• FirefoxInstall the new Firefox »
  • start 

    Services Let Small E-tailers Ship Smarter

    By adrienne_burke | Yahoo Small Business

    As any online retailer knows, shipping can make or break a business. Even when your products’ quality and prices are competitive, if they can be had faster or shipped free from another company you can expect to fail fast.

    But outdated technology from UPS, FedEx, DHL, and USPS make it a nightmare for so-called e-tailers to integrate their software and streamline their shipping process. It means many leave money on the table, or worse, incur added costs, charging flat-rate shipping instead of wrangling with real-time shipping rates.

    And it’s why, in the name of helping small businesses compete with the likes of Amazon and eBay, the 10-person San Francisco company EasyPost has been able to raise close to $3 million from some of the top venture capital funds (and why other companies, including Postmaster, an EasyPost competitor that emerged out of the San Antonio TechStars Cloud, and ShipHawk, a shipping broker with custom software, are sprouting up to serve small and medium shippers).

    As e-commerce expands, so, undoubtedly, will the demand for such services. CEO and founder Jarrett Streebin says EasyPost has grown 100 percent per month each of the past 14 months and now has thousands of customers generating millions in shipping monthly. What’s more, with their shipping processes under control, some of EasyPost’s own customers have also experienced explosive growth.

    “We’re lowering the barrier to entry for people who want to ship like an Amazon,” Streebin says. Very small businesses can still rely on services like Stamps.com, he says. “It will take 30 minutes to copy and paste 10 customers’ addresses into the system and print labels. But when you’re at 100–1,000 labels a day, you need to automate,” he says. And the big carriers don’t make that easy.

    In fact, Streebin conceived the idea for EasyPost while struggling shipping at his own gift card e-commerce business. “I was trying to integrate shipping into my site, and I thought, ‘It is crazy that it’s so hard to do something so simple. I just want a label with two addresses and a bar code.’” Other companies were dedicating in-house engineers to their shipping logistics, he says. “I thought there must be a better way to do this.”

    Now, Streebin says, by integrating their e-commerce sites with EasyPost’s, his users can let their own customers see exactly what it’s going to cost to ship the goods under different circumstances. Streebin says “you’re always better off” providing customers with an accurate rate. Otherwise, either “you’re making money off shipping and losing customers, or you’re losing money” not charging enough to cover your costs.

    Providing easy label generation and tracking numbers also increases customer satisfaction, Streebin says. “For most, there’s no transparency in the shipping process. With Amazon you have a guarantee. People know it’s reliable. We can help people build a shipping integration that’s reliable and provides insight for the end customer.”

    Tracking inventory when it leaves and is returned to their distribution centers also gives EasyPost’s customers a leg up, Streebin says. “A lot of companies just include a return label with the shipment. That gives you a sizable inventory risk. At any one time, all of your revenue could be scheduled for refund.” To keep its users on top of what’s coming back to the warehouse, he says EasyPost lets unsatisfied end customers print return labels with tracking. “Including a return label in the box just asks for superfluous returns,” he says. “Amazon proves that well. They’ll give you a label if you ask for one.” Easy returns are good business, he says, “but you need a slight barrier.”

    Yahoo Small Business Services