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How to choose the right courier company

In the ecommerce landscape, there are many different delivery types and models to choose from for your courier needs. Your delivery partner can support a fast, reliable experience for your customers, or result in unhappy shoppers who do not receive their orders on time.

Selecting a courier partner

There are a number of factors to consider when working with a courier partner and which will determine your delivery model.

These include:

  • The type and size of products you ship. If you sell large, heavy, non-perishable items, your delivery process will look completely different than those selling small, perishable goods. Everything from courier company and service level to packing and packaging will vary based on your specific business.
  • To determine what delivery methods work best for you, it is important to look internally first: What are you selling? How quickly does delivery need to happen? Is it a fragile product that requires special attention, and based on this, a specialised courier? By determining what is important to you, you will find a delivery method/type that will work for you.

2. Research how different products are handled

Small products, fragile items, large items and perishables all have different requirements, particularly in terms of packaging and handling requirements. It’s therefore important to understand how your products will be handled.

This includes:

Heavy and fragile items

  • Regardless of the size of the product, the key to shipping is good packaging. 
  • Any product that is well packaged should arrive at its destination without damage. However, it is good practice to indicate when a parcel is especially heavy or fragile. 
  • Particularly large/heavy items (like furniture, for example) may also require the use of a specialised courier that has the equipment and experience to handle a product of that size, including loading and unloading.

Perishable versus non-perishable items

  • If you are shipping perishable items, it is vital that you take into account the service levels and delivery timelines of each courier. 
  • Items that require refrigeration of any kind will need to be shipped using a specialised courier with refrigerated transportation services, like Go Girl Logistics. 
  • Other perishable items (that do not require refrigeration) should be shipped with an overnight, same-day or express service level to get the item to its destination as soon as possible. A
    non-specialised, but reliable, courier can be used for these items.

3. Choose a courier based on local or international needs

It is not necessarily important to choose one courier for local deliveries and another for international deliveries. However, all businesses should choose to work with couriers that tick their specific boxes.

Remember, shipping costs depend on the type and size of the parcel you are shipping and you need to balance costs with service delivery:

  • Courier A might offer incredible rates for national shipping, but exorbitant prices for international.
  • Courier B might offer great pricing across the board, but their service levels do not work with your product.
  • Courier C might have great international shipping costs, but average local rates. 
  • Use the couriers and solutions that work for your specific company, even if it means a combination of couriers or a courier aggregator of some kind.

For international shipping, keep top of mind that this is a complex process to begin with: 

  • Border control and regulations require import numbers and taxes, and shipping costs depend on the contents of your parcel – not only the size. 
  • International shipping costs and regulations are one of the top reasons that it is difficult to start drop shipping internationally-manufactured products into South Africa without having some form of warehousing solution as well. 
  • There are couriers who specialise in this and it is worth working with experts.

4. Understand how couriers can be integrated into ecommerce platforms

An integration is essentially a link between your ecommerce store and your courier account, and pulls orders placed on your online store directly to the courier dashboard.

It simplifies the order management process and reduces the human error that inevitably occurs when orders need to be manually recreated on a different software.

Having this integration streamlines your entire order management and shipping process. Some interfaces might be better at this than others, so it is important to find which technology works for you.

5. Ensure you have the baseline of reliability covered

With ecommerce becoming more and more mainstream, there is a baseline of reliability that consumers expect from brands and courier companies. These must be met at a minimum if you want to ensure customer loyalty and repeat customers to your platform.

  • Technology-driven logistics. Technology-driven logistics have upped the baseline of customer service. Gone are the days of sitting on the phone to a call centre to request the delivery status of your shipment. 
  • Proactive customer service. Customer service is now expected to be proactive, rather than reactive and driven by well-designed technology to lessen human error. Although customers and businesses alike are happy with (the expected) good service, it is the “going to the extra mile” that sets apart a good company from a great one.
  • Ensure support staff can deliver during peak times. There are always peaks in retail and ecommerce is the same. It is important that the courier you work with is able to deliver during peak times and not just ‘business as usual’.

6. Ensure tracking technology is standard

  • Automating and streamlining logistics reduces the risk of human error, enhances efficiency and allows companies to remain competitive. 
  • Good and accurate parcel tracking and communication with customers regarding their shipments are a necessity in the current landscape. 
  • Our top advice? Choose a delivery partner that is technology-forward for that all-too-important competitive edge.

7. Understand a courier’s breakages and returns policies

Even the most reliable couriers will sometimes damage products and returns are inevitable. Here is what you should consider when choosing a courier.


With the amount of parcels that go through the hands of the courier, it is unavoidable that some may get damaged or lost in the process. Fortunately, most couriers have processes in place for situations like this.

  • It is vital that you read and understand the courier’s insurance policies – including which items they do not take liability for. 
  • Some couriers take automatic liability, others do not, so make sure you know which type you are working with. 
  • Insure your parcels if they contain high-value products.
  • If your parcel has been damaged, lost or hijacked, you can submit a claim to the relevant courier and they will investigate the matter. Should your claim be accepted, you will be refunded. 
  • Always make sure that your packaging is sufficient! If the parcel was insufficiently packaged, the courier has the right to deny your claim.


Returns are inevitable and merchants must have a system in place to handle returns in a quick and streamlined manner.

  • The rate of returns increases as customers switch from physical shopping to online shopping and, ultimately, the biggest problem with returns is the increased cost. 
  • Courier companies charge returns as another shipment, thus doubling your shipping costs for one parcel. This cost can be increased again if a replacement item needs to be sent to the customer.
  • These costs can affect the bottom line and thus, it is up to the merchants to try and reduce returns upfront. 
  • There are a variety of ways to do this, but returns are, unfortunately, impossible to avoid and must be taken into account when considering shipping costs.

8. Review shipping costs and factor them in to your overall costs

Shipment costs very much depend on the size of the parcel you are shipping. When the courier books your parcel into the hub, the parcel goes through a volumiser machine that measures its weight and dimensions (the volumetric weight). You will always be charged on the bigger of the two weights, so be sure to take that into account.

The cost of an account with a courier or courier aggregator varies from courier to courier and can depend on the amount of shipments your business does in a month. Some couriers only charge per shipment, others ask a monthly account fee – again, it all depends on what you are shipping and what your business model looks like.

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