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In the logistics ecosystem, a resilient, reliable and robust shipping process is of paramount importance. And while there are some globally uniform shipping procedures, especially when it comes to regulatory compliance, businesses often have their own unique shipping process flows (e.g., B2B shipping vs B2C shipping, drop shipping, pick and pack shipping process etc.). And that makes it vital for service providers, customers, and sellers to understand how the shipping process works for delivery and shipping efficiency.

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What is shipping process?

Let us first understand shipping process meaning. Put simply, the process of shipping refers to the series of events and activities spread over a period of time that relays the movement of goods from one point to another.

As can be understood, there are a couple of key shipping functions and activities depending on the mode of transport (e.g., rail transport, road transport, water or air freight), type of shipping (e.g., drop shipping, international shipping, etc.), among others.

It’s important to keep in mind that a shipping process flow is different from a logistics process flow. While logistics encompasses the entire movement of goods, from procurement to delivery and returns, shipping flows involve the actual shipping only.

On that note, let’s take a look at the shipping process workflow.

Step-by-step guide to shipping process flow

Understanding the shipping process in India is crucial for business owners. There are different challenges and complexities involved, and understanding of the different stages can enable businesses to ensure that goods reach customers on time. Moreover, it can streamline operations, save transportation costs, reduce shipping delays and damages, and improve customer satisfaction.

Let’s get to understand how the shipping process works in India. Ideally, the functions can be separated into three major activities:

  • Pre-shipment: This usually involves the customer placing the order
  • Shipment and delivery: The bulk of activities that involve preparing the package to the actual delivery of goods to the customer
  • Post-shipment: In specific cases, this refers to refunds and returns management, where the goods are not accepted by the customer and has to be sent back to the seller/manufacturer

We will only consider stages II and III for the shipment process flow.

1. Shipment preparation

Once the customer has placed the order and it is processed, next comes the stage of preparing the shipment. The preparation stage mostly involves packaging and labelling.

Packaging:

Packaging is more than aesthetics. It’s more about safeguarding the package from shipping damages during transit. It’s also about ensuring the right packaging materials are used to avoid contamination or decay.

For instance, bubble wraps, cardboard boxes, and chequered boxes are often used to wrap and pack fragile items. Similarly, for printed material logistics, steps have to be taken to protect the material from moisture, wear and tear. For temperature sensitive products, cold chain logistics are required.

Labelling:

The preparation stage also includes labelling. This is critical as an incomplete or incorrect label can lead to delayed deliveries or non-delivery. While adding labels, it’s important to keep it clear and legible, and dry. Also, including a return address in case the package needs to be returned.

Challenges:

Logistics

The key thing to remember in this step of the shipping process is selecting the right packaging material and ensuring the labels are weather-proof and attached securely.

2. Carrier selection

The choice of carrier will determine your shipping costs, delivery times, customer support and updates, and satisfaction.

In India, there are several trusted shipping provides such as Blue Dart, DTDC, FedEx etc. and others for domestic and international shipping. The carriers provide a host of value-added services catering to different customer needs, such as same or next day delivery in case of urgent shipments.

As a business owner, it’s important for you to find a reliable shipping carrier to balance costs against delivery timelines. Also, the carrier’s reliability and experience are important especially if you are exporting goods or shipping niche items.

It’s recommended to select a service provider that aligns with your business’s and customer’s expectations.

3. Pickup scheduling

Once your package is ready for being shipped, you will need to schedule a pickup. You can either opt for a single carrier or different carriers based on your goods. In certain cases, especially B2B services, there are scheduled deliveries where the date and time of shipment is pre-planned as per the convenience of the shipper.

You can either do this through the carrier website/app or a logistics marketplace. For instance, when shipping goods locally, a courier service can be availed. In many cases, same-day deliveries can also be provided when shipments are booked before a specific time.

Challenges:

The key challenge in this shipping process step is coordination between your teams and the pickup service, especially if there are multiple shipments planned in a day or when you have limited warehouse storage space.

4. Shipment tracking

Tracking the shipment is about keeping the sender and recipient informed and updated on the status of the delivery.

Carriers usually send out a tracking number (or an air waybill number) to enable you to track the package’s journey. This can be done through the carrier’s website or app or any other.

In e-Commerce shipping for instance, the customer can track complete details on the delivery timelines, e.g., package cleared customs, arrived at warehouse, out for delivery, etc.

Tracking the status of your package is important to customer satisfaction and optimal resource utilisation. With a click, customers can get real-time updates on their package status without having to connect with customer support.

Also read: Order ID vs Tracking ID number – Understand how they are different and when to use which

5. Delivery completion

The final shipping process step is the delivery of the package.

Delivery:

When the shipment reaches its destination, whether the end-customer, port or warehouse, the package is checked for quality, the carrier updates proof of delivery, and the delivery process is complete. In reality however, this can be a long-drawn process as the case might be.

For instance, in an e-Commerce business, when the package is received by the end-customer, the order is marked as delivered. If the customer has any complaints or wishes to return the product, a reverse chain of logistics is commenced.

However, if it’s a B2B delivery, where pallets of goods are being shipped, the actual delivery will be time consuming as there will be adding steps involving loading-unloading, inspection, documentation, etc.

Returns and refunds:

Delivery also involves reverse logistics – that is, if the goods are returned due to quality issues or dissatisfaction. Moreover, there are also instances of lost and damaged goods. As such, having insurance and clear returns policy is recommended so that there’s less impact on your business.

Also read: Palletised shipping – How it works, benefits, and when to use

What are the different types of shipping processes in India?

Optimising each step of the shipping process will enable businesses to stay prepared for obstacles and face common challenges practically.

We now take a look at the different types of shipping processes tailored for the Indian market.

1. Pick and pack shipping

What is the pick and pack shipping process? This is one of the most popular types of shipping where items are picked up from inventory, packed and shipped. It’s quick, hassle-free and prompt.

It’s suitable for large businesses that offers a wide range of products. Orders can also be customised. This shipping method enables businesses to be agile, accurate and bring efficiency in warehouse operations.

For example, when an order is placed, the teams in the warehouse immediately get to work. An order number/slip is generated followed by order picking of the specific items from the inventory, packing and shipping.

While this system of shipping can be conducted manually where the volumes are low, a proper warehouse management tool is required in case of large or bulk orders, especially when it comes with custom and diverse requirements.

Challenges:

The main challenge of the pick and pack method of shipping is in balancing inventory levels with efficiency.

2. Drop shipping process

Another popular type of shipping process is drop shipping. This is a retail business model when once an order is received, the drop shipper places the requirement with the manufacturer/seller, who ships the goods to the customer.

It’s a low-inventory model where the drop shipper does not require to stock inventory leading to saved warehouse space and upfront expenses/investments. It’s a smart model for start-ups and small businesses that do not have capital for huge investments. There’s also the benefit of reduced overhead costs and inventory risks.

Challenges:

The main challenges of the drop shipping process are in – enduring product quality, delivery timelines, and customer service.

3. Freight shipping

The number of freight forwarding companies have been on the rise over the years in India.

Freight shipping involves the transportation of large bulk orders (usually commercial) via different modes of transport such as air, sea, and air. It’s recommended for large shipment orders where standard shipment methods might not be feasible.

Freight costs depend on the size of the packages, the distance covered, the modes of transport being used, and the carrier’s brand.

Challenges:

For freight forwarders, it is often challenging to coordinate logistics operations between different parties and make profits out of it. This is more in international shipping, where collaboration needs to be done with various transporter and carriers, for storage, documentation, compliance and more.

4. PTL shipping

PTL shipping or Part Truck Load shipping is the ideal way to ship your goods when the volume of goods is insufficient for a full truckload and yet too large for less than truckload.

It not only fills the gap between FTL and LTL shipping but is also a cost-effective shipping method for small businesses that need affordable shipping at the least amount of time. It’s ideal for businesses that want to strike a balance between cost and speed.

In PTL shipping there are lesser stops than LTL, is safe with lesser chances of damages, and timely deliveries. However, the challenge lies in finding a reliable service provider for PTL and negotiate the right prices.

At Logistics on Tata nexarc, we understand the importance of secure, timely and affordable shipments. We have partnered with leading logistics providers and offer PTL shipping at the best prices with door-step delivery across multiple locations. Ship now.

5. Expedited shipping

When time is a constraint and goods need to be delivered promptly, expedited shipping is the answer.

Expedited shipping ensures fast delivery, often within a few days and is recommended for time-sensitive shipments. In most cases, with expedited shipping domestic deliveries take 1-3 days while international shipment takes 3-5 days only.

It provides shipping providers and businesses competitive edge and reduces inventory storage costs, though it comes with premium pricing (i.e., higher than regular shipping costs). It’s recommended for urgent deliveries and businesses involved in JIT manufacturing where goods need to be dispatched at the earliest.

6. E-commerce shipping

This mode of shipping process in shipping is for online retailers. Based on the shipper and customer specifications, it can include same-day or next-day delivery, standard or express delivery, pick pack and ship process, or any other.

Challenge:

The challenge in e-Commerce shipping process is managing shipping expenses (i.e., free deliveries, discounted pricing etc.) while meeting delivery timelines and diverse requirements/expectations of online customers.

Closing thoughts

In India, there are multiple stages to shipping process. These are often tailored to meet specific requirements and ensure efficient delivery of goods. Though adherence to compliance regulation is of paramount importance, shipping processes also are designed to solve common challenges and bring efficiency in shipment and delivery.

Sohini Banerjee

Sohini is a seasoned content writer with 12 years’ experience in developing marketing and business content across multiple formats. At Tata nexarc, she leverages her skills in crafting curated content on the Indian MSME sector, steel procurement, and logistics. In her personal time, she enjoys reading fiction and being up-to-date on trends in digital marketing and the Indian business ecosystem.