toolkit.

International shipping rates are dependent on a variety of factors, including package size, package weight, departing country, destination country, insurance, and more. Most major package couriers offer online shipping calculators to give you an idea of exactly how much it will cost your business to ship internationally. This is information is fundamental if you're using a medical courier to transport delicate medical supplies or patient information.

With Shopify Shipping, merchants can ship to customers across the globe using simplified tools that scale with your business. Plus, Shopify Shipping comes with built-in customs forms—and you can save up to 90% on shipping costs in the US.

If you’re in the US, see the USPS and DHL rates available to Shopify merchants with the Shopify Shipping calculator. You can also use carriers’ shipping calculators for specific costs:

Most carriers also have their own individual sets of guidelines and regulations for shipping products internationally:

Duties and taxes vary by country based on a variety of factors, including product value, origin country, trade agreements, and intended use. Your customers will cover these costs when your products arrive at their destination, so you should make sure they’re aware of possible extra fees added to their shipment. There are many options available in the Shopify App Store to help you pass these expenses along to your customers.

To avoid unpleasant surprises for your customers, it’s important to include a general warning on your policy page to notify your customers that any international shipments may be subject to local duties and taxes.

International shipments can also take extra time to clear customs in their destination country. Be sure to fill out proper documentation for your packages to avoid unnecessary delays for your customers.

Most major mail carriers have resources to help you navigate customs for international shipping:

How do I safely package my products for freight shipping?

freight shipping

For some businesses, shipping packages through the mail isn’t enough. If your products are too large or exceed weight restrictions for standard shipping, you might need freight shipping to get your products where they need to be.

While freight shipping might be a must-have for your business, it comes with potentially complicated problems and unique challenges you’ll need to consider to safely ship your products. Freight shipping requires you to follow specific packaging guidelines, as improper packaging can lead to product damage and missed shipments.

The solution

The packaging requirements for freight shipping are very different from standard guidelines for parcel and mail delivery. While it’s best to check with your carrier to find out their specific requirements for shipping, here are some general guidelines that will help your shipment arrive in good condition:

  • Use a proper pallet. The pallet you use for your shipment should be made of wood or plastic and strong enough to withstand the stress of being hauled and lifted. Your shipment should never exceed the weight restrictions of its pallet.
  • Choose durable packaging. The boxes you ship your products in should be strong enough to withstand the weight of a full load of packages stacked on top of them. Only use new cartons that have been sealed securely and filled with waste materials like packing peanuts or bubble wrap to fill up any empty space and prevent collapse.
  • Secure your shipment. Your boxes should never be stacked beyond the edge of your pallet, and you should avoid hanging the corners of boxes in the gaps between your pallet’s deck boards. Be sure to keep the top layer of your shipment flat in case shipments are stacked on top of it and use load protectors to prevent damage from chains, straps, or other pallets. Once you’ve stacked your packages onto your pallet, keep them in place with stretch wrap.

For more information about how to protect your freight shipments, take a look at these freight shipping packaging guidelines from major carriers:

Free Guide: Shipping and Fulfillment 101

From deciding what to charge your customers, to figuring out insurance and tracking, this comprehensive guide will walk you step-by-step through the entire process

Get our Shipping and Fulfillment 101 guide delivered right to your inbox.

Almost there: please enter your email below to gain instant access.

We'll also send you updates on new educational guides and success stories from the Shopify newsletter. We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe.

How do I keep my shipping costs low?

As a business owner, it’s important to trim your budget, especially when it comes to shipping. If you don’t research cost-cutting options, your fees can balloon out of control and either eat into your margins or be passed on to your customers. And consumers don’t like paying for shipping—it’s the top cause for cart abandonment.

The solution

Here are some quick tips for keeping your costs low and margins high—without compromising quality of service:

  • Add local delivery to your fulfillment line-up. Local delivery allows ecommerce brands to deliver products to customers without paying for a third-party carrier or fulfillment service. Instead, you can offer expedited local delivery to shoppers within a certain geographic perimeter.
  • Buy and print discounted labels through Shopify Shipping. With Shopify Shipping, you can buy and print shipping labels with discounts of up to 90%.
  • Purchase discounted supplies through Shopify. You can purchase label printers and shipping scales directly from Shopify.
  • Compare prices between carriers. Every carrier has a unique set of services and prices, so it’s important to compare to make sure you’re getting the best possible deal for your business. Shop around and do your research until you find a carrier whose services and pricing fits your store’s needs.
  • Use carrier-provided packaging if possible. It might be tempting to use your own ecommerce packaging, but many carriers offer packaging that’s tailored to their specific requirements. If it’s possible, using the packaging materials provided by your carrier can be an easy way to avoid unnecessary costs.
  • Invest in flat rate shipping. Some major mail carriers provide free envelopes and packaging for fixed-rate shipping based on the distance a package travels and its destination. If your business frequently ships packages to certain locations, flat rate shipping might be a more cost-effective option.
  • Outsource to a third-party logistics provider (3PL). A 3PL will warehouse your inventory—across one or multiple warehouses—and deliver your products with an out-of-box experience. You can outsource part or all of your distribution and fulfillment services to a 3PL like the Shopify Fulfillment Network.

How do I choose a shipping rate for my store?

Image of a woman picking out a product from a shelf to ship to a customer from her store

Do you ship your products through regular mail carriers? Deciding on shipping rates for your store is a crucial part of keeping your books balanced and your customers happy.

If you set your standard shipping rate too low, you risk losing money on orders by paying for shipping out of your own pocket. If you set your shipping rate too high, you risk scaring off customers who are unwilling to pay for extra fees.

The solution

Using regular mail services means that you handle the entire fulfillment process—including warehousing, packaging, postage, and shipping labels—so you’ll need to manually set a rate that covers your costs without turning your customers away. There are many ways to calculate how much your business should charge for shipping, so you’ll have to experiment to find one that fits your store and industry.

Since shipping costs are largely based on shipment weight and distance, one method for finding an appropriate shipping rate is to determine the average weight of your shipments (based on the weight of your products and which combination of products customers usually order).

Add together the individual weights of all of your products and divide them by the size of your catalogue. Take that average weight and multiply it by the average amount of items in an order.

Average Order Weight = (Catalogue Weight / # of Products) x Average Order Size

Once you’ve found your average order weight, contact your mail carrier to find out how much it would cost to ship a package of that weight. Brush up on zone-based rates to understand how you’ll pay to ship to each of your shipping zones.

Remember: this is just one way for finding your average shipping rate. There are many other ways to calculate it based on your industry and business model.
If you haven’t had any sales or orders yet, it’s a safe bet to base your average order weight on the average weight of your products.

Shopify store owners can set different rates for specific shipping zones around the world based on the shipping methods their stores offer in those regions. In your Shopify Admin, click Settings and then Shipping to customize your shipping zone settings.

If you use Shopify Shipping in the US, Canada, or Australia, you’ll also get access to real-time shipping calculations for major carriers that automatically update to reflect current rates for your products.

Additionally, if you’d prefer to avoid setting up shipping rates altogether, you can use a fulfillment service like Shopify Fulfillment Network. Our fulfillment network can handle every aspect of fast and affordable shipping, including distributing your inventory across our warehouses to reduce shipping times and helping you deliver a branded unboxing experience for your customers.

shopify fulfillment network

How do I communicate with manufacturers and suppliers?

Communication is key in business, and that’s especially true when it comes to dealing with the people responsible for manufacturing your products.

Reaching out to manufacturers and suppliers can seem intimidating—emailing someone you’ve never met almost always is—but it’s an important part of sourcing your products and making sure everything runs according to plan.

If you’re nervous, remember that manufacturers have busy schedules with tight deadlines—they’re trying to run a business just like you. They’re ready to answer whatever questions you have, so don’t be afraid to reach out.

The solution

Whether you’re wondering how to word your emails or even where to find suppliers in the first place, we’ve got a comprehensive set of resources for guiding you through the process of communicating with manufacturers, suppliers, and distributors:

The Definitive Guide to Dropshipping with AliExpress

AliExpress, a massive marketplace for wholesale items, is a great place to find dropshipping suppliers and products for your online store. Because most AliExpress sellers are overseas manufacturers, their prices are competitive. In this post, we walk through every step of dropshipping with AliExpress—from finding the right products to setting them up on your store.

How to Find a Manufacturer or Supplier for Your Product Idea

This post demystifies the process of finding and contacting suppliers to narrow down the best choice for your business. Take an in-depth look at the many options for sourcing manufacturers and get a runthrough of questions to consider when sending your first email.

Free Guide: Shipping and Fulfillment 101

From deciding what to charge your customers, to figuring out insurance and tracking, this comprehensive guide will walk you step-by-step through the entire process

Get our Shipping and Fulfillment 101 guide delivered right to your inbox.

Almost there: please enter your email below to gain instant access.

We'll also send you updates on new educational guides and success stories from the Shopify newsletter. We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe.

How do I replace lost and damaged products?

replace lost damaged products

During the shipping process, sometimes things happen that are completely beyond your control. Maybe your package never makes it onto the delivery truck or it shows up at a customer’s doorstep bent and broken.

In these scenarios, it often isn’t the incident that will haves a lasting impact on your customers’ attitudes toward your business, but how you deal with it. Issues like damaged and lost products are worst-case scenarios, but they can happen to anyone, so you need to be prepared to handle them quickly and effectively.

The solution

For store owners, purchasing shipping insurance is a great way to protect your business from losing money on lost and damaged shipments.

If you’re shipping your products through a major carrier, shipping insurance is usually relatively inexpensive and can give you peace of mind once you send out your first set of packages. Some carriers, like UPS, automatically include shipping insurance for deliveries under $100 in value.

Shipping insurance is a small investment that will save you time, money, and frustration. You’ll rest easy knowing you have a method for getting your money back if things do go sideways. US merchants can add shipping insurance to any Shopify Shipping label purchase.

Lost and damaged products aren’t just a problem for you as a business owner, they can be an extremely frustrating experience for your customers as well. Waiting days or weeks for a product to arrive only to have it show up in poor condition can be enough to send some customers away permanently.

When things go wrong, you need to focus on providing the best possible customer service to keep customers coming back to your store for life.

How do I handle backorders and inventory issues?

While most entrepreneurs would love to become an overnight success story, selling more products than you anticipated can be both a gift and a curse for your business. Unexpected success can be behind problems like out-of-stock products and low inventory, which can leave your customers out to dry.

That’s what happened after Elizabeth Grojean founded Baloo Living, which sells eco-friendly weighted blankets. Unplanned press coverage led to spikes in sales, and Elizabeth scrambled to fulfill orders.

baloo living

Even without PR, your store can still run into inventory problems. Whether it’s unreliable manufacturers, wholesale delivery issues and delays, or just limited-run product collections, it’s completely normal for stores to run low or out of products sometimes.

The solution

It isn’t always possible to keep up with demand, but, at the very least, your store can give customers options to stay in the loop. Shopify Fulfillment Network helped Elizabeth deliver consistent customer service and efficient delivery times, all while saving money in the process.

back in stock app

Also, with Shopify apps like Back in Stock and Back in Stock Alerts, your customers can choose to receive a notification once your sold out products are available in your store again.

If you’d rather your customers not see out-of-stock products altogether, Wipeout is a great app that removes sold out products from your store automatically.
Both of these options manage your customers’ expectations effectively and remove the possibility for disappointment, which is a huge part of crafting exceptional customer experiences.

How do I price and handle returns?

Figuring out reverse logistics for returns is an easily overlooked but equally important part of your shipping strategy. Just like sending a product to a customer costs money, return shipping comes with a price tag too.

The solution

There really is no single right answer for this question. Depending on your store, there are a few different ways you can go. You’ll need to determine who has to do what to initiate and complete the returns process—this includes covering shipping costs, printing labels, and even dropping off and picking up the package.

When it comes to who pays for return shipping, you can choose to put the onus on your customers or take the burden on yourself. Some online stores use a combination of both, offering “discounted” return shipping. The route you take depends on a variety of factors, including budgets and profit margins, the competitive landscape, your team’s capacity, and more.

Labels are another consideration when addressing this shipping problem. For free return shipping, you’ll want to include a prepaid return label in the original package to make the process as easy and stress-free as possible for your customers. In this case, you might want to check out a Shopify app like Return Magic, Bold Returns, or Returnly.

If returns aren’t free, you’ll need to include clear instructions for how shoppers can initiate a return, whether it’s through a contact form on your website or simply an email to your customer service department. You can create and send return labels directly from your Shopify admin.

How do I plan for rate changes during the holiday rush?

The holiday shopping season is both a blessing and a curse for ecommerce stores. On one hand, you make more sales than any other time of year. On the other, you face logistical and operational challenges that your business simply isn’t used to.

Getting holiday packages to shoppers is one of the top small business shipping problems during this spike in sales. Carriers typically change their standard delivery times and shipping rates to accommodate for the influx in demand. You might have to pay more to ship products, or your customers might have to wait longer to receive them. Essentially, the issues you face are similar to the problems faced by shipping companies during the holidays—spikes in demand and no sustainable way to meet them.

The solution

While the mail carriers’ plans might be out of your control, there are things you can do proactively to accommodate for rate changes during the holiday rush.

  • Know all the important deadlines. Each carrier shares a set of deadlines so businesses know when they need to ship products if they want the customer to receive it by a certain date. Put the deadlines in your calendar and make sure your team knows them too.
  • Stock up on shipping supplies. While many carriers offer packaging supplies at no cost, you’ll want to make sure you request those supplies well in advance. If you wait too late, you run the risk of delayed delivery issues or, worse, a complete stockout of packaging supplies due to increased demand.
  • Buy and print shipping labels in bulk. To help you save time on every order, you can buy and print multiple shipping labels at the same time in Shopify. You’ll also get access to pre-negotiated discounts on shipping rates.
  • Revisit your shipping policies. The holidays are a unique time of year, so it’s normal to change some business practices and policies to adapt. This might include a revision to your shipping policies—maybe you typically offer free shipping but you can’t afford to during the holiday season. Whatever the change, make sure to communicate it clearly and often.

Planning ahead saves you time and stress

Shipping isn’t always easy, but these solutions for your most common shipping problems should make things a bit easier. With some quick fixes at your disposal, you’ll be ready to conquer whatever the shipping process throws your way.

Have any more questions about shipping your products? Let us know in the comments below!


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This article originally appeared in the Shopify blog and has been published here with permission.

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