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May 23 2012 02:14 PM

While the troubled global economy appears to have entered recovery mode, the pressure to deliver goods efficiently has only intensified for warehouse and logistics managers. Margins remain thin and consumer expectations have heightened in the wake of shipping deals designed to bolster sales, leaving little room for errors and productivity deficiencies when processing orders. With companies continually seeking products and services that provide the best overall value in operating their businesses, it is incumbent upon warehouse and logistics managers to regularly evaluate their shipping solutions – both software providers and carriers – to ensure their operations are optimized to the fullest extent.

Warehouse and logistics managers are interested, in particular, in ways to streamline operations that save them time and money. Getting orders delivered quickly keeps customers happy and loyal, and doing so with economic efficiency improves the bottom line and ensures the company’s prices – and reputation – remain competitive. 

Selecting the right shipping technology can play an important role in this process, especially when considering Internet postage software – which has become the simplest, most affordable and often times most convenient (for both shippers and recipients) domestic and international parcel delivery method. Thanks in large part to its willingness to work seamlessly with Internet postage service providers, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has become a fierce competitor with private carriers, like FedEx and UPS, for the commercial parcel market, giving warehouse and logistics managers a broad range of shipping options to consider. 

But not all shipping software solutions are equal. With varying features, pricing structures and levels of ease of use, the overall user experience – and, ultimately, value – can sometimes differ significantly. The following tips outline key features to look for when selecting and using shipping software to ensure that you and your warehouse or logistics team are meeting the needs of customers as well as the demands of your corporate controllers.

Rate Shopping: A wide disparity often exists among shipping carriers in terms of how they determine pricing for similar services. Thus, rate shopping is essential to make sure you are being charged fairly for comparable services and that you are taking advantage of each carrier’s strengths. For example, the USPS, with its unmatched residential last-mile network, can likely offer the most economical and efficient home deliveries for small packages, while a private carrier might excel at other types of deliveries. Make sure the shipping software you select allows you to compare and choose the most cost-effective option for each package, and that it offers visibility into the complete shipping cost so there are no “hidden” surcharges that surprise you when the bill arrives. 

Since carrier rates can change frequently, you’ll also want to make sure the software provider you select has a history of integrating these changes quickly, so you can keep your shipping expenses as low as possible. Additionally, features like address verification, residential and rural extended area surcharge prediction, and postage-paid shipping label generation and management help you gauge costs more accurately – not all providers offer these key features, so check to make sure yours does.

Order Processing Integration: For high-volume shippers, any features that eliminate redundancies – like having to re-enter contact or product information from one database into another – will save you significant time and reduce the likelihood of errors. Make sure that your shipping software facilitates order processing integration with your other essential software systems and databases. 

Automated Customs Forms: Those that ship internationally know that delivery outside of the US can complicate the shipping process, as international packages usually require the inclusion of detailed and complex customs forms. If you are filling out these forms by hand, or using shipping software or a carrier with inadequate international capabilities, you know it is a cumbersome, time-intensive procedure that can easily result in delays, errors and even added costs. Software that creates automated customs forms ensures that you will prepare the right forms for each shipment. Also, the information already in the system is populated onto the customs forms, saving time, and some software solutions will allow you to print your declaration and postage on one integrated label, saving resources and reducing expenses. 

Batch Processing: Another time- and money-saving technique is batch processing. Printing shipping labels for all orders at once, rather than tens or hundreds of times throughout the day as each order is filled, can be a much more efficient process. Look for shipping software that allows you to import order lists, stage them for printing, and then print customized shipping labels in one batch – eliminating unproductive activity from the day.

Bulk Acceptance Scan: The fulfillment process can be delayed if every ready-for-shipping parcel has to be handled separately when your carrier arrives for the day’s pickup. A bulk acceptance scan feature is an essential element to look for when selecting a shipping software program, as it allows you to link all of the day’s shipments to a single barcoded form that is scanned when the packages are picked up. This feature not only streamlines shipment verification and pickup, it also enhances customer satisfaction by providing faster notification that shipments have been accepted, saving unnecessary calls to your customer service line to check order processing and delivery status.

Two last important but often overlooked considerations relate to ease-of-use, rather than features: the availability of free automatic updates to your shipping software and the speed at which new users are able to master the software. Some software providers may charge for updates, so you’ll want to make sure you fully understand how the updating process works before you purchase a solution. Without updates, you may miss out on important information about changes or updates to your shipping software’s features or your carrier’s shipping services that could have a dramatic impact on optimizing the day-to-day operations of your warehouse or shipping department. Likewise, you should look for shipping software that’s easy for new employees to learn and master. Shipping software that lets you train other users quickly will make adding temporary employees during peak seasons or replacing staff due to turnover a less stressful and more efficient process.

While it does require some effort to evaluate the expenses, benefits and user experiences of the various shipping solutions on the market, the time and cost savings realized could be considerable. Beyond reducing expenses and increasing productivity within your warehouse or logistics team, the opportunity to pass along lower shipping costs to customers and deliver their orders faster could have long-lasting effects on retention. 

Significantly, if shipping improvements bolster your company’s reputation and increase market share, the value of the software – and your department – will skyrocket.

Amine Khechfe has worked in the mailing and shipping industry for 25 years. He currently serves as co-founder and general manager for DYMO Endicia, the leading provider of customizable, easy-to-use and affordable shipping and mailing postage technology solutions. Since 1987, DYMO Endicia customers have printed more than $7 billion in postage, and tendered $1.5 billion of parcel business to the U.S. Postal Service in 2011 alone.