Marketing, E-Commerce

Planning Your E-Commerce Shipping & Customer Service Policies

A true tale to share with you, albeit changing the names to protect the mildly-not-so-innocent. I was searching online for a couple of books as gifts for a friend. One is out-of-print so Amazon Marketplace pointed to a used seller with a copy. Added it to my “cart” and checked to see if they happened to have the other book as well. They did. Gift shopping accomplished in less than 15 minutes. Sweet!

A week later both paperbacks arrived via mail in a single envelope. Also enclosed was a receipt showing shipping and handling of $9.98. The seller’s policy is to charge as if two separate purchases and mailings occurred. To be fair, I understood that when placing the order and accepted it as the cost of finding the books in time for a birthday.

But what if the books had been widely available and there wasn’t a deadline to find them? This article concludes our series regarding your business entering the e-commerce world. Herein we discuss the planning process for determining your shipping charges and customer service policies for E-Commerce.

Shipping Charges for E-Commerce

When an online shopper sees the shipping charges is often the point where a potential E-Commerce transaction ends. Normally that would’ve been my reaction to the double shipping and handling charges for a single mailing. And unlike in a store where you might cut me a break to make the sale, I’m gone in a “click”.

Apart from the customer conversion aspect, your approach to shipping can effect E-Commerce planning in a myriad of ways. Consider the following examples for handling shipping:

  • Adding cost of shipping a product into it’s price and not charging a separate “

    shipping & handling

    ” line item in the transaction (mindful that a bowling ball is more costly to ship than a paperback).

  • A “

    Free Shipping

    ” policy where your business absorbs those costs and spreads them across the cost of all products and/or across your entire operation (e.g., profit margins, wages, etc.).

  • Determining the “

    sweet spot

     for shipping & handling charges that will not affect customers completing transactions and either defray, cover or exceed actual shipping (i.e., a profit margin).

It is imperative to do your homework on how you will ship, what the costs will be and how much of it you will pass on to customers. You should be extremely wary of viewing shipping fees as a profit center since lost sales are the potential risk. At the end of the day, your shipping policy decisions may determine if your online shopping carts roll along or grind to a halt.

Customer Service Policies for E-Commerce

Both when ordering the books and at delivery I considered requesting a reduction of the double shipping charge. But it was after business hours and there was no method to contact them via email. Add in the time zone differential and only a small window existed for a telephone conversation. It quickly fell off my mental to do list. But another consequence was the seller losing any “goodwill” it may have earned during the transaction.

Regardless of venue (in store or E-Commerce), customers want to know how and when they can contact you. Traditionally that meant displaying store hours and a telephone number. Anybody remember the Yellow Pages?

Today’s “I want it at the click of a mouse” online customers need to be heard no matter the time of day or their geographic location. A business “contact” email address is the bare minimum necessary. A customer service contact form submitted via your website is much better. The data from it can also assist you in tracking and analyzing potential issues.

An ability to contact you provides the customer with the comfort of voicing their questions or concerns. When and how you respond is also critical for them feeling that they’ve been heard. In planning for the addition of E-commerce you should determine your response policies:

  • What will the time frame be for responding to an online customer inquiry?

  • How will you account for time zone differences across the cyber globe?

  • Will you be able to meet your stated response time consistently?

Your policy is not only a promise to customers but it also creates an expectation. You will fail on both counts if they send an email and wait endlessly for a response. The only thing worse than losing goodwill is causing ill will.

The bottom line is to treat online customers the same as those that visit your physical premises. Your E-Commerce planning should utilize the same customer service philosophy. Additionally, its application must account for the realities and methods of the online marketplace.

This article concludes our series on the planning process for adding E-Commerce to your brick & mortar business. You can find the prior articles (“Is E-Commerce an Option?”, “Staffing Up Your New E-Commerce Biz” and “Your E-Commerce Audience & Geographic Scope”) on the  EnderTech “Developer’s Blog”.

Endertech is a Los Angeles Web Developer recognized as a top ecommerce design & development company on DesignRush. We are able to assist you with planning for an Ecommerce operation and web development of your site. Contact us for a free consultation.

Top Photo Source: Alvaro Ibanez ( under