With Andrew Chan
Written by Franco Varriano.
Shipping is one the least sexy parts of running an online store. While business owners are happy to make sales, most of them wished someone out there would take care of the shipping piece of the business so they can focus on getting more customers and building an empire.
Guess what? Your shipping woes can be helped using AfterShip’s services. The team at AfterShip is on a mission to help online stores track packages and notify customers of delivery updates. To get more tips about shipping strategies and learn more about AfterShip, we’re happy to host a special chat with Andrew Chan, co-founder of AfterShip. Without further ado, everybody on the line: ready, set, ship.
2. The Interview
Ned: Thank you very much for joining us from Hong Kong. Andrew. Before we dive into the topic, can you give us background on your story?
Andrew: AfterShip was born when Teddy Chan, an online merchant in Hong Kong and I met at a Startup Weekend organized in our city. Teddy couldn’t track his packages as they made their way around the world. That was a big frustration. He knew he couldn’t be the only one running into this problem and the wheels started turning.
We won the Hong Kong Startup Weekend in 2011 and then the Global Startup Battle in the USA. Today, AfterShip is the leading shipment tracking platform with more than 100,000 customers. We tracked around 30 million shipments.
Ned: What is AfterShip and how does it help online stores?
Andrew: AfterShip is a shipment tracking platform for online stores. Imagine you run an eCommerce and you’re working with two or three couriers. You have orders and you want to know the status of your shipments. Is this item in transit? Out for delivery? Has the delivery failed? All these questions are concerns for you and your customers. They want their items in due time and as fast as possible. If there’s a problem or a frustration, they will get back to you. The trust at this stage between you and your customers is critical.
To make shipment tracking easier, AfterShip is able to tag a status for each of the checkpoint we’re receiving from the 347 couriers we work with. We update you and your customers when there is a change. And you can track all this information in one place for all your shipments. You don’t have to enter a tracking number manually or check on the courier’s website one order at a time. We’ve realised how the communication between the store owner and the customer is key. For premium users, there is the possibility to trigger emails and SMS to notify your customers as the shipping status change.
We’ve realized how the communication between the store owner and the customer is key. For premium users, there is the possibility to trigger emails and SMS to notify your customers as the shipping status change.
We have more than 20 developers to improve how AfterShip works with the main eCommerce platforms and add more couriers over time. So that’s the exciting part for eCommerce entrepreneurs. For online buyers, we do have an app on iOS and Android to track packages. Anyone buying online who has a tracking number can follow the status of the shipment. We send notifications when the status changes. You can also rename your order item to make it more personal. We have a couple of famous users like MKBHD who produces awesome tech videos on YouTube. The app has been download 7M times.
Ned: Why do you feel shipping is so difficult / frustrating for online store owners?
Andrew: Just to be clear, AfterShip focuses on the shipment tracking. We don’t do the shipping for online stores. But we’ve found out that eCommerce owners are just spending too much time with shipping in general. Which is why we wanted to improve the tracking part.
Then the difficult parts are with no particular order to find the right shipping courier, to be able to scale your shipping as you grow, and control the cost. This can be complex depending on where you ship to, and what type of goods you’re shipping of course.
Ned: Assuming I install the AfterShip app in my store, how does it handle updating my customers of their orders?
Andrew: That’s a great question Ned. AfterShip will auto-import the tracking numbers of your orders into your AfterShip account. It means that as a store owner, you won’t have to add tracking numbers by yourself. Then, AfterShip retrieves the information from the courier and tag each checkpoint with the shipping status provided by the couriers we have integrated. For free users, they can check the status of all their shipments in one handy dashboard on our website. Premium users can notify their customers via email / SMS when the shipping status changes.
We have different shipping statuses which cover the lifecycle of your shipment. From the “information received” by the courier, to “in transit”, “out for delivery”, or “delivered”. The “out for delivery” status is great for instance if you want to alert your customer that her order is about to arrive. We also developed a brand new feature available for both free and premium. It’s a branded tracking page for eCommerce stores. Customers can track the shipping status of their orders right within that particular web page. We know how social media is playing a bigger part these days for eCommerce sales. Store owners can set up their tracking page and connect their social media channels to it.
The idea is to improve customer retention while decrease time-consuming communication about shipping. Free users will have their tracking page available under username.aftership.com. Premium users will be able to customise and have track.url.com up and running. We are quite excited to launch this and explore this direction.
Ned: Can you give us a Shipping Guide to Ecommerce Nirvana?
Andrew: There are great tools out there to help you with the shipping. It’s important to know your pricing model.
Can you afford free shipping? How much time does it take you to pack an order? We had examples of businesses which failed because of that question.
Richard Lazazzera has written the Shipping bible for eCommerce store owners. They all should read it. There are apps that we recommend such as ShipStation for example. They know a lot about shipping. We’ve recently launched an app to integrate them with AfterShip.
Ned: Shipping can make or break a business. What should entrepreneurs know about shipping from day 1?
Andrew: Imagine you’re starting an online store for the first time. You probably have no idea about shipping at all. Know your cost. Know how much time it will take you to pack a single item. Where are you sourcing your product? If you ship abroad, are there any restrictions? I think it’s a complex part of the business.
So complex and time consuming that many new entrepreneurs are considering services like Shyp for instance to handle – almost – everything . Shipping must be part of the business plan. Imagine you have to pack this item ten, fifteen times a day or a week. How do you allocate your time? How much does “shipping” cost you, not only in shipping rates, but it time allocated to it, in the purchase of boxes, paper, etc.?
Asking yourself these questions before you decide on your price is a must-do obviously, but too many entrepreneurs jump too fast and forget these steps. These days, more and more online businesses are making huge efforts to over-deliver their customers. They write messages in hand. They craft their packages. It’s good. That’s what customers want. But again it has to be aligned with your overall growth strategy.
One great example we have here in Hong Kong is Grana. They are doing shipping the right way: awesome customer service, a sexy blue box you’d recognize among many that customers want to take pictures of. Your package, and the way you ship can be a powerful word-of-mouth on social media. Smart eCommerce entrepreneurs should think of ways to nurture online conversations on social media.
Ned: In a world where AfterShip achieve its vision, how is shipping changed for online stores?
Andrew: We want to provide the right information at the right time and improve the shipping experience for both online retailers and buyers. Make it easy. Almost seamless.
In an ideal world, there is no tracking number anymore. You follow your order like the taxi dot in your Uber app. Shipping is transparent, cheap, and reliable of course.
Ned: According to you, how far or close are we from same day shipping for all?
Andrew: I don’t know actually. I think there is still a long way to go to have same day shipping for all. It’s happening in big cities like Hong Kong, New York, San Francisco etc, because the demand is starting to grow. And big cities make that possible in terms of structure. It’s still a massive challenge in terms of logistic.
Do we really want or need same day shipping especially when your item is on the other side of the planet? I think customers have to think as well of the consequences that same-day shipping may have for the environment in the long run. If they want that and are ready to pay extra, eCommerce will have to adapt. But with big cities being more and more automated in the long run, why not. And there is also drone delivery to watch out. The video for Amazon Prime Air was fascinating.
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