How can your ecommerce business improve international delivery times in 2024?

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When it comes to ecommerce delivery times, customers are pretty unforgiving. They expect their orders to arrive swiftly — no matter where they are in the world. Which begs the question: how can ecommerce business improve international shipping times? 

This question is vital in meeting the raising bar that customers set for their orders. Improving international delivery times therefore isn’t just a nice-to-have — it’s essential for staying competitive. 

In this article, we dive into the challenges of international shipping and explore the current landscape, offering insights and strategies to enhance your delivery times and exceed customer expectations.

What are the challenges of international shipping?

International shipping is a complex web of logistical hurdles that can often result in delayed deliveries — and frustrated customers. These range from geopolitical and economic factors, to varied and disparate international regulations.

One of the primary challenges is navigating the myriad of customs regulations, which vary from country to country and can lead to unexpected hold-ups. Documentation errors, incorrect tariff codes, or non-compliance with local import laws can all contribute to significant delays.

Another challenge lies in the sheer distance goods must travel, often involving multiple modes of transport — air, sea and land. Each mode has its own set of potential delays, from weather disruptions to port congestion and limited carrier availability. Additionally, language barriers and differences in local infrastructure can further complicate the process.

Moreover, global economic factors and political issues can introduce uncertainty. Trade disputes, tariffs and sanctions can suddenly alter the landscape, creating unpredictability in shipping times and costs. For ecommerce businesses, these challenges necessitate a proactive approach to ensure timely and efficient delivery to international customers.

According to Louis Cummings from Pro Carrier, “spending thousands of pounds into international marketing campaigns has its value… but if you don’t have the shipping resource to back up those sales, it’s unlikely your new overseas customers will buy from you again.” 

What is the current landscape of international shipping?

In 2024, the international shipping landscape continues to evolve, shaped by emerging trends and ongoing global events. To navigate this dynamic environment, ecommerce businesses must stay informed and adaptable. Here’s some important foundational knowledge: 

One of the most significant trends is the increasing adoption of technology to streamline operations. Real-time tracking systems, automated warehouses (powered by solutions like Linnworks) and AI-driven logistics are becoming standard, offering businesses greater control and visibility over their supply chains. These technologies not only enhance efficiency but also provide valuable data insights to optimize shipping routes and inventory management.

However, despite these advancements, challenges remain. The demand for faster delivery times has surged, fueled by the rise of same-day and next-day delivery expectations set by industry giants like Amazon. Meeting these expectations requires robust logistics networks and strategic partnerships with reliable carriers.

Global events and instability 

Global events have a profound impact on shipping times. The COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, exposed vulnerabilities in supply chains worldwide, leading to significant delays and increased shipping costs. While the industry has largely adapted, the ripple effects continue to be felt, with ongoing disruptions in some regions.

Political issues also play a crucial role. Trade tensions, such as those between the US and China, can lead to new tariffs and regulations, affecting shipping routes and delivery times. Additionally, geopolitical instability in key transit regions can cause sudden and severe disruptions.

Keeping up with changes and advancements

To thrive in this landscape, staying ahead of the curve is essential. Embracing new technologies can give businesses a competitive edge. For instance, leveraging advanced analytics can help predict demand more accurately, reducing the risk of stockouts or overstocking. Implementing automated solutions in warehouses can significantly speed up order processing and fulfillment.

Keeping abreast of regulatory changes and global events allows businesses to anticipate and mitigate potential disruptions. Building strong relationships with logistics partners and investing in diversified supply chains can also enhance resilience and flexibility.

5 ways to improve your international delivery times

Improving international delivery times is crucial for maintaining customer satisfaction and staying competitive in the ecommerce market. According to Dana von der Heide from Parcel Platform, “there’s always something to improve… and a big one is shipping and getting the  

parcel out quick and getting it out right — and then dealing with returns. And when we figured   this out, we’re talking tens of thousands of pounds. The difference was night and day.” 

Here are some effective strategies to optimize your supply chain and ensure faster deliveries: 

1. Optimize your supply chain 

The foundation of faster international delivery lies in a well-optimized supply chain. Here’s how you can enhance yours:

a. Strategic inventory management

One of the most effective ways to reduce delivery times is by utilizing distributed warehousing. By strategically placing warehouses and fulfillment centers in key locations around the globe, you can significantly cut down on transit times. This approach allows you to store products closer to your international customers, reducing the distance goods need to travel and speeding up delivery.

Effective inventory management is crucial for ensuring that products are available when and where they are needed. Advanced inventory management software can help you predict demand more accurately and manage stock levels efficiently. These tools use data analytics and machine learning to forecast trends, allowing you to maintain optimal inventory levels and avoid stockouts or overstocking. By ensuring that your products are always available in the right locations, you can meet customer demand promptly and avoid unnecessary delays.

b. Partner with reliable carriers

Choosing the right shipping partners is critical for ensuring reliable and timely deliveries. When selecting international shipping carriers, consider factors such as their delivery speed, coverage areas, reliability and customer service. It’s also important to evaluate their experience with customs procedures and their ability to handle any issues that may arise during transit.

Carrier reliability and speed are paramount. Reliable carriers with a proven track record can minimize the risk of delays and lost packages. Additionally, carriers that offer expedited shipping options can help meet the growing demand for faster delivery times. Establishing strong relationships with these carriers can also lead to better rates and service levels, further enhancing your delivery capabilities.

c. Using technology for real-time tracking

Real-time tracking systems provide visibility into the entire shipping process, from the moment an order is placed until it reaches the customer’s doorstep. These systems offer numerous benefits, including improved transparency, enhanced customer trust, and the ability to quickly address any issues that arise during transit.

Integrating real-time tracking technology into your ecommerce platform is easier than ever with the wide range of available software solutions. Many ecommerce platforms offer built-in tracking features or plugins that can be easily integrated. These tools allow customers to track their orders in real-time, providing them with updates on their delivery status and estimated arrival times. Additionally, real-time tracking can help your business monitor the performance of your carriers and identify any bottlenecks in the delivery process, enabling you to make data-driven improvements.

2. Leverage local fulfillment centers

Local fulfillment centers are a game-changer for improving international delivery times. Here’s how you can leverage them effectively:

a. Benefits of local warehousing 

By using local fulfillment centers, you can drastically reduce the transit times of your shipments. These centers allow you to store inventory closer to your customers, ensuring that orders can be dispatched quickly and reach their destinations faster. This proximity not only speeds up delivery but also enhances customer satisfaction by meeting or exceeding delivery expectations.

While local warehousing may incur higher initial costs due to the need for multiple facilities, the long-term benefits often outweigh these expenses. Distributed warehousing can lead to significant savings on shipping costs and reduce the risk of delays. Moreover, local fulfillment centers can help you better manage inventory, reduce lead times and improve overall efficiency. The ability to provide faster delivery times can also lead to increased customer loyalty and repeat business, making the investment worthwhile.

b. Selecting strategic locations

Choosing the right locations for your warehouses is crucial. Consider factors such as proximity to major transportation hubs, customer density in the region and the reliability of local infrastructure. Additionally, evaluate the economic and political stability of potential locations to ensure minimal disruption to your operations.

Utilize data analytics to make informed decisions about warehouse locations. Analyze your order history and customer demographics to identify regions with high demand. Tools like heat maps can visually represent areas with the highest concentration of customers, helping you select the most strategic locations for your fulfillment centers. 

Aligning your warehousing strategy with your customer base enables you to optimize delivery routes and reduce transit times. You can also consider dynamic routing options — which can have a big impact on your competitiveness. Aaron Hodes from Pandion explains, “Spend more time with final mile challenges — specifically dynamic parcel routing. Having the ability to reroute packages mid route Is what is going to differentiate your brand.” 

3. Enhancing customs clearance processes

Customs clearance can be a significant bottleneck in international shipping. Improving this process is essential for faster delivery times.

a. Understanding customs regulations

Each country has its own set of customs regulations that must be adhered to when shipping goods internationally. These regulations can include specific documentation requirements, import duties and restrictions on certain products. Understanding these regulations in your key markets is essential to avoid delays and ensure smooth customs clearance.

Customs laws are subject to change, often influenced by political and economic factors. Staying updated with these changes is crucial for compliance and efficient operations. Regularly review customs regulations in your target markets and adjust your processes accordingly. Subscribing to updates from customs authorities or working with a knowledgeable partner can help you stay informed about any changes.

b. Proper documentation and compliance

Proper documentation is key to avoiding delays in customs clearance. Common documents required include commercial invoices, packing lists, certificates of origin and import licenses. Ensure that all documents are accurate and complete, providing clear and detailed information about the shipment’s contents, value and origin.

To ensure compliance, familiarize yourself with the specific requirements of each destination country. Double-check all documentation for accuracy and completeness before shipment. Implementing a robust documentation process and training your staff on customs requirements can also help prevent errors and delays.

c. Partnering with customs brokers

Customs brokers are experts in navigating the complexities of customs regulations and can significantly expedite the clearance process. They handle the necessary paperwork, communicate with customs authorities and ensure that all regulatory requirements are met.

When selecting a customs broker, look for experience and expertise in your target markets. A reliable broker should have a deep understanding of local customs regulations and a proven track record of successful clearances. Establish clear communication and expectations with your broker to ensure smooth collaboration. Regularly review their performance and provide feedback to maintain high standards of service.

4. Utilizing advanced shipping technologies

Embracing advanced shipping technologies can significantly enhance your delivery efficiency and reduce transit times. Here’s how you can leverage these innovations:

a. Automation in shipping processes

Automation in sorting and packaging can transform your shipping operations. Automated systems can quickly and accurately sort packages based on destination, size and weight, reducing the chances of errors and speeding up the process. Automated packaging systems can ensure that products are securely packed and labeled correctly, which not only saves time but also reduces the risk of damage during transit.

To implement automated solutions, start by identifying the most time-consuming and labor-intensive tasks in your shipping process. Invest in technology that can automate these tasks, such as conveyor systems, robotic arms for packing and automated labeling machines. Integration of these solutions with your warehouse management system can streamline operations, reduce handling times and increase overall efficiency. Training your staff to work alongside these automated systems can further enhance productivity and ensure smooth operations.

b. Drone and autonomous vehicle deliveries

Drone and autonomous vehicle deliveries are no longer science fiction — they are rapidly becoming a reality. Companies like Amazon and UPS are already experimenting with drone deliveries and autonomous delivery vehicles are being tested in various parts of the world. These technologies promise faster and more flexible delivery options, especially for last-mile delivery in urban and rural areas.

According to Tadas Norušaitis, CEO and co-founder of LastMile — who delivered Europe’s first fleet of driverless delivery vehicles — “Robots will give us a significant advantage in the delivery sector, as customers will receive their goods quickly, even in the city center and during peak hours.”

As regulations evolve and technology advances, drone and autonomous vehicle deliveries are expected to become more widespread. To prepare your business, start by staying informed about regulatory developments and technological advancements. Invest in pilot programs to test these delivery methods in your key markets. Partnering with technology providers can also help you stay ahead of the curve. Additionally, ensure your ecommerce platform and logistics systems are adaptable to integrate these new delivery methods as they become viable.

5. Customer communication and transparency

Effective communication and transparency with your customers are crucial for maintaining trust and satisfaction. Here’s how you can enhance these aspects of your delivery process:

a. Providing accurate delivery estimates 

Providing realistic delivery times is essential for setting customer expectations and building trust. Overpromising and under delivering can lead to dissatisfaction and damage your brand’s reputation. Accurate delivery estimates help manage customer expectations and reduce the likelihood of complaints and negative reviews.

Utilize tools and software that leverage data analytics and machine learning to provide accurate delivery estimates. These systems can analyze various factors, such as current order volumes, carrier performance and real-time traffic conditions, to predict delivery times more precisely. Integrating these tools with your ecommerce platform ensures that customers receive accurate and up-to-date information about their order status.

b. Keeping customers informed — especially when things don’t go to plan 

Keeping customers informed throughout the shipping process is key to enhancing their experience. Send regular updates at each stage of the delivery process, including order confirmation, dispatch, in-transit status and delivery confirmation. Use multiple channels, such as email, SMS and push notifications, to ensure customers receive timely updates.

Delays are sometimes unavoidable, but how you handle them can make a big difference in customer satisfaction. Be proactive in communicating delays to your customers, providing them with updated delivery estimates and the reasons for the delay. Offer solutions such as expedited shipping options, discounts on future purchases, or other compensations to maintain goodwill. Training your customer service team to handle inquiries about delays effectively can also help manage customer expectations and maintain trust.

How Linnworks can help improve your international delivery times

Optimizing your supply chain, leveraging local fulfillment centers, enhancing customs processes, utilizing advanced shipping technologies and maintaining clear communication are crucial for improving international delivery times. 

If this sounds like a lot, then you’re absolutely right — it is. Thankfully, there are advanced solutions that can help you automate the manual lift and streamline your ecommerce operations. 

Linnworks provides the necessary tools and insights to streamline, automate and centralize these processes, helping your ecommerce business thrive in the global market. If you’re ready to level-up your ecommerce operations, book a free demo today and find out how Linnworks can help.