There’s a lot that can happen between Point A, when an order leaves your hands, and Point B, when it arrives at a customer’s door. Delivering a great shipping experience is just as important as delivering a great product—according to one study, 39% of people surveyed said they wouldn’t buy again from an online store with a negative shipping experience.
With a bit of prep work to define and communicate your standard shipping policies, and some thought given to how you’ll handle specific inquiries, you’ll be able to handle the most common shipping questions customers have—and create a great experience for them even when the order is literally out of your hands.
Lay the foundation with a shipping policy page
When faced with a purchase roadblock or question about their existing order, the first place many customers will check is a store’s shipping policy or FAQ page. Populating this page with the right information helps customers find answers quickly, and reduces the need for them to contact you. It can also win sales: According to the UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper survey, 68% of online shoppers view a shipping policy before making a purchase.
Setting up a shipping policies page is straightforward, too. Create a new page on your store, add a link to the page in your footer, and make sure to include information about:
- Tracking shipments
- Shipping options and delivery times
- Returns and refunds
- Customs and international shipping availability
- Lost or damaged packages
The details of any individual policy will depend on your business, your products, and your margins, but having a central location to direct your customers to is the first step in proactively managing common questions about shipping.
The details of any individual policy will depend on your business, your products, and your margins.
With your new page in place, it’s time to address specific questions. Here are a few you’re likely to encounter.
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1. How do I track an order?
Once your customers complete their purchase, they really only have one thing on their mind: when will their order show up? This question can arise despite your best efforts to clearly display estimated shipping windows, which is why it’s so important to make shipment tracking available as early as possible.
How to solve
The more effectively you communicate available tracking options, the fewer follow-ups you’ll get from anxious customers. In MetaPack’sState of Ecommerce Delivery report, nearly 90% of customers surveyed said they track the delivery status of their orders. Adding tracking numbers to all fulfilled orders can save you a lot of questions down the line. You can also offer ePacket tracking to put the power in the customers' hands.
You can also add or customize an order status page in your store. After adding a tracking number, your customers can use it to view shipping updates from their order page.
If you’re a merchant in the US or Canada, tracking is included with most carriers available through Shopify Shipping. Once you buy a label for an order, the tracking number is automatically emailed to your customer.
By surfacing tracking information where customers are likely to look—e.g. post-purchase emails and your Order Status page—many customers will be able to answer “How do I track my order?” on their own.
How to support
For the remaining customers that contact you to troubleshoot, first confirm that their transaction went through and the order has shipped out. After that, you can send tracking information and instructions directly. To anticipate potential follow-up questions, consider mentioning:
- The day you shipped the order as well as the estimated delivery date
- A direct link to the tracking page for the carrier you used
If you haven’t shipped the order yet, note that to the customer and provide them with expected delivery dates. If you don’t have any available tracking information, set a reminder to follow up with them once you have it.
Having empathy for your customer’s current situation and mood can influence the tone and phrasing of your response. Money may have just changed hands, and the customer is messaging you with a degree of uncertainty or frustration as to whether they’ll receive what they paid for, and in a reasonable time frame. Acknowledging any frustration they may feel goes a long way toward turning a potentially negative experience into a positive one.
2. How do I return or refund an order?
Returns are an unavoidable facet of running an online store. While the average return rate typically hovers around 20%, around the holidays rates can rise to 30%. An intentional strategy to account for and handle returns—and one that’s clearly communicated to your customers—can help you create a smooth process for everyone involved.
How to solve
Your existing shipping policy page can house any information you’d like to provide about returns. Specifically, there are two big questions you’ll want to answer if you offer returns:
- What does it cost to return an item? Free return shipping is fast becoming a basic expectation. While it’s not financially feasible for every business, sharing your return shipping strategy and cost—whether it’s flat-rate, exact-cost, or free—on your policy page will help preempt questions and set expectations.
- Do you offer returns, exchanges, or both? Answering this question upfront will prevent disappointment down the line, even if you don’t plan to offer either option. That way, at least customers know ahead of time.
Here are a few carriers that allow you to offer return shipping labels to your customers:
If you’re a Shopify merchant in the US, you can create USPS return labels for domestic orders and send them to your customers from the order page. If you have a UPS account added to Shopify, you can also print UPS return labels.
How to support
Don’t take it personally if a customer asks to return an item or for a refund—moods and minds change quickly, and a return doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve lost a customer for good.
Every support conversation with a customer provides a chance to learn from their shopping experience and make improvements to your business. For a return to be hassle-free, your requests for feedback should feel like a natural part of the process, not a hurdle you’ve included to deter people—some customers simply won’t want to share why they’re returning an item.
Every support conversation with a customer provides a chance to learn from their shopping experience and make improvements to your business.
Use language that’s inviting and not accusatory, and position your request for feedback as a way for your business to learn and improve. You might save the sale by fixing a customer’s issue, but if not, look for a root cause you can fix down the line, so future customers don’t return their products for similar reasons.
3. Are your packages insured?
Once a package is en route to your customer, influencing the shipping experience is mostly out of your hands, which is why insurance—designed to handle unforeseen issues like lost or delayed shipments—can be a good addition to your packages in some cases.
Whether you have insurance or not, scenarios that aren’t your fault are still your responsibility, so be prepared to offer customers whatever help you can provide to solve these issues. Most customers understand packages can randomly get lost or damaged, so it’s how you respond that matters most.
How to solve
Including a packing slip is a good way to prepare for when a package gets lost due to a damaged shipping label, as the additional shipment information helps ensure the package gets to its destination.
However, the best way to hedge the risk is to add insurance to your packages. Insurance is an extra cost you’ll have to factor into your profit margins, but insuring your shipments can provide extra peace of mind for both you and your customers.
Most shipping carriers have mail classes that include the cost of insurance in the overall shipping cost. A few examples include Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express for USPS, or Priority or Xpresspost for Canada Post.
If you’re shipping with a mail class that doesn’t include coverage, you can still add insurance to a shipment.
If you’re shipping with a mail class that doesn’t include coverage, you can still add insurance to a shipment, often for only a few dollars per $100 USD of declared value. If a package is lost, damaged, or overly delayed, you can submit a claim for approval to your insurance provider. It’ll take some time, but recovering the cost of the product and shipment may be worth the effort.
Whether you decide to offer insurance on all of your shipments, or to specifically insure shipments over a certain dollar value, clearly communicate your policy and any associated costs on your shipping policy page or in your FAQ.
How to support
Again, start with empathy: How do you feel when an anticipated order is lost or arrives damaged? Waiting for days or weeks only to receive something broken, or not show up at all, can be frustrating, especially when a customer wants to love your product, or if the order for a special event, like a birthday or a holiday.
Start with empathy: How do you feel when an anticipated order is lost or arrives damaged?
You can navigate these issues successfully by sharpening your support skills. Check out the resources below on how to solve for less-than-happy customers:
- Field-Tested Phrases to Use in Every Support Conversation
- How to Support Upset Customers When There Are No Easy Answers
- How to Stop Customer Complaints Before They Happen
- Ecommerce Returns: Policy, Rates, Best Practices and Statistics
If your packages aren’t insured, talk to your customer to get a sense of what it would take to successfully resolve their issue. In the case of a lost or damaged shipment, it’s common to offer a replacement or, when necessary, a full refund.
4. What happens if my order arrives late?
Customers are expect their order on a particular day—often tracking it along the way—and you expect the carrier to deliver. However, delays can’t be completely controlled for, so your next best option is to be prepared to support your customers when they happen.
How to solve
If you’re especially worried about late deliveries, you can ship with a mail class that will refund you for late delivery, like Priority Mail Express through USPS.
If you’re unable to offer any remedies for late deliveries, it’s important to note that alongside your other shipping policies. For example, on Midori Bikinis' shipping page you’ll see they’ve provided more information on common shipping issues, including a policy that they can’t guarantee delivery times outside of a specific insured mail class, which is a common policy.
“Delivery times shown at checkout are estimated, we do not provide money-back guarantees for any method other than FedEx Express.” -Midori Bikinis
How to support
If you shipped using a service that includes refunds for failing to meet delivery guarantees, you may have the budget to be more flexible in what you offer your customers.
Even if the delay isn’t covered, it’s good idea to do what you can to make up for the tardiness of the shipment, like offering a discount or gift card toward the customer’s next order.
5. Do you offer faster shipping options?
As any holiday event or shopping season draws near, customers tend to look for expedited shipping to ensure their orders will arrive in time for the big day. To meet those expectations, you can add additional shipping options—even if it means offering higher-priced alternatives. During a truly busy season, or a holiday crunch time, customers are fine with the additional cost.
How to solve
Consider adding an expedited shipping option in your shipping settings, which customers will be able to select at checkout. You can also display all your shipping options in one place for quick reference, like on your shipping policy page. Fashion Nova lays out each available shipping method along with the expected delivery time.
If you know shipping times will be a deciding factor for a customer, it’s worth highlighting the availability of your fastest shipping times. During those windows, you can turn on an announcement bar in your store’s theme, or use an announcement bar app to do the same.
How to support
Frequent questions about your shipping times indicates that you’re not communicating your options clearly enough. Answering questions about available shipping times can be as simple as directing customers to your shipping policy page, or writing a saved reply to send over email.
If you’re getting questions about whether you can get an item to a customer by a specific date, let them know if you can meet their expectations. Finding a compromise may help you win the sale, but remember to scale your shipping operations you’ll need to rely on predictable policies.
To scale your shipping operations, you’ll need to rely on predictable policies.
6. How do you handle orders that go through customs?
Shipping internationally can open your business up to new markets, but it requires an understanding of customs and related taxes in each country where you’ll sell.
Find out which taxes may be levied on your shipments and display those fees or processes to your customers. Since taxes and duties can change from country to country, and even from year to year, you may want to provide a clear disclaimer that you are not covering, nor are you liable for, duties and taxes that may be assessed on their order when it arrives.
How to solve
If you’re new to shipping internationally, choose a few countries to begin with and learn the process of shipping to each one. Display the countries you ship to, along with available shipping options, on your store so customers can find the information.
You’ll also want to be clear about what responsibility you assume, if any, for taxes and duties assessed on the order. Billy! does this well on their dedicated international shipping page.
Covering your bases this way is potentially safer than laying out each process for each country. If if you do see a high volume of orders from a specific country, consider providing more detail for your customers there.
How to support
Having an international audience for your products is a good thing, so receiving a question about customs can be exciting. At the same time, you want to ensure you’re giving wholly accurate information about customs or taxes, and not accidentally misleading anyone. If you have any doubt about your ability to ship your products to a country, or the specifics of taxes and duties, it’s best to defer to other sources.
7. Do you offer any gift options for orders?
Customers who want to gift your products will often look for that little something extra to set their purchase apart, whether that means gift wrapping or a simple gift receipt. While offering gift options can cost time and money, you’ll be able to successfully sell to holiday shoppers in need of extras like gift wrapping—which, if complimentary, can incentivize to buy without an additional discount.
How to solve
On average, gift-wrapping has a 50% profit margin per item. Questions about gift options are a strong indicator of demand, and offering the service could convert more orders and up your average order value around the holidays. Shopify merchants can add a gift-wrap option to their cart page or use an app like Gift Wrap Plus.
How to support
When you’re talking to customers, ask clarifying questions to determine exactly what kind of gift experience they’re looking for. If they’re requesting gift wrap and for the product to be shipped to a different address, handling the request outside of your usual policy creates an opportunity to over-deliver. By handling one-off requests for gift options, you can test out the offer and determine if it should be made available to all of your customers.
Prepare, then iterate
At the heart of handling most common shipping questions are two key strategies: prepare, then iterate. Preparing answers and policies ahead of time, outside of the pressure of a customer issue that requires a quick reply, lets you create a baseline that fits your business, your products, and your budget.
Remember: most plans need to adjust after they come into contact with reality.
But remember, most plans need to adjust after they come into contact with reality. As you get specific questions from customers, use that feedback to refine or improve existing policies. Every question is a chance to not only solve for the customer, but to learn how your policies stand up to real-life shipping situations.