Practical Ecommerce

A Primer in Shipping Calculations

Set aside all the cool features you’d love your MIVA Merchant store to have, and those you aren’t sure how to accomplish. The most difficult yet necessary task is tackling the proper means of calculating shipping.

It sounds so simple – after all, we can hit UPS.com, USPS.com, FedEx.com and other carrier sites, enter package details and get current rates.

The Poor Man’s Method

Many users configure MIVA Merchant’s built-in shipping methods, which are fine if you offer flat-rate or standard tier-level shipping, or don’t mind losing a little here and gaining a little there. Unfortunately, many want to make sure they never lose ship costs on a sale, inflating them to the point where sales are lost.

Research shows that one of the top reasons shoppers abandon carts is because of shipping costs (some studies show it’s the No. 1 reason). Inflating carrier rates is a good way to lose business.

The downside to relying solely on the included shipping modules is that all customers will receive the same kind of rates, regardless of the Ship-To country. Some work around this by manually naming methods in the form of: US Shipping – $xx.xx and Canada Shipping – $xx.xx. The downside is that you have to adjust orders because many customers will simply choose the least expensive method without respect to what methods should be available solely to them.

A few module developers, however, have created modules that will let you restrict your manually configured rates to specific states or countries.

Rate Table Modules

Rate Table modules work, but they do not give real-time results. Instead, they rely on rate tables, which must be updated – if you fail to download the tables regularly, or if MIVA Corp. doesn’t obtain updated tables in a timely fashion, shipping costs will be off. Costs are most always lower than what you would pay, meaning you can lose money.

Gateway Modules

Shipping gateway modules and customizations hook right up to the carrier’s site to obtain the most current rates in real time. This is ideal when you want to offer the closest possible rates to what you will actually pay the carrier. Some are more robust than others, and the best will allow you to configure packaging and maximum weight assignments, as well as flag items to be shipped separately or across several boxes.

When configured properly, gateway modules should return the same rates you would receive if you entered the same configuration at the carrier’s site.

Realizing Limitations

Many of the big dogs use dimensional weight for shipping configuration. This is an expensive process, as it requires the store to maintain measurements for each product, measurements for all possible box sizes and calculations of which products will fit together in each box.

I’ve not reviewed any module for MIVA Merchant itself that will handle this algorithm, though there are some services trying to expand to our shopping carts to offer something very close (info on this has not yet been made public). Most of the big dogs are using systems that run a heck of a lot more than the bulk of MIVA Merchant users, so it’s expected that there will be limitations on what any manually configured, rate table or gateway modules can do for us. But when our goal is to offer rates that are comfortable to both us and our customers, there’s an affordable solution out there for everyone.

Pamela Hazelton

Pamela Hazelton

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  1. Legacy User October 22, 2007 Reply

    Our shopping cart offers dimensional shipping. Although we host some "big dog" sites, we also offer ecommerce for $29.95 a month.

    Regards,
    Michelle Greer
    http://www.volusion.com

    — *Michelle Greer*