UK Shipping Best Practice for Online Retailers

Posted by Victoria Elizabeth 18 Nov 13

Cat_in_boxSomeone without any previous knowledge of ecommerce shipping policies in the UK would probably imagine a very basic UPS/FedEx sort of situation, where shopping cart platforms automatically send orders to warehouses, which then print shipping labels and put items into boxes for delivery vans to bring directly to customers’ homes. As a famous Russian meerkat would say, ‘simples.’

But alas, reality is not so, well, simple. While many notable ecommerce platforms try to organise their functions around these basic goals, the process and the logistics are quite another matter. In this post, I will highlight some of the different ways that retailers can get their products shipped to customers. Another major consideration is best practice for the coming Christmas season, when shipping options will make or break certain etailers. And while some analysts proclaim ‘free shipping for all!’ and want every retailer to get on board, this is obviously not possible for every store and fulfillment budget. I will go through some of the difficulties and solutions that SMEs can use this holiday to make sure that customers are as satisfied as possible with their deliveries.

Types of Delivery

  • Drop Shipping

    • Drop shipping cuts the warehouse and excessive inventory out of a retailer’s budget as orders are sent directly to customers from suppliers and wholesalers, not retailers.

    • Here’s an excellent Drop Shippers Directory where you can find legitimate certified wholesalers.

  • Courier Services
    • If you own your warehouse, then using the many different courier services available to UK retailers is a great idea. From Royal Mail for universal postal service in the UK, to Interparcel, which consolidates UK, EU and International deliveries into one courier service, there are a number of different couriers to choose from. Parcelforce is a good option for UK and International express shipping, which is highly discounted for large packages, tracked and insured.

  • Click and Collect

    • This option allows customers more flexibility and control over their purchase since they are able to choose a convenient location to pick their items up.

    • A similar option is Reserve and Collect, which allows for checkout to occur after the customer views the items in person.

What Ecommerce Stores in the UK are Still Lacking

For a country like the UK that only spans 94,060 sq miles - that’s marginally smaller than the state of Michigan - there are still many impediments to smart, easy and free shipping. With online sales growing more rapidly in the UK than the States, it’s hard for customers to understand why shipping is still so difficult here. 

The main problem for UK retailers is infrastructure and order fulfillment management. Without the proper structures in place, there are a number of places where it can all go wrong. While large retailers like John Lewis or Asos can afford to offer a variety of shipping options, this is not always the case for smaller retailers. The horizon is broadening for SMEs however, and drop shipping, marketplaces, and universal postage rates in the UK from the Royal Mail, all make it very easy for retailers to join up and offer more to customers.

Another point that severely cuts conversions and revenue for British retailers is the complicated process of returning items purchased online. 2 out of 3 shoppers say they would buy more online if returns were free This is already a popular online shopping habit in other countries, but the lack of structure and ease for returns in the UK slows down online shopping considerably.

One thing that is worth noting is Asos’ international delivery map. I can’t praise this page enough for it’s genius. If you’re an etailer who does a lot of international shipping, it would be a good idea to borrow this good idea! I also found this Shopatron infographic a useful shortcut to finding the right delivery pricing for your company. 

5 Best Practices for Shipping during the Holidays

  1. Make sure delivery options are as flexible as possible. This goes for even the smallest retailers. If you’re using drop ship services, check what your provider can do for you and if they can offer you a discount for handling more traffic during December. It’s worth a shot if it means lowering your shipping costs, which can be forwarded onto your customers in the form of free or reduced shipping! Good options for retailers around the holidays are next day delivery, express or first class delivery, click and collect for multichannel retailers, as well as free shipping for standard delivery times, which can be absorbed into the original price of items. Another option is to offer delivery times, preferably in 2 hour increments, or at least AM or PM options, since asking customers to stay home and wait all day for a package is just plain silly nowadays.

  2. Make sure your last-minute delivery dates and costs for Christmas are made clear on your homepage, product pages and especially your checkout pages. This is an easy and transparent way to assure your customers that they will be taken care of, and also help those procrastinators know exactly how long they can hold out on shopping for Christmas.

  3. Make sure your shipping notification emails get sent in a timely manner. They aren’t the most important part of the transaction, but they will be noticed if they don’t arrive. Online retailers can easily mess this part up, and even the best retailers (John Lewis just did this to me) can make mistakes sometimes. Customers who have this experience around the holidays will likely raise their eyebrows, and perhaps quietly - or not so quietly - exit your customer lifecycle.

  4. Make sure to implement online tracking into your fulfillment software. It's a great way to help customers minimise the stress that comes from not having control over their purchase. I use online tracking whenever possible (especially on because it helps me feel like I know what’s going on and can take action if something seems out of place. Otherwise, it’s just a waiting game, and who has time for that?

  5. Make sure you practice what you preach. There’s no worse situation than letting a customer down on Christmas. Let’s face it, missing the Christmas delivery date that a customer has been promised is not a situation I or you would want to be placed in. The Guardian recently posted a list of last days for customers to get items shipped in time for Christmas from the UK’s top retailers. I found it helpful to see how the UK’s top retailers were pushing the envelope, literally.


If I was to choose which part of ecommerce is the most stressful for customers, I would always say shipping and returns. Every time a confirmation page pops up, my trust hinges on whether the magic will actually happen and the package will arrive on my doorstep. Each transaction is a leap of faith that retailers ask their customers to make, so please, for Christmas-sake, make fast, easy and convenient shipping a priority this year!




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