5 more ways to confirm your parcel shipping strategy is as solid as can be come peak season

Peak season is right around the corner, and there isn’t much time for wait-and-see attitudes. If you’re struggling with a certain aspect of your parcel shipping operation now, the struggle will only exacerbate when you’re shipping volumes are at their highest point.

In Part 1, we covered the first five common parcel shipping mistakes: shipping with a single-carrier approach, choosing carrier APIs over certified engines, using a transportation management system (TMS), managing home-grown solutions and shrugging off support woes. This week, we’ll dive into the final five.

6. Not automating to your fullest potential

Peak season often requires a mixed bag of needs when it comes to parcel shipping, but automating every aspect isn’t the easiest task. What’s most important is making quality automation modifications and not risking making half-completed ones by trying to automate everything at once. Here are some of the most beneficial automations you can put into place to maximize parcel shipping efficiency:

  • Integrate your software systems: The employees in your warehouses and stores should not have to hand type addresses, weights or select services in a shipping system. They also shouldn’t have to type in tracking numbers, costs and other carrier information back into any portion of the enterprise software stack. By fully integrating your enterprise technology stack and making sure the software you use talk to each other efficiently, you solve the need for manual practices.
  • Automate business rules: When you automate your business rules, whether you have a few or many, you eliminate the need for your staff to remember how each item type needs to be shipped for every customer and loyalty type (hence also eliminating human error).
  • Automate rate shopping: Stuck with manual rate shopping or checking rates on different carrier screens? By automating the rate shopping process, your shipping system will do all the hard work and rate shop between parcel, rail, freight forwarders, LTL and even hyperlocal, so you always hit your promised delivery dates at the lowest cost. You can even provide customers with fast and flexible shipping options at checkout.
  • Carrier load/volume balancing: Carriers can place maximum capacities on shipping volumes for their customers and can even cut those capacities when they’re feeling extra strained. For instance, the current pandemic has caused some of these cuts, and with peak season coming up, things could intensify. With carrier volume balancing, you can be assured you have the carrier capacity to meet your sales (or fulfillment) volumes and not be stuck in the event you run into capacity cuts. Tip: Some single-carrier operations are getting hit hard by these capacity limits and are being forced to expand to additional carriers in order to get their orders out. Get ahead of the game and expand to multi-carrier sooner rather than later (read Part 1 for more info on this).

FIX: Uncover which automations you already have in place and which ones you don’t. Of the ones needed, list them in order of importance and impact. Which will save your company the most money? Which will take the most time and resources? Unsure of some of the processes? Reach out to us – we’re here to help!

7. Using vendors who don’t utilize automatic updates and who sunset products

Speaking of automation… we’re hearing that some multi-carrier shipping vendors are leaving their customers out in the dust when it comes to updating their products (even though support agreements may include annual updates). Yikes!! There are serious compliance and system failure risks with utilizing outdated shipping systems, and usually there are large costs and prolonged downtime when upgrades actually do happen (especially when a product gets discontinued). Sound like a good start to peak season? Didn’t think so.

FIX: Check with your IT team and see what version of shipping software you’re on, and if you should be upgraded. Weigh the costs and downtime of upgrading your current software against choosing a new multi-carrier shipping solution that pushes automatic updates. You’ll want to look for the perk of always being on the newest release of the software, updates with NO system downtime, and no history of sunsetting products.

8. Continuing to plan without the proper use of shipping data

Your shipping system is a goldmine of data that can be excavated and turned into actionable intelligence. Think about it for a moment. Every order that leaves your warehouse passes through your shipping software for final shipment labeling. During this process, the shipping system collects data about your shipments:

  • How much did we ship?
  • Where did we ship from?
  • Where did we ship to?
  • When should our shipments arrive?
  • How much did it cost us to ship them?
  • How were they packaged?
  • What carrier service options are being chosen?

FIX: With ready answers to these questions, you can learn what steps you need to take to reduce costs, improve throughput and enhance customer satisfaction. Look at your data from 2019’s peak season. Can you answer all of the above questions? What pops out at you? What efficiencies can you find to implement for the upcoming peak season? [Learn more about peak season planning steps]

9. Utilizing address validation (but not in the most efficient way)

It’s no mystery that if you want to send a parcel to a customer, you need to ensure you have the correct address. If you’re in the U.S., you need the RDI (Residential Delivery Indicator) to ensure that you’re selecting the correct services and accessorials as well. Failure to do so can result in address correction fees, delays in delivery and parcels returned without delivery.

Many ask “how” to ensure you have the correct address, but a better question is “when” do you check for a correct address. The answer is “as close to the customer as possible”. For instance…

  • If you have an e-commerce site, you should be validating the destination address within the shopping cart.
  • If you are fulfilling orders that you receive via EDI, you should be validating addresses on EDI import.
  • If you are taking orders in a call center, you should be validating addresses as your call center personnel are entering them.

FIX: Embedding address validation in your enterprise software stack protects your customer experience by minimizing the chance of delivery delays and aids in controlling unexpected shipping costs due to bill backs. By applying address validation at the correct points of your order process, correcting any discrepancies becomes less obtrusive and confirms the RDI status of a recipient address. Having data that your logistics team can trust eliminates fulfillment delays maximizing the use of your fulfillment resources.

10. Over-customizing shipping labels

Many companies are interested in label customizations to extend their branding for marketing purposes OR for receiving reasons. For instance, companies like Walmart, Target and Bed Bath & Beyond may require very particular data to be on a labeled box being received by them. Most companies want to produce a single label for this purpose. But using too small of a label means that the carrier section of the label must be altered in order to fit the extra information. Another reason may be for conveyor routing identification so their own material handling equipment can route the parcel to the appropriate trailer.

When it comes to custom labels, there are some risks involved. By creating a fully customized label, the shipper increases the chances that a shipment will be delayed due to the carrier being unable to process the parcel, or that the data on the custom label is no longer provided by the source engine – therefore the custom label can no longer be completed by the shipping software.

Otherwise, most carriers require an extensive one-off certification process. This means a carrier could ask for labels from every printer with examples from every service that a shipper might use. This can add up to thousands of labels, along with their corresponding EDI manifests that must be manually created by the shipper and the professional services team.

FIX: Understand the difference between what is “mapping” versus what is truly custom. Mapping means the shipping software vendor is putting the data into a location on the label that is already part of the label certification process. Thus, no custom certification is required. Many companies don’t understand that basic reference field mapping does not create a custom label.

Otherwise, we would recommend using a larger label. By assuming that all carrier label data will fit in a 4×6 area, procuring labels that are larger than that, say 4×8, adds area that is completely owned by the shipper. This would allow the inclusion of logos, receiving barcodes and data, internal barcodes and data, along with anything else a shipper might want to add. However, make sure that your barcodes are not of similar type and length as one of the carriers’ barcodes.

BONUS TIP #11. Organize your business rules well before peak

By organizing your business rules to a more concise list, you will eliminate a ton of chaos and maximize time efficiency when you change over during peak.

It’s extremely important to understand what is needed to improve process quality and performance before the hustle and bustle of the peak holiday season. We highly recommend doing a re-evaluation of your current shipping software vendor, carrier mix and processes.

Did you miss Part 1? Take a look.

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