Subscription box shipping basics
Shipping is much more than just sending custom boxes to your customers. There are two major processes involved:
- the pre-shipping internal operations and logistics
- what happens from the moment of shipping itself to when the customer finally receives their subscription box.
We’ll be focusing on the first one in this guide, which we’ve broken down into the following topics:
- Planning the package design (type, size, safety, appearance)
- Finding the right carrier
- Fulfillment and packing
- Considering finding a shipping partner
- Labeling and printing
Answering the question ‘what is a subscription business model‘ produces a wealth of answers. No matter your business model, all of these entail different elements and requires specific attention. Not doing any of them right, might cost you – with damaged boxes, returns and general customer unhappiness. Learn to ship subscription boxes right, however, a process we’re about to break down, and you’ll be sitting pretty.
Step 1: Planning the package design
Start preparing for the actual moment of shipping well before it begins. As it often shows in life, it’s much better to think ahead than to suffer the consequences later on.
The preparation phase for the shipping process begins with designing your custom box. First, make sure that the packaging and style of your boxes is suitable for the products you’re sending.
Make sure to do whatever is in your power to protect the products inside. The goal is to ensure secure shipping, that ultimately results in a perfect customer experience.
Type and size of products
The types of products that find their way into each subscription box matters, as does their size. Procurement has a massive impact on your packaging indeed.
When we say designing, it goes way beyond the outer printing or visual appearance, the term design embraces all the physical aspects of a subscription box.
When it comes to the type and size of products, these are the questions to consider at this phase of preparation for shipping:
- What kind of products do I plan to include?
- What one-time products may be added sporadically (for free, or after an upsell)?
- How will these products move around/interact with each other in the physical package?
- Are the products sensitive to temperature? What is the best way to protect them?
- How fragile are they? What kind of packing materials should I use to keep them secure?
- Is my subscription box half-empty or half-full – should I consider the products of different sizes and shapes, so they could fit nicely? Think about the unused space here.
- Are there any products that can spill, open up easily, release a bad smell, or otherwise damage the entire package? How can I ensure that this doesn’t happen?
- Do I know the full dimensions and weights of all of my products? (Note: the most common box sizes are 10″ x 6″ x 4″, 9″ x 6″ x 3″, and 8″ x 8″ x 4″.)
- Can the box endure pressure?
Now, we’re diving into the topic of safety. It’s needless to point out the importance of keeping your subscription boxes and all the products inside safe and sound during the shipping process!
Luckily, there is a lot you can do in order to prevent unnecessary issues and headaches:
- In order to keep all products safe and sound inside, consider the material of the box – is it durable and strong enough?
- Do you have an additional support brace or a panel in the package? Can it protect the products and prevent them from being crushed or moved around?
- What is the best way to preserve the quality of products inside? Think about the inner packaging here – paper, bubble wrap, etc.
- How about if the products are highly sensitive and easily breakable – maybe a wooden crate will do? Or plastic (go crazy)?
The next thing you should consider is how your package looks. Not so much how it looks while stored, waiting to be shipped, but how it will look when it arrives at the subscriber’s doorstep. There’s 2 things to consider here:
- Damage during transport: Try to balance aesthetics and durability here, and figure out how damaged the box can get during transit. Carefully observe the appearance of the packages, which parts are being hurt the most and consider re-designing those parts. The appearance is vital for the subscription boxes, not only because of the first impression, but also because the branding carries immense marketing power. Why lose it because of transport?
- Achieving a distinctive look: The feel, message, and look of your brand is the messenger of your business. It connects you with your customers and it helps spread the word even further. There is definitely an immense power in visual presentation — think how many people post unboxing videos.
Step 2: Finding the right carrier
No matter how hard you work on preparations for shipping, without a good carrier, all that effort could be in vain. Those strong and reliable hands will be responsible for delivering the boxes, undamaged and intact, to your eager subscribers.
Choose sensibly and do your research — your first choice is never your only choice, nor should you always default for the cheapest service.
One of our favorite carriers is USPS, as you can ship any kind of box, with or without logos or pictures and made from most kinds of material.
That being said, you might want to think beyond the big carriers, because there’s no guarantee that you’ll be satisfied even though their service is widely known. And in any case, make sure you’re asking the right questions at the right times.
Understanding the basics
- Get your eyes on the shipment history (if you already have a carrier) and observe the quality of that service – speed, returns, damages, shipping prices, etc.
- Review the delivery time – what is the best delivery time, 1 or 2 days? The answer: as soon as humanly possible! If you can guarantee delivery in a specific timeframe, offer this as a premium, ‘priority mail’ option for your subscribers.
- Knowing the fixed date of shipping is marvelous, but it is so easy to get impatient when you know that the box is on its way. Finding a carrier with a demonstrated general history of supersonic delivery can considerably improve the customer experience.
Keeping your customers in the loop
- Is it possible for your customers to easily track the order? One of the most exciting parts of waiting for a package is following the tracking information. It’s like watching cookies baking in the oven, waiting for them to turn golden and crispy.
- Making sure that your chosen carrier provides a good tracking system. Giving customers a sense of control will turn their possible impatience into fun anticipation. Tracking is usually done via tracking numbers, making the waiting much easier.
Providing support and a seamless experience
- A strong customer service team – the right carrier also has to provide excellent and timely support. The key is that it’s easy for them to access tracking numbers and provide accurate shipping information to the customers.
- Making sure that the system is simple, customer-friendly, and reliable can definitely help. This way, you’ll also save time, provide better services, and be more cost-effective.
A high-quality shipping service is what your amazing subscription business deserves, so don’t skimp and go with the cheapest way. This will distinguish you from the sea of competitors and make your customers happier in the long run – while being efficient here will also help you save money and create a better pricing strategy.
Step 3: Organizing your fulfillment and packing process
Fulfillment can be outsourced or in-house, and you should choose the option that suits your business the best. Whatever the case, your packages should be handled with care and caution.
There’s several important aspects you should consider at this stage:
- Packing line – analyze the way products are stored and handled during the actual packing.
- Make sure that the cleanliness of the storage area is up to par, well organised, and neat.
- Ensure that finished boxes can be moved around easily, and that the carrier has enough space to operate properly when picking up your packages.
- In terms of size, it’s much better to have a large, flexible fulfillment center if you anticipate rapid growth. There’s no shame starting smaller at the beginning though.
- In terms of location, pick a spot which is nearest to the main infrastructure connection you need to service your chosen geographic range.
- Set clear standards on aesthetic quality – do you need to make more space in between products so they don’t get damaged, or perhaps make sure your boxes aren’t stacked on top of each other in order to avoid rubbing and scratching?
As you can clearly see, fulfillment and packaging also entail some challenges. Preparation is only half of the mystery, but in some cases, it is difficult to handle everything alone.
That is why you should…
Step 4: Considering finding a shipping partner
There is nothing shameful in looking for a little help, especially when it comes to the operations and logistics behind (before) shipping.
Besides the obvious advantages a newbie would gain with a shipping partnership, professional shipping services might have direct access to better conditions and, most importantly, shipping costs. Vetting other shipping services can see you avoid paying retail rates and definitely save you some serious cash.
Errors and difficulties of all kinds happen, that’s the nature of life (and business). But, if something turns bad, keep in mind that the fulfillment centers can handle common errors with no additional cost.
Of course, you’ll need to do the research, as having someone else handle your products requires a major investment, not just in money, but in trust and time. Industry-specific associations like SUBTA often provide lists of trusted partners.
Step 5: Labeling and printing
As the actual moment of shipping approaches, the topic of labeling becomes important. So, how is labeling and printing connected to shipping preparation? It’s not immediately obvious, but there are certain aspects you definitely need to consider:
- For labeling, mind the surface of your subscription boxes, as not all shipping labels act the same in contact with them. Some surfaces are more accommodating to adhesive, but some can cause you unnecessary stress. As always, prior research could prevent these (literally) sticky issues.
- Test with small quantities first. If you’re just starting to get customers and don’t have huge orders yet, try labeling one part of the stack with one type of shipping label and another with the other type.
- For printing, pick a physically robust piece of hardware (to avoid long-term maintenance), and try to balance print speed with label quality.
Preparation for shipping boxes can be challenging, especially if you’re just starting out in the beautiful jungle of subscription business entrepreneurship, but now you’ve read this guide, we hope that you’re feeling more confident.
Whatever your subscription business model, the best way to run everything is with an all-in-one platform that puts everything you need from a website builder to the ability to integrate with shipping platforms under one roof. That’s exactly what we’ve built with Subbly — start your free trial now — your first 2 weeks are on us so you can see for yourself!