Retail and wholesale shippers alike have come across a great way to enhance the customer buying experience and increase sales at the same time: shipment notification by e-mail. Using this simple tool, shippers can inform their customers what was shipped and when to expect it. More importantly, shippers can add marketing and advertising information to a message that is sure to be read.


    What Is Needed

    All you really need is shipment information and e-mail addresses. The vast majority of shippers are now using some sort of electronic manifest system. Most of the critical shipment information that your customers want is already captured by your shipping system. From this data a critical piece of any good shipment notification can be generated the estimate time and date of arrival (ETA). It is likely that the only other information you need is order/reference numbers and customer e-mail addresses.


    Where's My Package?

    According to a report by Accenture, for shippers using shipment notification by e-mail, the most common shortcoming was the lack of a promised delivery date. Companies often provide minimal or vague delivery information. Though some customers want speed, most consumers seem to want predictability. In other words, providing customers with the date of shipment is nice, but what customers really want to know is when the package will arrive. Adding the ETA of the shipment can eliminate many of the "where's my package?" calls your customer service department receives.


    Additionally, order shipment notification with a specific ETA can reduce the number of returns a company gets, particularly for direct-to-consumer sales. So much so, that some catalog retailers have upgraded their delivery services from standard ground to 2nd Day Air throughout the continental US. Why? Because predictability of delivery reduced the chance of a customer buying a previously ordered item on impulse while at the local retail store, thereby reducing the chance of a returned item.


    As noted in the Accenture report, for the majority of customers, the upgrade to express service is not the key; the predictability of when the package will arrive is. Providing your customers with a specific ETA is a key element of a successful shipment notification message. This is particularly true for ground shipments when the message, "Your shipment is expected to arrive by 5:00 PM Wednesday, October 30" provides significantly more information than "Your shipment will arrive in three to five business days." In your shipment notification, be sure to include an ETA.


    What Else to Include

    While some e-mail shipment ETA formats are static and accept only preset fields, there are systems available that allow customization of the e-mail message, giving shippers the ability to send a marketing message to encourage additional sales. Moreover, with HTML formats, you can include company logos and graphics for a professional looking point of contact. Some or all of the items listed below should be considered:


    Recipient name Personalize the message whenever possible.

    Recipient's address Give customers the ability to validate the address.

    Order details Let the customer know what was shipped.

    Package contents e-packing lists can notify the receiver what is in each package before arrival.

    Carrier/service level details e.g., UPS Ground.

    Tracking number(s) Include a click-through link to carrier's Web site for easy tracking.

    Date of shipment The date the order was tendered to delivery carrier.

    Means to respond Provide multiple means (i.e., phone, Web link and/or physical address).

    Marketing message Here's your chance to add suggestions for follow-up sales or bonus offers.


    What Are the Benefits?

    The goal is for the notification to generate multiple benefits. By providing your customers shipment notifications, you can expect the following:


    Happy customers (don't forget the ETA) Customers will now know that their orders are shipped, reducing anxiety as to when to expect their shipments.


    Reduced customer service calls Customers want to know when their shipments will arrive. By providing this information at the time of shipment, the vast majority of these calls are eliminated.


    Faster turnaround for shipping errors When it comes to shipping errors, it is often not the mistake, but how it is handled that leaves an impression on a customer. By providing order details, package contents and delivery information to the customer at the time of shipping, you allow the customer to report an error prior to receiving the shipment.  


    More sales (don't forget the marketing message) Unlike annoying pop-up ads, you are giving your customer information that is sure to be read. Include special offers and links to your Web site.


    Where to Start

    If you are on a shoestring budget, you may consider using the built-in feature of carrier-supported shipping software. The main downside is the system has limited capability and the message includes ads for your carriers and not your company. You may decide to develop your ETA notification system internally or purchase a software package that performs these functions. If you do, be sure to include an ETA and ensure it includes the following features:


  • Flexible message generator (HTML preferred)

  • Ability to batch multiple tracking IDs

  • Enabled links to carrier tracking Web site(s)

  • Ability to handle multiple sites and multiple carriers (if needed)

  • Ability to include corporate logos and graphics

  • Ease of use


    Shipment notification by e-mail is an extremely cost-effective way to enhance customer satisfaction while generating additional sales and top-line revenue. By including a shipment ETA for each order, the process can easily pay for itself and then some by reducing inbound call-center traffic. Best of all, the project takes very little time to get up and running.


    Robert Persuit is a business development manager for ShipMatrix, Inc. For more information, please call Robert at 412-369-4680 ex 105 or please contact him by e-mail at

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