Selling food out of your brick-and-mortar store is one thing. Selling it online — and shipping food all over the world — is another. Whether you own a bakery, an Italian restaurant that bottles its own sauces or a grocery store looking to expand its customer base, selling your goods online comes with one major concern: shipping.
If you’re not careful, doing things the wrong way will not only spoil your chances of keeping the online part of your business going, but it can damage your original revenue streams as well.
4 rules for shipping food
Before you start shipping food, you need a plan in place. Here’s what to do before accepting your first order:
Do your research first.
Test everything multiple times.
Accept the realities of shipping food.
Lay the groundwork before taking orders.
1. Do your research first
Research is the first and most important thing you should do when considering selling your goods online.
Shipping food is a complicated process, and there’s a lot to think about before you decide if this expansion is right for your business.
What will you need to buy in terms of materials? Will boxes and packaging material do the trick, or do you need special packaging items that will keep your food tasting fresh as it travels? What will all those pieces cost you, and where can you buy them? Are there bulk rates available, and if so, is it worth it to purchase enough to save a few bucks?
Are you going to stick with the bigger players, such as the U.S. Postal Service, UPS or FedEx? If so, what will the shipping fees be, and how quickly will packages arrive at their destinations? Are you going to keep things local by hiring a delivery person or working with a courier?
The research that goes into choosing whether or not to ship food at all can take a lot of time, but it absolutely needs to be done first.
2. Test everything multiple times
Once you have a list of prices and shipping times from each provider, you need to test your menu items. Find people in the locations you’re planning to ship food to and start sending.
A lot can go wrong in transit.
You need to mail items many times over in order to ensure that when you do finally launch your online store, customers on the other end are happy with their purchases.
If you’re only working with goods that are in bottles, boxes or cans, you have a bit of an easier road ahead of you.
Baked goods with elaborate decorations might not survive the journey, certain products may not stay fresh long enough and some foods may require such expensive shipping materials that it’s not worth it to mail them.
It will take a long time and it might cost you a fair amount of money to send food that nobody ordered, but this is a vital second step to maintain standards of quality.
3. Accept the realities of shipping food
As you go through your testing phase, you’ll see that some products just can’t be mailed. That’s tough to accept, but doing so will allow you to move forward and grow your business, even if it doesn’t end up being as big of a step as you had hoped.
Perhaps there are just one or two menu items that don’t work, or maybe only a handful can be mailed. You don’t know until you try (and try and try again). Once you have confirmed what flies (or drives) and what doesn’t, accept it.
It’s better to simply refuse to ship half the foods people can buy in your store than to have them arrive broken, spoiled or, to be blunt, ugly.
Make it clear that there is a lot to discover if customers visit your physical location, and if you win them over with tasty deliveries, maybe they’ll reward you by doing exactly that.
4. Lay the groundwork before accepting orders
Once you decide that you’re ready to begin shipping food, you have to be ready for every aspect of the process.
For instance, do you know about how many online orders you’ll be filling? Develop some predictions before you invest in shipping food. If you start accepting orders without enough people to make them, prepare them and get them out the door, you either need to rethink your plans or hire a few new employees.
You’ll also need the right supplies and a proper website that can securely accept money and keep track of orders.
From the moment your online stores goes live, you need to have the resources available to handle demand. Accidents will happen and no plan is perfect, but if you’re caught unprepared, you’ll be refunding and apologizing nonstop. And that will cost you just as much money and take just as much time as doing things right the first time.