Ecommerce Shipping Solutions: The Ultimate Guide

For example, a retail store located in New York City might have zones for the East Coast, Midwest, and West Coast, with rates increasing in price based on distance from New York. Or a bakery might offer free shipping just within their zip code, and paid rates to all other locations.

Air cushions are an alternative to packing peanuts. They’re inflatable bags that can be used to fill empty space in packages. Air cushions offer the same protection as packing peanuts but are easier to reuse and recycle.

There are a few things to consider when you’re trying to decide which countries your ecommerce store should serve. First, think about which countries your target market is in. If you’re selling products that would be popular in the United States, then it makes sense to ship there. But if you’re selling products that are more niche or targeted to a specific region, then you might want to limit your shipping to just that region.

You can look at each carrier’s website and review shipping methods and rates to determine which may be the most affordable options for your business that also provide the quickest delivery times. If you’re using a multi-carrier shipping software on your store, you can review rates from several carriers at once to quickly determine which will be the best fit.

Use this guide to determine a strategy that delights shoppers all the way through the sales funnel, from the time they add your product to their cart to its arrival on their doorstep.

Shipping fulfillment options for your store

The Shipment Tracking extension is an excellent way to do just that. Not only will buyers receive an email with the tracking number for their order, they can also log into their account on your site to check on its location. And it works seamlessly with USPS, UPS, FedEx, Canada Post, and more than a dozen other shipping carriers. 

5. Consider return shipments 

Click on the Shipping zones tab and, if you haven’t set up a zone yet, you’ll see a prompt to do so.

option to add a shipping zone

Also, the larger and more unwieldy the package is, the more difficult it can be to have it delivered without being dropped. Its notable size may also attract the attention of package thieves.

This can be a good solution if you don’t have the storage space or capability to ship yourself, but it can be more expensive for smaller businesses, depending on your average volume of sales.

Finally, now matter how you choose to set up your ecommerce shipping strategy, WooCommerce has the tools to handle it all. Take advantage of extensions to ship products affordably, efficiently, and safely so your happy customers stay happy and your store runs smoothly. Need more information? Check out our ecommerce shipping documentation. 


A quick way to determine your average handling cost per order is to calculate what you spend per month on average on the costs listed above and then divide that by the average number of orders placed per month. You can then add that handling cost to the shipping price of each order.

Shipping fulfillment can get quite complex, so the first thing you’ll want to determine when developing your ecommerce shipping strategy is who will be responsible for fulfilling your orders. Will you fulfill them yourself? Will they ship direct from the manufacturer or wholesaler? Or will you contract with a third-party logistics provider (3PL) to handle all your ecommerce order fulfillment?

Shipping fulfillment isn’t just packing up an order and dropping it off at the post office. Many steps are involved in the delivery process. It starts with determining costs, printing labels and choosing packaging, and continues with providing tracking and status updates, completing delivery, and managing customer service. 

Let’s start by taking a look at shipping zones. By setting these up, you can define shipping rates based on the specific areas you deliver to. And you can either be pretty generic here (like defining rates by country) or hyper-specific (like defining rates by zip code). Don’t worry – no matter how complicated you get, each individual customer will only see the rates that apply to their shipping address.

When a box with your logo on it arrives at someone’s doorstep, they’ll know it’s from you. Seeing your brand can add a little more excitement to a customer’s day. Plus, seeing that your company is going the extra mile for packaging can build trust that you’re also putting just as much effort into your products.

packing items for shipping, including branded materials

Eco-friendly materials

Now that you have a broad understanding of the shipping methods you can offer and an idea of what you would like to charge for shipping, it’s time to think about your shipping strategy. The goal is to choose a combination of carrier, method, and pricing that meets the needs of your customers without eating into your profits. Let’s take a look at a few options:

Live rates

In the dropdown for Shipping class, select the class that best fits the product. Then, save your changes. You can do this for each product in that class.

Learn more about international shipping with WooCommerce Shipping and DHL. 

Dates: Determine delivery times, carrier, and methods

Take into account whether or not your items will be damaged by water or other elements during shipping. Consider wrapping products that could be damaged by water in shrinkwrap, a plastic overbag, or other waterproof packaging. If you’re using a bubble mailer, choose a plastic one instead of a paper one.

Brand experience

Handling is everything but the actual shipping fee that the carrier charges you. Handling can include, but is not limited to:

  • Cost of shipping supplies like boxes, padding materials, backing boards and plastic sleeves, tape, labels, and a thermal printer.
  • Cost of storing inventory.
  • Time spent packing orders and arranging carrier pickup.
  • Customer service regarding lost or damaged packages and communicating with customers on the status of their shipments.

With these factors in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most popular, cost-effective shipping materials and how they can benefit your ecommerce business.

Another thing to consider is the cost of shipping. International shipping can be expensive, so you’ll need to factor that into your decision. You may also need to deal with customs and other regulations, which can add even more complexity and cost.

If you offer free shipping, local pickup, or flat rate shipping, you don’t need any extra plugins or extensions – everything is built into WooCommerce. 

shipping zone options in WooCommerce

The ecommerce shipping process doesn’t stop once you drop the package off. In fact, some of the best opportunities for good customer service occur after your order is in the mail! 

Let’s take a look at the options and walk through some of the pros and cons of each.

1. Ship orders yourself

Want more information? Our shipping and fulfillment guide has everything you need to know about carriers, methods, and fulfillment. 

Factor in places, dates, and weights

Depending on where you’re shipping to and how quickly your products need to get there, you may offer one or multiple ecommerce shipping options like:

  • Standard Shipping: UPS Ground, 1-5 business days
  • Expedited Shipping: USPS Priority Mail, 1-3 business days
  • Overnight Shipping: FedEx Priority Overnight, 1 business day

Navigate to WooCommerce → Settings → Shipping in your dashboard. There, you can create shipping zones to define rates based on customer locations, and shipping classes to define rates based on groups of similar products.

Pro tip: Beyond extra expenses and logistical challenges, international shipping comes with legal and customs requirements that can vary dramatically by country and region. Make sure that you partner with an international shipping company that can automate as much of the process as possible. 

purchasing a DHL shipping label

You want to make sure your products arrive at their destination safely and that the customer has a positive experience with their delivery, but you also don’t want to overspend on packaging.

A 3PL service will default to whatever method is cheapest for them and for your business. If you need items to arrive in the same package, even if it’s more expensive, or split things up over multiple packages for some reason when it would be cheaper to put them in one larger box, you’ll need to inform your 3PL so they can follow your procedures. If you’re packing and shipping things yourself, you have more complete and granular control over this process.

If you’re a small business that makes products in-house, you may find it easiest to ship directly from your own offices or warehouse. This can be more cost-effective, especially if you’re keeping your inventory in your own home or office, but it does require more work to manage.

Before you start shipping orders, you’ll need to know not only the size and weight of your products, but their size and weight once packaged. This will help you decide which method is best for each product or order that’s shipped. 

But what about shipping classes? While these aren’t required, they are an excellent way to set rates for different types of products. For example, you may sell unframed prints of your artwork, alongside framed ones. Not only will these cost different amounts to ship based on their weight, framed options will also require more packaging materials.

Ask yourself the following questions about your products to determine the best ways to pack them:

  • Is it heavy?
  • Is it fragile?
  • Is it sharp?
  • Does it contain fluids?
  • Is it one-of-a-kind?
  • Could it be damaged easily if it gets wet?
  • Is it oversized?
  • Is it very small?

WooCommerce Shipping has partnered with DHL – so now you can manage international orders from directly within your dashboard. You’ll also save up to 67% on labels, receive free pickups, be able to provide customers with end-to-end tracking, and enjoy automated customs forms creation.

Click Add shipping zone. 

setting shipping zone name

Some pros and cons of using a 3PL fulfillment service include:

Pros of using a 3PL service:

  • A fulfillment service can handle the entire shipping process for you, including packing, tracking, and delivery.
  • They often have relationships with major carriers, which can save you money on shipping costs.
  • They can scale up quickly to meet spikes in demand.
  • You don’t have to hire your own staff to manage shipping and fulfillment, which reduces your time spent on management duties.
  • You don’t have to keep your inventory in your own home or office, which can reduce overhead costs and keep your work environment less cluttered.

Cons of using a 3PL service:

  • You will have less control over the shipping process and may not be able to customize it to your needs.
  • You may need to pay a monthly fee or per-order fee in addition to shipping costs.
  • Some customers may prefer to deal directly with the store rather than a third party.

Paper is another eco-friendly packing material option. You can use paper to cushion fragile items or fill empty space in packages. Paper is also recyclable (and you can use paper made from recycled material), so it’s another great option for businesses that are looking to limit their environmental impact.

And if you go with Local pickup, customers who live inside of the set shipping zone will be able to pick up their order at your place of business.

local pickup settings

Now you’ll want to assign products to each class that you create. Go to Products → All Products and open the one you want to edit. Then, scroll down to the product data box and select the Shipping tab. 

assigning a shipping class

You’ll need to make sure that your boxes and packing materials can accommodate the size and weight of the items you’re sending, but that’s not the only thing you’ll want to think about.

There are many different packing materials available, so it’s important to choose the right option for your business. Consider your products, shipping needs, and brand identity when choosing packing materials for your eCommerce orders. With the right materials, you can ensure that your products arrive safely at their destination while making a positive impact on customers and a minimal impact on the environment.

Determine your shipping rates for customers

Read our full guide on shipping strategies and learn how to make them work for your business. 

Implement your ecommerce shipping strategy

While no one likes to think about returns, they do happen. And if you accept exchanges or return shipments, it’s important to have a plan in place. 

If your store is live, start by taking a full backup. If any unanticipated issues arise, this ensures you don’t lose valuable data and order information. We recommend Jetpack VaultPress Backup for this. 

Finally, think about whether you have the resources to handle shipping to multiple countries. It can be a lot of work to manage different shipping regulations, carrier options, and rates, so make sure you’re prepared for that before you make the commitment.

If you’re using the WooCommerce Shipping extension, you can create a new return shipping label for the order, use the customer’s address as the origin address, and update the package weight and size. You can learn more about this in the WooCommerce Shipping documentation.

Bubble wrap is another popular choice for packing material. It’s great for protecting delicate items and preventing damage during shipping. Bubble wrap comes in different thicknesses, so you can choose the right level of protection for your products. And like cardboard boxes, bubble wrap is inexpensive and recyclable.

If a customer orders two very different products – like a pair of crystal champagne flutes and a set of free weights – you probably don’t want to ship those in the same box. Even if someone orders multiples of the same thing, you may still want to break the order up over several packages to prevent damage. 

Customers should be able to quickly understand where their order is at all times, and know when they can expect it to arrive. This is especially important if you sell items that are frequently purchased as gifts.

If you aren’t bothered by the additional expense, you can even brand your packing materials. Companies like Sticker Mule offer custom branded packaging and tape that you can use to make everything about your order shipments a branded experience.

For more details, visit our post on how to implement a shipping strategy. 

Ship – and profit!

When someone clicks the “purchase” button on your site, you’ve made it across the finish line, right? Almost. Now you need a seamless ecommerce shipping process to keep the sale and win customers for life. 

For international shipping, you’ll need to look at the options that are available for each destination country and determine which will work the best based on the size and weight of your products. While strategies like splitting up items to avoid oversized-package charges may be beneficial domestically, the same strategy might not work for international shipments. You’ll need to map out a unique ecommerce shipping system for each country you ship to.

How to package orders for shipment

You’re ready to start shipping! Remember to adapt  your shipping strategy as you go and make changes as you learn about your customers, and you’ll soon find the options that are good for customer relations and your bottom line.

Once you’ve done your research, weighed your options, and made a decision, you’re ready to put your strategy into place and set up the ecommerce shipping process.

1. Back up your store

Working with a 3PL service? They may have a WooCommerce extension available in the WooCommerce marketplace or directly from their website, or they may configure a custom integration for you. 

4. Make it easy for customers to understand their order’s location

Flat rates simplify your shipping strategy by taking the guesswork out of calculating rates. Charge the same amount regardless of the weight or size of the order. This is a great option if your inventory is consistent in size and weight, or if most of your customers order similar quantities. With default WooCommerce settings, you can charge a flat rate per item, a percentage-based cost, or a minimum fee.

Free shipping

Instead of ordering goods wholesale and storing them in your own warehouse while you wait for orders to come in, you could have your suppliers ship them directly to the customer. If your current suppliers don’t offer this option, you might shop around for companies that make the same, or comparable, products and contract with them to ship orders directly.

illustration of the dropshipping process

For instance, if someone orders twenty 18” x 24” canvas prints from your store, it wouldn’t be a good idea to ship them all in the same box. The weight of each item could cause damage to the canvas below it. Plus, you may incur much higher shipping costs for using an oversized box.

If you’re shipping fragile items, you’ll need to use different packing materials than if you’re shipping non-fragile items. You may need extra bubble wrap, foam, or air cushions to ensure your items arrive safely. Additional packing materials may increase your overall package size, but making sure your products arrive safely will save you money on returns in the long run.

No matter what fulfillment option you choose, you’ll still need to familiarize yourself with the various shipping carriers and methods as you’ll need to add information about them into your store’s shipping settings. You’ll also need to provide information about your carriers and shipping methods to your customers – especially if you’re giving them multiple options during checkout. 

If you choose Free shipping, you can set a minimum order total required for free shipping, whether or not you want to associate free shipping with a coupon code, and more. 

free shipping settings

This allows you to get even more granular with your shipping rates. So, for example, when you set up flat rate shipping, you can set a different price for framed vs. unframed prints. You’ll see in the screenshot below that there’s now a separate option just for the “framed” shipping class.

additional flat rate shipping settings for the new shipping class

You’ll also want to clearly outline any and all expectations ahead of time. In your return policy, define exactly who is responsible for paying return shipping fees, and in what circumstances.

Start by purchasing or downloading an extension from the WooCommerce Marketplace. Not sure which one you need? Use our post about ecommerce shipping strategies to make the right decision for your store. Here are just a few great options:

  • Table Rate Shipping. Set up very detailed ecommerce shipping rates based on everything from weight, number of items, location, price, and more.  
  • USPS Shipping Method. Define ecommerce shipping rates automatically based on live rates directly from USPS. 
  • Per Product Shipping. Set ecommerce shipping rates based on each individual product or even variation! 
  • WooCommerce Distance Rate Shipping. Offer different ecommerce shipping rates based on the customer’s distance from your location.
  • WooCommerce Dropshipping. This streamlines your order fulfillment process with your dropshipping providers by connecting and syncing order information.

There are advantages and disadvantages to managing order shipments for your online store yourself.

Pros of shipping orders yourself:

  • You have complete control over the ecommerce shipping process and can customize it to your needs.
  • You can save money on shipping costs by shopping around for the best rates or use a service like WooCommerce Shipping that takes care of it for you.
  • You can build relationships with customers by hand-writing thank you notes or including small gifts in their orders.

Cons of shipping orders yourself:

  • Shipping can be time-consuming, particularly if you have a high volume of orders.
  • You may need to invest in shipping supplies and equipment, such as boxes, labels, and tape.
  • You might need to hire additional staff to manage inventory and shipping as your store grows or when you experience a spike in orders, like during the holiday shopping season.

2. Ship orders using a dropshipping service

If you select Flat rate shipping, you’ll have the option to set a specific price for that zone (e.g. $9.99 flat rate shipping). You can also set this based on shipping class, which we’ll discuss in a moment. 

flat rate shipping settings

Combined shipping options give you the best of both worlds. If a one-size-fits-all approach to shipping doesn’t align with your business needs, you can always mix and match. One approach is to offer free shipping for orders that meet a minimum total to encourage customers to add more products to their carts.

When choosing packing materials for your ecommerce orders, consider the following:

  • Item fragility
  • Brand experience
  • Eco-friendly materials
  • Packaging cost

Fragile merchandise

If you’d rather add the handling cost into your product prices, you could divide your average monthly handling cost by the average number of products sold per month. If you have high-priced products and low-priced products, you might want to proportionally distribute the handling costs. Cheaper products will likely have lower handling costs associated with them than more expensive products, although this isn’t always the case.

What’s the best strategy for calculating shipping rates?

shipping calculator in checkout
Photo ©

You can pass along shipping costs to your customers, or cover all or part of it yourself. There are pros and cons to each method and you may want to experiment over time. If you do decide to charge for shipping, you can determine rates in almost unlimited ways – from flat rates to table rates and even live, real-time pricing fed from your shipping carrier. 

Companies like Hero Packaging, Mushroom Packaging, and Noissue offer sustainable packaging options. Noissue even offers customized branding on your packing materials. Environmentally friendly packaging is sometimes more expensive than other materials, so keep that in mind if you’re on a tight budget. 

Packaging cost

Small packages can be tricky as well. Even if your item could fit in a small padded envelope, you may need to add a stiff cardboard or hardboard insert to prevent bending, bubble wrap, or other padding materials to make sure your items arrive safely to the customer.

Then, add a class name, slug (URL), and description, and click Save shipping classes.

shipping class setup

And that’s it! As you can see, there’s a lot you can do with the default WooCommerce shipping settings.

3. Install and activate shipping extensions

Packing materials for both large and small packages can increase your ecommerce shipping costs. Not only do you have to spend the money to purchase these materials, but they also add weight, which can increase shipping costs. 

Cardboard boxes are one of the most commonly used packing materials for ecommerce orders. They’re strong and durable, which makes them ideal for protecting fragile items. Cardboard boxes are also relatively lightweight, so they won’t add a lot of extra weight to your shipping costs. And best of all, cardboard is recyclable, so it’s a great option for eco-conscious businesses.

Using a dropshipping service has its benefits, but it also has some downsides. We’ll go over the pros and cons of dropshipping so you can make the best decision for your business.

Pros of dropshipping:

  • It’s low-cost. You don’t need to invest in inventory upfront, and you don’t need to staff your own shipping operation.
  • You can be more flexible with the products you sell. You can easily adjust your product offering as needed, and you’re not tied to a specific inventory. This can give you the ability to quickly respond to changes in demand.

Cons of dropshipping:

  • You have less control over the types of products you offer. If you want customized products, you’ll probably need to consider print on demand or place wholesale orders with manufacturers.
  • You have less control over the quality of your products. When you’re Dropshipping, you’re relying on the supplier to provide quality products. If they don’t meet your standards, it can reflect poorly on your business.
  • Longer and less reliable shipping times might be frustrating for customers and lead to lost sales. Because you’re relying on a third party to handle shipping, there’s always the potential for delays. If you’re using multiple dropshipping companies, products in an order may arrive in different packages on different days, leading to customer confusion and increased customer support tickets.
  • Shipping issues can take longer to resolve. When you ship products yourself or use one 3PL company, you can respond to customer service issues more quickly. If you’re working with several dropshipping companies, you might have delays in communication that extend the amount of time it takes to resolve a customer complaint.

3. Ship orders with a third-party logistics (3PL) service

You can decide which works best for your business, but you’ll need to add those handling costs somewhere so they don’t eat into your profit margins.

What are handling costs?

Live rates calculate shipping fees based on size, weight, and distance, which are synced in real time with your carrier (FedEx, UPS, USPS, etc.) based on what they charge. Live rates are a popular choice because they offer a nice combination of choice and transparency. Customers can see the range of shipping options, based on speed, from least to most expensive. 

Table rates

If you take all of these factors into account, you should be able to narrow down your list of potential countries to ship to. From there, you can start researching the specific rules and regulations for each country to make sure you’re prepared to ship there successfully.

Shipping methods are the options and associated rates that customers choose from at checkout – like free ground shipping, $5.00 three-day shipping, or $15.00 next-day delivery. These methods are usually determined by the carriers you work with and impact the cost and speed of delivery. 

Now that you know where you’re shipping, how you’re packaging, what carriers and methods you’re using, and how weight and size impact your shipping options, you’ll need to calculate two things: your cost for shipping and handling and the shipping rates you charge your customers.