For any online retail business looking to grow its shipping capabilities, carrier integration is a relatively hefty process. It can be especially tricky if you don’t know what to expect, or have practice. Every carrier is slightly different, they’ve got different processes and manifests, and other technical requirements.
Relying on one or two carriers, as some businesses do, has quite a few drawbacks. Not least the lack of flexibility, cost implications, and contingency planning, if something goes wrong. The issues can become acute if you’re planning to expand, both domestically, and internationally.
Implementing a multi-carrier strategy can be particularly challenging when you’re trying to expand into new markets. For example, what delivery options is your customer base looking for? How can you ensure that shipping aligns with any cultural differences that exist in new territories? Can lesser-known overseas carriers be integrated into your existing systems?
If carrier integration has become an issue, and you’re struggling to execute a multi-carrier strategy, you’ll relate to these common challenges.
Cross-border carrier challenges
Identifying new carriers
Finding new carriers is a bit like ‘what came first – the chicken or the egg? You need to have a solid cross-border strategy in place – particularly when choosing the countries that your product offering will work best in. What happens, however, if you find an untapped market that presents a huge opportunity, but can’t identify any suitable carriers to deliver?
Because your products haven’t been available in a particular region, it can be very difficult to gauge demand. Do you simply use a one-size-fits-all carrier that will deliver to that market? Do you check out which carriers your competitors are using and replicate their shipping options? Or do you take a chance and branch out with more obscure, local carriers?
Cost of maintaining carrier integration
Here’s another catch-22 situation for many retailers. Perhaps you’ve identified some carriers with competitive shipping rates but discovered that the cost of integrating with your existing system is astronomical.
So instead you must choose a carrier that will stay within your budget, but doesn’t offer the best shipping rates. This will ultimately impact the overall customer experience. Particularly if high shipping costs have to be passed on to them.
If your system allows for a carrier integration, you can expect that implementing each one can cost anywhere between £10-20k. But you have to also consider the budget that will be required to maintain carrier connectivity (essentially a full-time job for a developer). Before you know it, shipping overseas can become a money pit, rather than a means to grow your business.
Suitability and reliability of carriers
Local carriers can often offer great coverage and competitive shipping rates to retailers. However, you might not necessarily have an accurate measure as to how reliable they are. You also don’t know if your target market will be satisfied with the shipping options you offer to them. You don’t want to be held to long-term shipping contracts with a carrier that you don’t have a proven record with.
What is the carrier’s reputation? Do they have a strong focus on last-mile delivery? What are their insurance terms – do they fully cover the category of products you sell? Does the carrier offer detailed tracking for shipments? These are all questions that you need to be clear on before you consider pumping money into a new carrier.
Let’s also remember that retailers don’t hold all of the cards when it comes to carriers. With the shipping crisis showing little signs of easing, many carriers are picking and choosing the merchants they work with. If a carrier reaches its capacity threshold, it could have a significant impact on the services they can offer. If you’ve invested heavily in integrating a particular carrier with their systems, this can have disastrous consequences.
Evolving customer preferences
Customer shipping preferences are regularly changing. Speed was the be-all and end-all of deliveries not too long ago. Now, customers are gravitating more toward the reliability of timed-delivery slots. Sustainability is also taking much more of a front seat in terms of customer shipping preferences. What will be next?
While you may strive to offer shoppers delivery options that are in high demand. You might also want to be conservative with your initial delivery strategy. As you are selling in a new market, it will take time to collect data to fully understand your new customer base. So without being able to easily switch on and off carriers to align with evolving customer preferences, it’s challenging to iterate your shipping strategy.
If you integrate with carriers that offer a range of options, you don’t want to overwhelm customers with too much choice, either. Ideally, you’ll want to offer two or three shipping options at checkout, but you might not have the capabilities to configure shipping rules and triggers. This leaves you
in an all-or-nothing scenario, unnecessarily affecting the customer experience in the process.
Breaking through cross-border barriers
Retailers can always expect to encounter some obstacles as they break into new markets. However, finding and connecting to new carriers doesn’t have to be an expansion dealbreaker. By using a delivery management platform, you’ll gain access to hundreds of carriers that can be switched on and off instantly. This not only eliminates a lot of the risk that’s involved in cross-border eCommerce, but also streamlines your domestic shipping operations.
Cost is also substantially reduced, as you won’t have to invest in integrating or maintaining connectivity to carriers. The delivery management platform looks after all carrier APIs and is responsible for maintaining connections.
You can therefore free up resources and allocate budget to other important cross-border activities, such as marketing or multi-lingual customer support. Most importantly, you can execute a shipping strategy that can quickly respond to changing customer preferences, as well as unforeseen events.
For instance, the global pandemic wrought havoc on many online retailers who had to close down entire warehouses amidst Covid-19 outbreaks. With a delivery management platform, you can quickly reconfigure the rules you’ve set around how orders are fulfilled. Instead of shipping from one warehouse, you can do so from another, resetting rules on what carrier to use in these instances.