Malvern's Shipping Software Blog

3 Ways to Jusify a New Shipping System in this Economy

Posted on Tue, Aug 18, 2009 @ 12:17 PM

In the current economy-- filled with IT spending restraints and tight cash flow, it is difficult to make a significant IT investment in hopes of a tangible return on investment. This is where the idea of SaaS (software as a service) shines.

Historically, shipping software- which often includes sophisticated integration into other business systems (as well as customized business rules)- bears a considerable, up-front cost. Justifying a Shipping System with a Tight Budget

However, in light of the number of businesses cutting back on IT spending, integrated, multi-carrier shipping software has now become available at modest monthly fee. In addition to avoiding the upfront cost, in many cases there is no long-term commitment required with an SaaS shipping system either. 

As a result, there is considerably less risk and upfront cost associated with implementing an SaaS Shipping System.

Now that initial cost has been eliminted as a hurdle, let's consider three of the many areas of improvement that a third-party SaaS shipping system can provide:

More Seamless Integration
The integration capabilities of free, carrier provided systems (such as UPS WorldShip and FedEx Ship Manager) have definitely improved over the years. However, they are still light years behind the capabilities of a multi-carrier shipping system with a rules-based integration engine. With a carrier system, integration typically requires creating a database table (or import file) which matches the carriers' requirements.  With the appropriate multi-carrier system, there should be no need to make any changes to your database nor any limitations on what data can be imported and exported. For example, international shipping is often a tedious, time-consuming process in a carrier-provided system.  However, with a third-party shipping system, line item data (such as product description and value) can be imported automatically. In addition, all shipping data including list and/or discounted shipping charges, tracking #s and more can be exported in real time (or batch) directly back into your database or host system.

Increased Efficiency
Since free, carrier-provided shipping systems are used by thousands of users with diverse requirements, these shipping systems are designed to do everything for everybody. This has resulted in having just about every option and input field spread out all over one busy looking screen. An ideal multi-carrier system should permit you to fine-tune the screen to eliminate unnecessary options and, most importantly, to streamline the shipping process by reducing key strokes. In addition to full access to all data, options and parameters, a multi-carrier shipping system with a rules-based integration engine can automatically perform logical functions which eliminate manual steps such as activating certain parameters including Signature services, Email Notification, Alternate Billing, Insurance, and more.

Reduction in Freight Costs
Why do UPS and FedEx give away free systems? These carriers more than recoup the cost of the system by maintaining a monopoly within many customers' businesses. While automatically rate shopping between UPS and FedEx will not always yield significant savings, there are many cases where rate shopping can yield considerable savings. With a system that can automatically compare multiple options to find the cheapest method, you can reduce your shipping charges-- increasing your profit margins and enabling you to be more competitive-- particularly when selling online. While virtually any carrier services can be compared including LTL (less than truckload), one of the most common comparisons is between UPS and Postal or FedEx and Postal. When shipping direct to consumers, the residential, delivery area or rural fees often applied by UPS and FedEx (which can be substantial) can be eliminated when using the postal service. So, by incorporating this type of comparison automatically, freight charges can be reduced effortlessly.

Tags: Compare Rates, US Postal, Integration, UPS, FedEx, Reduce Labor / Automation

Using Business Rules to Automate Fulfillment Shipping

Posted on Tue, May 19, 2009 @ 12:04 PM

Fulfillment shippers face many diverse challenges as they manage outbound shipping for multiple, unrelated clients. So, having a flexible, rules-based shipping system (which can be quickly and easily configured to accommodate ever changing business rules) is mission critical.

While a complete list of possible, client-specific requirements would be endless, here is a short list of specific examples to consider before discussing how to solve these types of challenges:

  • For some clients use your own prepaid carrier accounts, but for other clients, use the clients' prepaid UPS and/or FedEx account #s.
  • For one client, all shipments need to be Signature Required
  • For one client, all shipments need to be insured for 80% of the order value over $300.
  • For one client, choose the cheaper method between UPS Ground Residential and Priority Mail.
  • For one client, bill all FedEx shipments third-party to client's FedEx account.
  • Print the Client's Order # and PO # on the label for one client and print just the Client's Order # for all other clients. 
  • For one client, upload two special billing references fields to UPS and FedEx.
  • For some clients, print the client's name and address as the (ship from) return address. For other clients, print your name and address. For a third group of clients, print just the client's name but your return address.

Do these sound familiar?  Well, as you know, the list goes on and on. In many cases, there are multiple business rules for each client and they may change over time. The rules and changes to them may be taken care of by manual procedures or they may be handled automatically by configuring business rules in a shipping system.

It is difficult to expect shipping system operators to remember a variety of rules especially when they are subject to change. Mistakes are very likely to happen which can be costly, eat into your profit margins and potentially cost you your client's business. The cost of training, re-training and supervision can be considerable too.

A better alternative is to implement a rules-based shipping system. With a rules-based, multi-carrier shipping system, implementing rules such as the examples above is not much more difficult than defining the rules in plain English. It is often done by simply creating a text file containing the rules that is then accessed by the Shipping System.

Using Scripts to Handle Business Rules
In an ideal shipping system, these rules are written in a user-friendly, non-proprietary language-- such as vbScript. If you have an IT staff or are willing to roll up your sleeves, you can create and maintain the rules on your own and on the fly. Otherwise, you may outsource the script-writing to the shipping system vendor or to a programmer.

Here are two examples of how simple the syntax is for a couple common business rules:

Rule #1

Plain English

For client ABC, activate Signature Required for all of their UPS shipments.

Corresponding Script

If Client="ABC" And Carrier="UPS" Then ShipSetField("PODService","DCS")

NOTE: A shipping system installer will typically create these business rules, but the scripting is something that can be accomplished by an end-user or a third-party. In some cases shipping system specific syntax like ShipSetField ({Field Name}, {Field Value}) needs to be learned, but these are typically simple and well documented.

Rule #2

Plain English 

For client A, use UPS Account # 111111
For client B, use UPS Account # 222222
For client C, use UPS Account # 333333
For All other clients, use Prepaid House Account

Corresponding Script 

Select Case Client
Case A
Case B
Case C
     ShipSetField ("BillShipNo","333333")
Case Else
     'Comment: default to prepaid house account
End Select

As you can see, implementation of a rules-based system is simple, straight-forward, and is more practical, in many cases, than managing business rules with manual procedures. It can eliminate a lot of time, effort and costly mistakes. If your system is not currently capable of handling scripts, it may make sense to consider an upgrade.

Tags: Compare Rates, Reduce Labor / Automation, Fulfillment

Rate Shopping: How to Reduce Shipping Charges

Posted on Thu, May 07, 2009 @ 07:30 AM

If you are one of the many shippers that feel like rate shopping (comparing carrier rates) is too difficult or too time consuming to justify the effort, you simply may not have an adequate shipping system in place.

With the right shipping system, you can employ any combination of three common types of rate shopping. This will typically reduce your shipping charges immediately and, in some cases, dramatically.

Third-party shipping systems can automatically determine the best method for shipping domestic and international small parcel and LTL shipments. When the best method is based on rate only, the comparisons should include all applicable parameters such as package dimensions, residential fees, delivery area and fuel surcharges, discounts, customer preference, transit times and more.

Here's a brief explanation of the three methods:

Rate Shopping Screen
Users can view a complete list of rates for multiple carriers and service levels from a single rate shop screen. Service levels are typically sorted by cost and the user can easily select the preferred method with a single click. This approach is only suitable when the number of shipments that need to (or can be) rate shopped is relatively low.

Bestway Carrier Selection
With bestway carrier selection, a shipper can pre-define several configurable rate shop codes such as economy or ground, next day, and two day. When a bestway code is imported or selected during the shipping process, the appropriate methods get compared automatically (such as UPS Ground, FedEx Ground and Priority Mail). With bestway, the comparison and the resulting carrier selection occurs automatically. That is, the shipping system operator does not need to do anything extra. This approach is ideal when a significant percentage of your shipments do not need to use a specific, pre-defined shipping method. 

Business Rule Logic
For many shippers, price is not the only factor when determining the best shipping method. More complex criteria is involved such as customers' preferences, business channel, transit time, order value, geography, weight, etc. In some cases, for example, shippers do not want to give up cumulative, overall volume-based discounts with such carriers as UPS and FedEx by spreading their volume across too many carriers. So, logic-based "business rules" can be defined to accomodate these situations. That is, by identifying specific situations in which rate shopping can occur and exactly which rules can be applied to each situation, a process which would normally be too complex to perform manually can occur automatically. 

To summarize, third-party shipping systems can easily help reduce your own freight expenses and/or make your business more competitive by reducing shipping charges that you extend to your customers.



Tags: Compare Rates, Reduce Labor / Automation

How to Automate Postal Shipping with Endicia

Posted on Mon, Apr 27, 2009 @ 10:59 AM

Automated Postal Shipping with EndiciaEndicia is a leading provider of internet postage solutions. They offer a robust application called DAZzle which manages your prepaid postage (purchasing, etc) and generates postal shipping labels.

When it comes to low-volume postal shipping, DAZzle is adequate as a stand-alone application. However, for shippers looking for more advanced functionality (such as incorporating additional carriers, batch processing, rate shopping, sophisticated integration, custom labels and more) an integrated shipping solution is necessary.

Here are some of the more common areas where a shipping system with integration to Endicia can add value:

Multiple-Carrier Rate Shopping
In addition to shipping through the postal service, many Endicia users also use UPS, FedEx, DHL and other carriers. In many cases, a primary factor in determining the carrier and service level is the price. So, in order to streamline the use of multiple carriers and to maximize the savings associated with comparing rates, a shipping system capable of automatic rate shopping is necessary.

A shipping system function (commonly referred to as) "bestway carrier selection" enables the shipping software to choose the best (cheapest) method from two or more configurable methods-- such as Priority Mail, UPS Ground and FedEx Home Delivery. Because this happens automatically, bestway solutions are ideal for medium to high volume shippers.

A multi-carrier rate shop screen is an alternative (manual) method for selecting the cheapest method. A rate shop screen is typically a grid or chart of available service levels sorted by cost.  The user can select the appropriate method (without consulting other applications, rate charts, the internet, etc).  With a single click, all of the rates appear. 

Obviously, automatic bestway carrier selection is more efficent, but in many operations, a combination of both methods are used. 

Automatic Batch Processing
Batch processing is the automatic printing of multiple shipping labels all. Batch processing is ideal when product weights are known. Since each item does not need to be weighed, multiple shipping labels can be processed all at once (instead of individually.) For example, an internet retailer might downloaded orders received in a shopping cart and print all of the shipping labels at once-- automatically.

Batch processing can be used for a single carrier (e.g., just postal shipments through Endicia) or with multiple carriers-- such as UPS and FedEx too. When combined with other functions such as integration, packing list printing and rate shopping, batch processing can offer dramatic improvements to overall efficiency.

Host Integration
Users of the stand-alone DAZzle application generally do not have any efficient means of seamlessly integrating shipping data (import and export) with their host business systems or databases.

Integration is one of the most common benefits of Integrated DAZzle partner solutions. The most basic integration involves importing shipping address based on an Order # and exporting tracking #, shipping charges, etc.

More sophisticated integration might include bestway rate shopping codes, additional reference data, package contents, package dimensions and virtually any other relevant shipping data. Integration might also include "business rules" to automatically perform decisions or steps that would normally be taken manually.

Custom Labeling
The DAZzle label designer software is very flexible in its ability to print custom fields, doc-tabs and more. However, in order to take full advantage, integration is typically necessary to pass through the additional label data automatically.

A Case Study
This online retailer of iPod accessories, batteries and chargers downloads orders from a shopping cart into a .csv file once per day. Since the weights for all products are known, the shipper uses a batch processing function in their third-party shipping system (Malvern Manifest System) to generate all labels automatically. The 4" x 8" labels include a customized Packing List section listing the SKU, quantity and description for ever line item within each order. The shipper processes about 200-300  postal shipments daily in fewer than 30 minutes. Prior to implementing batch processing, it took nearly a full day. In terms of operational improvements alone, the return on investment in their third-party shipping system was approximately 5 weeks.

Tags: Compare Rates, US Postal, Integration, Reduce Labor / Automation, Endicia, Shopping Cart Integration

Accelerate Medicare Claims with Automatic Package Tracking

Posted on Fri, Apr 24, 2009 @ 02:54 PM

Providing Proof-of-Delivery data is a critical challenge that many HME/DME (Home & Durable Medical Equipment) suppliers face. Proof-of-Delivery (POD) data is often required in order to receive payments for Medicare claims.

In many cases, timely claims processing depends on the HME/DME supplier's ability to provide proof that a package was delivered to a patient (or customer). The faster this process can be completed, the more quickly claim payments can be received.  So, naturally, any automation that can be applied to this process is beneficial.

Accelerate Medicare Claims with Automatic Package TrackingCarrier provided shipping systems such as UPS Worldship and FedEx Ship Manager are not capable of automatically tracking shipments and posting proof-of-delivery results back into your database.

The two most common solutions are (1) a custom tracking solution or (2) a third-party shipping system.  In both cases, the automatic tracking must also result in either storing the results in your order management or other host system or by generating reports or export (Excel) files.

Some third-party shipping systems can automatically track every package shipped routinely until every package is delivered. As the results are updated, they should be able to automatically post the delivery date, time, signed for by, etc information back into your business system. Tracking results are generally also available from search screens within the shipping software and in reports and export files that can be generated by the shipping system.

When Medicare claims processing is problematic due to slow and manual Proof-of-Delivery processing, the cost for a third-party shipping system can be quickly and easily justified. 

Tags: US Postal, Integration, Proof-of-Delivery Tracking, UPS, FedEx, Reduce Labor / Automation, DHL

How to Maximize Shipping Automation with Host Integration

Posted on Sat, Apr 11, 2009 @ 01:41 PM

One of the main purposes of shipping systems, other than printing shipping labels and maintaining records of shipments, is automating what would otherwise be an extremely laborious process of shipping packages. Automation is accomplished by integrating the shipping system with the customer's host order-entry system (or database). 

Most of the information required to ship a package resides in some sort of order management system, and by integrating the two systems, the data can be made to flow seamlessly to and from the shipping system, thereby eliminating the need for manual keyboard entry.  Not only is time and effort dramatically reduced, but transcription errors are avoided as well.

There are two primary methods for moving data from the order management system or database to the shipping system.  First, a customer-provided process is used to export data from the host system (orders database, shopping cart, etc) to an Excel, CSV, or text file with the required information.  In the second case, the shipping system is configured to connect directly to the host system's database and to import the required information automatically using ODBC, XML, tcp/ip and other "real-time" methods.

The same two methods apply to moving data from the shipping system back into the host system. The shipping system can create an export file (with tracking #s, shipping charges, etc) that gets read back into the host system in a batch.  Or, the shipping system can "push" the export data back into the host system in real-time via ODBC, etc.

The primary benefits to integrating the import process:

  • Reduction in manual entry errors
  • More efficient shipping process (fewer keystrokes to ship a package)
  • No need to maintain an additional customer address databases on the shipping system. 

The primary benefits to inegrating the export process: 

  • Reduction in manual entry errors (keying shipping charges, etc back into host system)
  • Improved customer service with real-time access to shipping status, tracking #s, etc 

Tags: Integration, Reduce Labor / Automation, Shopping Cart Integration

Dimensions: Thinking About the Outside of the Box

Posted on Tue, Apr 07, 2009 @ 11:39 AM

Ideally, the only time you should be measuring a box during the shipping process is when it's not a standard box size.  That is, when it's not not a box that's part of your normal inventory.

As parcel carriers continue to increase the significance and pricing impact of dimensional rating, it is critical that you know when dimensions are necessary and, most importantly, to be able to enter them quickly-- if not effortlessly. 

Consider, for example, if you have to measure and then type 12, tab/click, 18, tab/click 16, Enter... to record the dimensions (12×18x16) for a specific box. In even a small to medium-sized shipping operation (50+ packages per day), you are wasting TONS of valuable time.

If your shipping process does not require any packing (combining of products), then the ideal process is to record your product dimensions in your database and to have your shipping system automatically import the dimensions.

Since that is an "ideal" solution which does not apply to many shipping operations, consider using a shipping system that stores a complete list of your commonly used box sizes. This way, instead of remember or re-entering dimensions, you can recall them very easily with a single code.

Better yet, you can create this database of box codes and then create a laminated sheet with a barcode for each box type (some boxes actually have a barcode of the box code right on the box).  Now, place the package on the scale, Scan the Order #, Scan the Box Code, hit Print...  With this streamlined approach, you can literally cut the shipping time in half.

As you may be aware, if you are not capturing dimensions for all of your boxes you could be getting hammered on rate adjustments. If you don't know, you should review the adjustments in your last few months of freight bills.

If you are entering dimensions and employing a manual process to do so as described above, you are getting equally hammered- if not more so- on unnecssary labor expenses.

So, if you are spending too much time entering dimensions or paying significant penalties for dimensional charges that were not previously calculated, you should consider shipping software than can automate this process for you.

Tags: Compare Rates, Reduce Labor / Automation