Today's consumers want instant satisfaction. People want to know if the item they choose is available, where it's coming from and how quickly they can get it. This puts a lot of pressure on retailers, distribution centers, third party logistics (3PL) providers and carriers, especially when it comes to international shipping.

If the world is your market, you already know that while the ability to ship products globally can contribute to the success of your company, it also presents a new set of challenges. Each shipment can potentially involve multiple carriers with numerous levels of services and constantly changing rates. Intricate business rules and shipping restrictions for parcels that differ in size and weight and include anything fragile, hazardous or perishable add another challenge. Specific requirements and documentation for international shipping further complicates the process.

The right multi-carrier shipping software can help companies gain a competitive advantage in the global shipping world. The ideal software should provide not only sophisticated "rate shopping" from a wide variety of global carriers and services, but should also integrate seamlessly with your existing systems and technologies. Multi-carrier shipping software can not only simplify the shipping process, but also handle the many complex details of international shipping.

Here are some of the key features and benefits automated shipping can bring to global shippers:

  • Fast, real-time processing that can handle unlimited shipping requests from multiple locations and has the ability to quickly add new carriers. Retailers who can ship to the very last second have an advantage in meeting or exceeding their customers' expectations.

  • Compliance, including certification from all major carriers such as DHL, FedEx, UPS and USPS and the ability to produce carrier-approved labels and tracking numbers.

  • Automated processes to meet the regulatory requirements needed in international shipping and produce the qualifying documentation and customs forms.

  • Rate shopping between chosen carriers and service levels, with real-time prices available around the clock, enables retailers to choose the best value for every shipment. Automatic rate shopping among international carriers assures companies are shipping the most economically when costs are the highest.

  • Real-time, 360-degree visibility throughout the entire shipping process enables retailers to provide customer support 24/7, including live package status, delivery updates and electronic notifications for customers.

  • Technology that can scale from a single work station to an enterprise-wide solution as needs change or as companies grow.

  • Automated business rules specific to each company as well as company-specific shipping and manifesting processes.

  • Seamless integration with existing host systems and technologies to automate, simplify and reduce costs in the supply chain.

  • Create reports on any aspect of the shipping process and provide accurate information to negotiate better carrier rates.

E-commerce has been a fast-growing trend over the past 10-12 years that has greatly changed the way packages are delivered. In the past, multiple packages were shipped at the same time, all processed by hand. If customers placed an order with next-day delivery, companies had to follow through, yet struggled to ship and deliver thousands of packages by 5:00 p.m. every day. Every mis-picked, mis-packed, mis-labeled or mis-shipped customer order could add costs, delay a shipment and potentially lose a customer.

Today, it's all about delivering a single package at one specific time anywhere in the world. From the second an order is placed, customers expect a high level of speed, accuracy and on-time delivery. Automated multi-carrier shipping software enables companies to reduce the amount spent on freight, streamline shipping processes, provide new delivery capabilities and potentially reduce inventory levels. Equally important, it can help shippers improve customer satisfaction and gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. In fact, if handled the right way, the shipping function can be transformed from a cost center to a profit center.

Mark Aument is Vice President of ProShip Inc., a Neopost company that is a global supplier of enterprise-wide shipping and manifesting software solutions installed at customer sites around the world.