Many ecommerce brands need to be present in multiple sales channels, which requires the need to optimize their shipping and transportation for various sales outlets. While digitally native brands may see early growth in direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales, inevitably most high-growth ecommerce businesses look to retail outlets, marketplace selling, and other bulk volume sales for brand growth.
Packaging high volume orders and shipping in bulk to a business address is most often referred to as commercial shipping or business-to-business (B2B) shipping. It requires a very different strategy than shipping products one at a time to individual customers.
How is B2B Shipping Different Than DTC Shipping?
What is B2B shipping? An ecommerce brand may need to ship bulk orders to other businesses or commercial addresses for any of the following reasons.
- Enterprise hardware can be shipped in bulk to a business who uses the product—think headsets and keyboards that go to a call center.
- Medical supplies and equipment get shipped in large quantities to hospitals, urgent care centers and doctor’s offices.
- Wellness, health, and beauty products often sell in high volume to hotels, vacation spots, or spas.
- Food and beverage brands send big shipments to grocery stores, restaurants, and hotels.
- Many other product brands have retail customers who vary from big box stores like Target, to independent boutiques like a local hardware store, to online marketplaces like Amazon.
It’s important to note that commercial shipping and B2B shipping are umbrella terms that also encapsulate more specific terms like retail shipping.
Factors to Consider When Shipping B2B
For brands who want to distribute their products to other businesses, there are a few factors that are important to weigh.
Identify your market. When planning your B2B shipping strategy it’s important to identify where you’ll be sending your products. Are they in densely populated cities? Rural retailers? The demographic of your target audience will be a key factor in planning your shipping methods.
Select your carrier. A natural next step is to pick a shipping carrier that suits your B2B shipping needs. Consider the carrier’s track record in handling peak shipping periods, full or less-than-truckload, and their coverage of specific regions. Lower costs shouldn’t always be a deciding factor; paying a premium for a dependable and timely delivery can benefit your business in the long run.
Choose your shipping method. The shipping service you pick should be in direct correlation to the needs of your customers. Examples include express delivery, same-day delivery, and standard economy shipping. The critical point is having options that cater to different customer expectations and budgets.
Packaging for large volume shipments. Fulfillment and kitting for products that will be shipped in bulk requires a different approach than those that are shipped individually. You may need less dunnage or different packing materials. If products are going onto a retail shelf there may be specific labeling or packaging requirements to sell in that store.
Tracking and transit time. Some commercial customers and retailers can be sticklers about delivery times, tracking, and loading requirements. Be sure you’ve picked a carrier that can match the needs of your customers. The bottom line is you want transparency to build trust with your customers.
How to Effectively Manage B2B Returns
A well-managed returns process can contribute to customer satisfaction and loyalty, even in B2B and commercial transactions. By being proactive and customer-focused, you can turn returns into opportunities to strengthen your relationships with business customers.
1. Clear Communication and Returns Process
Make all documentation very clear when agreeing to a bulk B2B shipment or retail contract. Transparency and upfront communication helps manage expectations and reduces misunderstandings. Provide clear and detailed instructions on how to initiate a return. Include information on packaging requirements, return labels, and any other specifics that can help streamline the return process.
2. Flexible Timeframes
Understand that B2B clients may require more time to inspect and return products compared to individual consumers. Be flexible with return timeframes, especially for bulk or commercial orders.
3. Restocking Fees
Consider implementing restocking fees for returned items. This can help cover the costs associated with processing returns, especially in B2B scenarios where returned items may require additional handling.
4. Quality Checks
Establish a thorough quality check process for returned items. This ensures that products can be quickly reintegrated into inventory or identified for refurbishment or disposal.
5. Automated Systems
Implement automated systems for processing returns. This can streamline the returns process, reduce errors, and provide real-time updates to customers on the status of their return.
6. Customer Service Support
Provide dedicated customer service support for B2B clients. Having a knowledgeable team available to address questions and concerns can enhance the overall experience and help resolve issues more efficiently.
Improving Last-Mile Delivery for B2B Shipments
The final section of the shipping journey is often referred to as the last-mile delivery. Most often it is the movement of goods from a transportation hub to a local address as the final delivery destination.
Commercial customers may have even higher expectations of on-time delivery than individual consumers. The stakes of receiving a bulk order on-time is likely higher than a single unit. This makes improving last-mile delivery for commercial shipping a crucial step for customer satisfaction and operational efficiency.
When considering a carrier for your B2B shipments, the last-mile delivery is an aspect that shouldn’t be overlooked. Ask your shipping provider to help you optimize the route your shipments will take. Be sure you can get real-time tracking and visibility, especially if your products change hands at any part of the shipping journey.
If you outsource fulfillment to a 3PL, consider fulfilling out of multiple facilities. This will lower your overall shipping costs and help integrate your inventory tracking from multiple regions.
Above all, the strategy you implement for B2B and commercial shipping should keep your customers in mind first. If you can offer flexibility and customization to your B2B customers, you’ll be more likely to have a high retention rate, and possible grow your sales channels more quickly.
Consider offering flexible shipping options and customization to accommodate the diverse needs of businesses and individual consumers. This may include expedited shipping, bulk shipping discounts, scheduled deliveries, or the ability to choose from multiple carriers.