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An e-commerce brand’s guide to expedited shipping

Illustration of a person driving a semi-truck with a clock in the background.

Remember in 2013 when Jeffrey Bezos appeared on 60 Minutes and announced that Amazon was looking into drone delivery in 30 minutes or less?

Almost 10 years later, the retailer is testing a first cohort of delivery drones. The real question is: why? What’s wrong with your regular, run-of-the-mill delivery truck?

Because for many consumers, faster = better.

In a world where instant gratification has become the norm, customers everywhere expect brands to outpace the rest of the e-commerce world in every facet of their operation. One of the most important facets? Shipping.

When customers make a purchase, the only thing that stands in the way of their new product being safe in their hands is shipping. Having various shipping options at check-out helps manage customer expectations for a speedy delivery while setting your brand apart from the crowd.

Of course, most brands won’t have a drone delivery option in the near future. For those who aren’t opting to go the same-day air route, meeting customer expectations for fast shipping comes down to expedited shipping options.

What is expedited shipping?

To understand expedited shipping, we’ll need to explore standard shipping first.

Standard shipping, also known as economy or ground shipping, is typically the cheapest shipping option available when purchasing a product online. With no extra bells and whistles, standard shipping uses ground couriers and usually falls within a 3–8-day transit time.

Expedited shipping, on the other hand, is a delivery option that prioritizes fast shipments compared to standard delivery. This means that expedited shipping gets products from point A to point B in less time than your standard delivery method.

How fast is expedited shipping?

Expedited shipping services are faster than the norm; however, it all depends on a company’s standard shipping time.

For example, a company that typically ships within 3-4 days would offer expedited shipping as shipping in 1-2 days, whereas a company that gets packages out in 5-8 days might offer 3-4 days for expedited shipping.

What does this mean for customers? Not all expedited shipping is the same. A company using USPS expedited shipping might have a differing time-in-transit than one using DHL. It all depends on the company’s transportation strategy, such as the carriers they’re using and where their warehouse is located.

Ultimately, expedited shipping means that there’s a deliberate action taken by a brand or retailer to speed up the “typical” shipping time.

Expedited shipping vs. express shipping

Expedited shipping is commonly confused with express shipping; however, express shipping has some larger shoes to fill. Expedited shipping typically guarantees even faster methods, like overnight delivery or same-day shipping.

How much does expedited shipping cost?

The cost of expedited services depends on a few different factors such as package weight, carrier service, where you’re shipping from, and final destination. It will always cost more than your general courier services – sometimes substantially so.

Today, shipping a 5-pound package from NJ to CA only costs around $23 for ground service (UPS and FedEx). Bump it up to an expedited service like UPS 3-day Select or FedEx Express Saver, and the cost rises to upwards of $50.

NJ to CA – UPS:

Chart of UPS times shipping from New Jersey to California.
FedEx delivery times from New Jersey to California.

Why does expedited shipping matter in e-commerce?

Customer expectations are changing

In a world where online shopping has become just as popular as a quick trip to the mall, consumers have extremely high expectations for when their packages arrive. In fact, according to a survey conducted by X Delivery, over 60% of shoppers expect a less than 3-day delivery time (and they’d like it to be free!) Yet most fashion and apparel retailers are still only offering 5–8-day delivery options when it comes to free shipping service.

What does this mean for consumers? Oddly enough, the same survey found that 32% of consumers will always choose the free shipping option, no matter the delivery time. It’s clear that brands are up for a challenge when it comes to meeting their customers’ desires for free and fast shipping. So, is it possible to get both outside of the Amazon Prime domination?

Slow shipping speeds create cart abandonment

Slow shipping speeds are known to create a frenzy within your customer support team, with consumers continuously DM-ing, emailing, and calling the age-old question of “where is my order?!” But, there’s something else that a slower shipping option can bring on – cart abandonment. Did you know that about 1 in 5 consumers have abandoned their carts upon seeing a slow delivery time?

Picture this: you’ve done your research on a brand new pair of running shoes. You finally land on a specific style and brand that you can’t wait to purchase. You head to the checkout page, put in your shipping address, and suddenly your plans of running in your new shoes next weekend are crushed. Free shipping shows an estimated delivery of 8 days. The only other option? Pay an exuberant fee for expedited shipping. In this case, you decide to find the shoes in a brick-and-mortar store (or on Amazon).

Customer retention/loyalty

With so many brands to choose from, customer loyalty is much more difficult to come across in 2022. Whereas shoppers used to stick with their favorite, familiar brand no matter what, they now jump from company to company based on who can provide the most seamless experience. In fact, 47% of consumers have reported that they’d spend money with a competitor of a brand they’ve been shopping with for years – all it takes is a continuously poor customer experience.

If brands aren’t delivering on all things CX (including faster shipping), their customers will find a preferred option with another brand. It makes sense that Amazon Prime has been so enticing in the past decade – guaranteed two-day delivery at no extra cost? It’s exactly what consumers want nowadays.

Expedited shipping services

UPS expedited shipping

Chart of UPS package delivery times

UPS offers a plethora of expedited and express shipping which guarantees delivery anywhere from 1 day to 3 days depending on the selected shipping service (and how much you’re willing to pay for it!)

DHL expedited shipping

DHL SmartMail Parcel and Parcel Plus shipping times.

DHL offers Expedited and Expedited Max shipping for e-commerce companies looking for faster shipping speeds. Instead of 3-8 days for ground shipping, their expedited options cut the wait time down by a few days.

FedEx expedited shipping

Chart of FedEx delivery types and times.

FedEx’s Express Saver guarantees an expedited delivery within 3 days with costs that depend on the distance of the shipment and the weight, size, and density of the package.

How to offer expedited shipping in a cost-effective way

Know your shipping options

No matter how you look at it, shipping is easily one of the biggest costs in e-commerce fulfillment. And not only that – given all the options and factors that go into pricing, it can be quite overwhelming to understand the most efficient delivery method. Brands who are looking for cost-effective, expedited shipping or express delivery in addition to standard options will need to do their research.

Start with developing your service level requirements to understand which shipping companies and carriers will be able to meet expectations. Next, map out your shipping process: where your inventory is located, where your shipments are going, and whether you’re looking for a single-carrier approach or open to multiple carriers. Lastly, work with each carrier to understand what the costs might look like for the services requested.

Understand your audience behavior

Understanding audience behavior grants your brand insight into what shipping options your customers are looking for and what you might be able to improve within the buying journey.

While some audiences might be itching for an expedited delivery, others may be perfectly fine with the standard 5-8 days.

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • When are customers abandoning their carts? Before or after the shipping costs?
  • Do you customers consistently pay for a quicker delivery?
  • Is your customer support team seeing an influx of shipping-related inquiries?
  • Do your online reviews mention shipping? If so, what’s the satisfaction rate?

If you’re unsure about your audience’s verdict on shipping and whether they want expedited services, it is not unheard of to ask them. In fact, most customers want to provide their feedback!

Pro-tip: Use a QR code on your packaging to drive your audience to a quick survey around fulfillment expectations and how your brand is doing.

Partner with a 3PL

Working with a third-party logistics (3PL) company typically gives brands access to shipping rates that they may not have been able to negotiate alone. Depending on the 3PL, they’ll likely maintain various partnerships with major carriers so their customers can leverage competitive prices and pre-existing relationships for communication when shipments go awry.

Plus, most 3PLs will have some sort of technology in place that allows them real-time access to carrier rates to find the best deal. Ryder E-commerce by Whiplash offers a SmartRate selection tool that uses automation and intelligence to select the preferred shipping method based on transit preferences and cost – giving brands an easy way to compare and contrast carrier rates for ultimate order control.

Offering expedited shipping: yes or no?

With over half of online shopping carts being abandoned due to shipping (time in transit, no express options, high costs) it’s clear that consumers are looking for seamless and expedited shipping options.

While it might not be cost-friendly to have every package shipped with same-day delivery, brands should at least have some sort of expedited shipping option to offer to their customers. Or at the very least a plan in place to offer free expedited shipping once a customer reaches a certain threshold.

No matter what approach your brand takes, consumers are generally happier when packages get to them in record time. Why? It’s almost as good as that in-person experience of being able to walk out of the store with a product in hand.

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