As a customer, you’ve likely received many orders in “split shipments” — when a single order is packaged in multiple boxes, which may result in your items arriving at different times.

While split shipments don’t always deliver an optimal customer experience, they can be a simple way to solve a variety of logistical problems. 

As an ecommerce business operator, it’s worthwhile to learn more about when sending your customers split shipments makes sense, and the pros and cons of this common business practice.

What is a split shipment?

A split shipment refers to sending items from a single customer order in separate shipments. 

It’s a common practice by retail giants like Amazon, who often send items from various warehouses in different locations, which may result in multiple delivery dates for a customer order.

Likewise, if your own ecommerce shop uses a 3PL for order fulfillment or has different SKUs stocked in different warehouses across multiple regions, you may need to source products from multiple fulfillment centers to fulfill the order, resulting in a split shipment.

There can also be other logistical reasons for requiring a split shipment: For instance, if you are shipping a piece of furniture that comes in three large boxes, you can’t package all of the items in a single shipment due to their dimensional weight.

Split shipments can also occur when one product from the order is in stock, and the other is on backorder. In this case, the second shipment may not go out for weeks or months.

While customers are increasingly accustomed to receiving split shipments, they’re not without their drawbacks.

Issues with split shipments

What are some of the downsides around split shipments?

When you’re sending items in multiple shipments, it provides multiple opportunities for things to go wrong

Rather than tracking just one shipment, you’ll need to ensure that all of your items are safely delivered on schedule to your customer’s door. There are more opportunities for a shipment to go missing, get delayed, or get damaged in transit.

Split shipments lead to higher shipping costs

Sending a multi-product order in separate shipments means that you’ll be charged for multiple lighter shipments, rather than one heavier package — which can result in a significant difference in shipping cost, especially if one shipment is coming from further away, whether you’re using economy shipping or a premium shipping service.

Sending separate shipments has a higher environmental impact

When you send split shipments, you’ll need to double up on packaging, resulting in more packaging waste than if you were able to group the items into a single box. Shipping multiple items from different locations also has a higher carbon footprint — particularly if you’re ensuring that the items arrive on the same date by relying on air freight for items that are housed in a more remote warehouse.

Split shipments can result in a negative customer experience

It’s also important to properly set customer expectations when you’re sending a split shipment, or they may be frustrated when they receive a partial order and wonder where the rest of it is. Sending partial shipments can result in higher customer service inquiries, and potential negative reviews or refund requests if the customer believes that part of their order has gone missing. Make sure that your order confirmation clearly states that the items will be arriving separately to avoid negative feedback around your split shipments.

Reducing split shipments and delivering a better customer experience

While split shipments may make sense in some situations, retailers can put strategies in place to reduce their need to send items in separate packages. 

Here are a few ways to improve your fulfillment processes:

Use inventory management tools to forecast customer demand

Even if you have your products stocked in different warehouses across the country, you can use data analysis tools to help you determine when you need to restock your inventory so that you always have enough product to meet customer demand in each region — helping you fulfill orders with faster delivery times in a single shipment. 

Make sure that you have visibility into your inventory levels across each location and how your order volume for certain items goes up and down seasonally, so that you can ensure that you don’t run out of stock at any of your locations. 

You can also move inventory from one fulfillment center to another: For instance, if your ecommerce shop sells winter coats, you’re likely to sell many more items in Maine than you are in Florida, so make sure that your products are well-stocked in the regions where they’re most likely to be purchased.

Give customers choices around order fulfillment

You can also take a lesson from Amazon, and provide customers with choices around whether they’d prefer to save on packaging waste (and shipping costs, if they’re footing the bill) by waiting for all of the items to be ready before shipping their complete order in a single shipment, v. requesting the items to be shipped as they are ready in separate shipments.

This strategy puts it in the customer’s hands, ensuring that they know what to expect if they elect for a split shipment and reducing the likelihood of confusion or negative feedback when they receive a partial order.

Build a streamlined process for returns and exchanges

If a customer requests a return because they mistakenly think part of their order has gone missing, providing them with access to a self-service portal that shows the shipping status of each item will likely stop the return request in its tracks.

But if something does go wrong with the split order process, or the customer simply decides they don’t want part of the order anymore, it’s also important to provide a seamless process for delivering customer satisfaction. 

By using a returns platform like Loop, customers can see all of their return-eligible items in a single dashboard, and can choose to either return items for a refund, or choose store credit that they can immediately apply towards any item in your shop. This process helps you reduce customer churn and retain revenue from returns, while ensuring that the customer gets exactly what they want.

Want to learn more about returns management for your split shipments? Get a demo of Loop today.