Which multicarrier package processing tool is right for you?
“Not everybody’s gonna dig what I dig, but I reserve the right to dig it.” – Whoopi Goldberg
Like many online retailers, we utilize more than one carrier to fulfill our routine shipping needs. If you’re shipping a range of packages in various sizes and weights, then shipping with multiple carriers can save you time and money. The downside of this is that — unless you have a tool to make it easier — you will find yourself jumping from system-to-system, rating and re-rating packages on different carrier sites trying to find the best balance between cost and delivery time. It can be exhausting and it is not a solution that scales well as your business grows.
Still, the savings opportunities can be huge and they can justify the need to figure out some sort of solution. In our case, we use a mix of USPS and FedEx methods.
For lightweight packages and parcels that do not require time-definite delivery we use the United States Postal Service. Regular first-class mail for packages up to 13 oz. works fine for routine ground shipping, and Priority Mail is usually a good value up to around three pounds, depending on the destination. We also use USPS International Priority Mail for shipments outside of the United States.
In the case of heavier packages and shipments requiring express day-definite U.S. delivery to honor our shipping guarantees, we currently use FedEx ground, second-day air, and next-day air services. We operate under a negotiated contract with FedEx that includes minimums, base rate and surcharge discounts. This saves us a great deal of money when compared to counter FedEx rates, but is still not value enough to offset the need to add USPS to the mix.
Our solution has been to pair our webstore software (3dCart) with a third-party multicarrier package processing tool. We’ve used a number of these tools over the last few years. Here are some thoughts on some of them that we’ve play-tested extensively:
TrueShip’s product line has come leaps and bounds in the last few years. I’d award it the prize for most improved, with even more improvements scheduled to be added in the near future. The development team at TrueShip has really made a commitment to continuous improvement.
TrueShip is a modular multicarrier shipping tool. The core product – ReadyShipper 7 – provides the basic functionality that allows a user to import orders from various carts, to select from a range of carriers and shipping methods, and to then process the orders, print the various labels, and then return the tracking information for each shipment back to your preferred ecommerce platform.
ReadyShipper 7 is downloaded software that is installed on your desktop computer. It has an easy-to-use interface that is intuitive yet powerful. When integrated with your FedEx or UPS account, it provides you with the ability to see your actual account rates (rather that undiscounted daily pickup or counter rates), and it also provides real-time address validation. It integrates, as well, with both Stamps.com and Endicia.
Because of the modular nature of TrueShip’s product line, the base price of $29.95/month is likely not the only fee that you’re going to pay. TrueShip offers a host of add-on modules that allow for integration with a range of ecommerce platforms, accounting packages, utilities, and so on.
In addition, TrueShip offers ReadyCloud (allowing the user to backup their shipping data to the cloud), ReadyReturns (a sophisticated returns processing platform that will allow you to add “Zappos-like returns to any website”), and ReadyLabels (produce packing lists with integrated shipping labels). Almost all of these add-ons also cost additional money, so that the total monthly price for the service level you want could run substantially higher than the base fee for ReadyShipper 7 alone.
Despite the fact that the pricing model can make you feel a bit nickel-and-dimed for services, the progressive and forward-thinking commitment to ongoing development is refreshing. The software works with Mac or PC. They offer a new Flat Rate Select program that can allow shippers of heavy packages to enjoy low pricing based on package volume rather than package weight, discount postage is available, as well as discounted shipping insurance. The support site is excellent, as well.
We were loyal and happy ShipWorks users for a long time.
Although not as expandable as TrueShip, ShipWorks delivers an incredible value in terms of offering the user a solid multicarrier package processing platform at a very reasonable price ($14.95/month for up to 99 orders/month, and then $29.95/month up to 999 orders per month).
As with TrueShip, the software is downloaded and installed on your computer. Although setting up integration with both your cart and your carriers is easy to do once the software is installed and running, the setup process isn’t as easy as I wish it was. At least when we started with it, ShipWorks required that we set up a Microsoft SQL service database (not that hard, but another step). The complexity of the setup process was unusual compared to ShipWorks’ rivals.
ShipWorks only works with Windows machines. And it isn’t as “full-featured” or expandable as TrueShip in terms of adding modules that increase functionality. When we were using ShipWorks we were handling the process of creating and emailing returns labels to customers through the FedEx website because ShipWorks didn’t have an internal tool for doing this that we could use.
Obviously to some degree this sort of thing is expected, given the reduced cost of the service. And in our case we were processing so few return requests that it really wasn’t that big of deal to use the FedEx site as a companion to ShipWorks. But that sort of thing is something to keep in mind when evaluating your options.
Although the interface isn’t quite as user-friendly as ReadyShipper’s interface, it is highly customizable and we found that the order and customer search features and reporting tools in ShipWorks were user-friendly, intuitive, and delivered excellent results.
If there was anything on a consistent basis that we wished were different with ShipWorks it would be the relatively clunky user support site and help documents, although they have gotten a great deal better over time. The setup and help documents have the flow and usability of an extended FAQ: They aren’t terrible, but they aren’t great, either.
Overall, we were pleased with the service we received from ShipWorks and pleased with their product.
Our current preferred choice for multicarrier shipping software is ShipStation. What drove us toward trying ShipStation was the fact that it is an entirely cloud-based solution to the problem of multicarrier package processing. We love in-the-cloud tools for the reliability that they provide – no need to worry that a hard drive crash could take out your data and render your company vulnerable.
The interface is clean, neat, and intuitive, and the system runs off a series of navigation tabs that separate the various functions that you’re likely to use in a logical way. We also love the fact that right out of the box, the software does so much – in particular we love the way that the address validation tools work and we love the fact that the returns processing module is completely full-featured and integrated without any added cost to us. It’s easy to use, too.
At the moment, there are only two things about ShipStation we wish were different. First, the advantage of being entirely cloud-based is balanced against the disadvantage that package processing is slower than it is on ShipWorks. And it is notably slower – labels sometimes take an agonizingly long time to spit out of the thermal printer. If you’re not under an incredible time-crunch it really isn’t that big of a deal. But when you’re processing a stack of orders under deadline, it can be maddening.
Second, although the primary purpose of using a multicarrier shipping platform is being able to rate and compare costs of shipping a package different ways, it is also the case that you frequently want to compare expected delivery times. In the case of ShipWorks this is easy to do … the program reports both the cost of a particular ship method and also the expected delivery day.
ShipStation does not currently support this feature, even though the data needed to produce such a report is easily available from the carriers themselves. The downside of this becomes apparent when, for example, you make a guarantee to deliver a package in two days, but the delivery ZIP code is relatively close geographically. In such a case as this what you really want to see is the relative costs of all of the methods that would successfully delivery the package in the needed time, and the best method might then turn out to be a very inexpensive one (like USPS Priority Mail). Selecting FedEx Second Day Air would, then, potentially be a waste of money.
The customer service we’ve received from ShipStation is truly outstanding. In fact, with the possible exception of the service we’ve gotten from GoDataFeed, it is among the finest proactive customer service and support programs in the industry. They are doing just about everything right.
TrueShip, ShipWorks, and OrderStation are not the only choices out there. OrderCup and Ordoro are notable alternative offerings of which I just don’t have as much experience. And there are others, as well.
Happy shipping and may you have a prosperous holiday season.