Should You Offer Split Delivery? Best Practices For E-commerce

Have you ever ordered multiple products in a single online store, and received them in several different parcels?

Congrats, that means you’ve experienced split delivery firsthand.

You might not realize it yet, but this delivery option has been on the rise — in fact, it has increased by 27% since the start of the pandemic.

For some reason, though, split delivery (also referred to as split shipment or partial shipping) has a pretty bad reputation. 

Why, exactly? The main cause seems to be that receiving multiple shipments after having placed just one order is often confusing for consumers, which is why online retailers tend to avoid it... Instead of fixing order tracking issues, for example. 

But, there are some other challenges, too. Additional packing materials, potentially overwhelmed customer service team members, and higher shipping costs are often named the main downsides of split shipping.

Is it really as bad as it initially sounds? 

The truth is, sending separate shipments might have more benefits for your e-commerce business than you might think. Whether your products are too heavy to fit in a single package, they are located in different warehouses, or you simply want your customers to have more flexibility when shopping online — partial shipping is the (only) way to go. 

Intrigued? Here are the definition, benefits, and best practices for split shipment in e-commerce to help you decide whether you should include it in your delivery strategy.  

What is split delivery, again?  

Split delivery happens when a single, multi-product order is delivered in more than one parcel. Simply put, your customers end up receiving multiple shipments even though they ordered all the products together in one go.   

Split delivery process explained by Ingrid on an infographic.
Split delivery process explained

When does split shipping make sense?   

For now, split shipment is rarely a default delivery option for e-commerce businesses. Yet, there are at least a few instances when it makes a lot of sense.  

To start with, split shipments will be necessary if you offer large and heavy products that are difficult to ship together.

It’s no secret that carrier companies have strict rules and limitations regarding the allowed size and weight of transported parcels. Depending on what your customers order, you might not have much choice apart from partial delivery. 

Partial shipping is also a pretty good idea when you tend to send products from different warehouses or distribution centers. This is quite common for online marketplaces and merchants who sell products through different vendors and manufacturers — not to mention that it makes matching supply and demand much easier.  

Another case for split shipping is the unexpected lack of product availability. Instead of “breaking” the delivery promise to a customer completely, you can still ship the majority of ordered products first while creating a backorder for what’s missing.   

What’s often left out when talking about split shipping, though, is that it offers a lot of flexibility to your customers, who might just want you to send out ordered products to different locations. 

Who knows, maybe they’re just shopping for holiday gifts, or they like your products so much that they decided to buy another one for their friends or family. Or, they forget to add something else to their order after having finalized it. 

Rumour has such situations are not that common in e-commerce, but it’s mainly because there’s rarely an option to split shipments as you please. Instead of forcing your customers to create unique orders for every shipment, allow them to split a single order and see what happens. 

Split shipment offered by Adidas.
Split shipment example from Adidas

Plus, you could also leverage order splitting to provide additional services. For example, use the first cart to let your customers select the delivery option for their brand new sofa, and introduce the second one to let them choose if they want the carrier to go upstairs and assemble the furniture for them. The possibilities here are endless.

The benefits of order splitting  

As already mentioned, split delivery has been on the rise — and there are quite a few good reasons for it.

Split shipments help to address inventory issues

When keeping your inventory in more than one location, each one might have different stock levels — and that’s perfectly normal.

But, if a single warehouse or distribution center can’t fulfill a multi-product order, split shipping to the final destination might turn out to be more efficient than waiting on one of the fulfillment centers to get more inventory. Especially if they are located far away from one another. 

Partial shipping enables more delivery options

Retailers who turn to split shipments are not only doing so to adjust their fulfillment networks and ease warehouse constraints, but also to enable more delivery options like store-to-door solutions. And rightly so.

Using physical stores to fulfill orders has multiple benefits. To start with, store-to-door solutions allow for sending orders much faster and enable same-day deliveries.

Plus, fulfilling e-commerce orders directly in stores can also make the delivery promise much greener. Research shows that the last-mile supply chain made possible by local fulfillment centers could lower last-mile emissions by 17–26% by 2025. 

Even higher climate effect can come from reducing overproduction, waste, and the need for aggressive sales and discounts. By enabling store-to-door delivery, merchants can suddenly make their whole total inventory available for the total market and match supply and demand much better (thus reducing the need for both local and central safety stocks across the full assortment). 

Order splitting can help you profit from deliveries

It’s true that multiple shipments per order mean higher shipping costs. However, when keeping your inventory across distributed warehouses aligned, splitting shipments can actually reduce transportation costs (and a headache associated with complex logistics). 

Not to mention that some of your customers won’t mind paying twice for the delivery, especially when it comes to receiving more expensive, heavier and bigger shipments, or simply getting their order faster. 

In many cases, charging for deliveries can translate into an income that can not only cover the shipping costs but affect the bottom line as well. Free shipping is not always the best policy, especially in the current economic climate.  

Anders Ekman, Co-Founder and COO at Ingrid, explains:

— One of our customers at Ingrid started experimenting with paid delivery options instead of offering free shipping for all orders. Once they began to charge 10 SEK more for the delivery, the conversion decreased by 2.5% but the value of an average shopping cart increased by 4.2%. At the end of the day, revenue from deliveries alone increased by 11% and the profit margin increased by 5.5%.

If you’re still skeptical, you can start small; A/B test your delivery checkout configuration, introduce split shipment and offer different delivery options and prices based on what margin you have on the product (for example, a high-profit margin item should have a lower delivery cost and vice versa). 

Whatever you decide, don't be afraid to start charging customers for deliveries. Experiment with your delivery strategy and different software integrations like Ingrid —the results might truly surprise you. Book a demo to find out more.

Partial delivery means faster delivery 

As already mentioned, partial shipping can help you keep the delivery promise at least for some of the ordered items, instead of breaking it completely and potentially upsetting your customers. 

Aside from “fixing” the unexpected lack of product availability after the purchase, including the split shipment option in your checkout configuration can also help you offer more flexibility and manage customers’ expectations from the start.

Depending on what’s already in stock, you can suggest getting two or more separate parcels with different delivery promises and communicating it clearly to your customers before they finalize the order.

Split shipment offers a new delivery experience for marketplace customers 

For marketplaces, split shipping offers a completely new, vendor-oriented delivery experience. There’s no need to offer longer delivery times for drop-shipped parcels, nor try to figure out transportation and order consolidation issues post-purchase.

Each vendor can have its unique delivery options presented at checkout, depending on carrier integrations, price rules, and business logic.

Ingrid Split Delivery feature in action.
Ingrid Split Delivery Feature

Best practices for split shipments in e-commerce 

By now, you might be thinking about including split shipment in your e-commerce delivery strategy. Good call! 

Decide if spit shipping is for you

To make the right decision, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • How far apart are your warehouses or distribution centers? Cross-country shipping makes an easy case for split shipments. But, if you keep your inventory close, consolidating the order in a single parcel will most likely be more labor- and cost-effective than sending two separate packages to your customer. 
  • How large and heavy are your products? If you have a lot of orders that require sending large items “in bulk”, carrier limitations are likely to force you to consider split shipping.  
  • Do you own a marketplace or sell products through different vendors and manufacturers? Splitting the orders into sub-deliveries (based on vendor-specific carrier integrations, delivery options, and business logic) can ultimately help you offer a better delivery experience to your customers.
  • How much flexibility do you want to offer your customers? When you think about it, the delivery experience is really about managing consumer expectations and giving the consumer the flexibility to choose what suit them best.

This brings us to the next point...

Give your customers a choice 

Split shipping might not be doable for smaller direct-to-consumer brands. But, larger retailers and marketplaces should definitely consider giving customers a choice of buying from different vendors and consolidating their orders into one or more shipments, depending on the location and context. 

Anders Ekman continues:

— Deliveries are very contextual, how the consumers want their stuff varies a lot depending on what they’re buying and when. So e-commerce brands should offer different alternatives at different pricing points, without putting all their customers in one box. From our experience, not everyone is looking for speed, or only home delivery options.

Offer transparent communication 

Even though split shipping can create a better online shopping experience by offering partial order fulfillment more quickly, poor communication along the way can actually ruin the whole experience. 

If your customers are not aware of receiving multiple shipments, getting just a part of their order is likely to leave them confused and frustrated. The key is to manage expectations from the very beginning. 

Setting clear delivery expectations and offering transparent order tracking (ideally with one URL) can actually help you address frustration and confusion coming from multiple shipments, as well as reduce customer support queries. 

With software solutions like Ingrid Tracking, keeping an eye on multiple packages at once is no longer an issue. Your customers receive relevant tracking information right after the purchase and are kept in the loop with order updates, even when there’s partial delivery involved. Book a demo to check how to introduce transparent order tracking in your e-commerce business.

Ingrid Tracking in use.
Ingrid Tracking

Take sustainability into account

Dividing a single order into multiple parcels means more packaging waste and potentially, more transport emissions. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way.

To start with, pay attention to how you package your products. Designing your eco-friendly packaging with a different purpose in mind, using recyclable packaging materials, and giving consumers the ability to reuse or return the delivery packaging whenever possible are just a few solutions that help to reduce the environmental impact of your parcels—regardless of how many of them you send. 

— If you just reduce unnecessary packaging, you could reduce the number of trucks, long-haul and last-mile deliveries significantly, since fewer trucks could transport the same amount of goods, logistics consultant Martin Jungerts says in an interview with Columbus.

Actually, no matter the number of packages per order, what helps in making the whole process more sustainable is consolidating orders in one delivery or one vehicle. This way, you can create fewer emissions per purchased product.

That’s one of the reasons why parcel lockers and pick-up points are in high demand right now, and these get even more “eco-friendly” with carrier companies sharing the existing infrastructure.  

Ready to offer split shipping? 

Interestingly, when assessing the environmental impact of split shipping, skepticists seem to take into account the last-mile delivery only. Of course, online retailers should aim to reduce the number of parcels and ship locally whenever possible to reduce last-mile emissions. 

It’s true that sending multiple deliveries can negatively affect the environment and customer experience, but so does holding the order until all the items are available and failing to communicate with shoppers post-purchase.

The lack of split shipment option in Media Expert's store.
The lack of split shipment option in Media Expert's store

By being able to ship certain products from a local store or warehouse directly to a customer, you can match supply and demand much better, reducing the need for both local and central safety stocks across the full assortment, and potentially, emissions from middle-mile deliveries. 

There's no reason to fear split shipments. With Ingrid, you can split any shopping cart into sub-deliveries for your customers — based on checkout configuration, business logic, and carrier integrations. Book a demo to learn more about Ingrid.

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