Commercial shipping

When it comes to selling your product, there are two common methods: direct-to-consumer (DTC), in which your customers buy from you directly, and business-to-consumer (B2C), in which a retailer sells your products in an online or brick-and-mortar marketplace. If you’re selling goods to another business—either in a bulk order for that business to use or for B2C sale—you will need to send a commercial shipment to that business. 

Learn more about the commercial shipping basics, how it works, and how it benefits your business.

What is commercial shipping?

Commercial shipping is a business-to-business delivery method, usually involving a larger volume of products. In this case, a shipping service will deliver the business products to a customer at a business address rather than a residence. The delivery location could be a warehouse, a store, a medical center, or another non-residential building. 

Typically, commercial shipments are for bulk sales or restocking a product at a retailer. For example, you may distribute your goods through retailers who order in cases rather than singles. Because of the size of the shipment, businesses enjoy volume discounts from carriers.

Business, retail, and other commercial destinations that frequently accept commercial shipments already have systems and practices in place to ensure smooth deliveries. Professional processing and good record-keeping on the receiving end enable timely payment for the goods you ship. In turn, this fosters a good business relationship.


What's the difference between commercial and residential shipping?

A key difference between commercial and residential shipping is the recipient. Commercial shipments are primarily business-to-business sales. For example, you may ship several cases of a product to a retailer that intends to sell them to the public. Residential shipments, in contrast, are typically business-to-consumer or direct-to-consumer sales. 

For customers using a residential address such as a house or apartment as a shipping destination, a commercial shipment will likely not be possible. Commercial shipping destinations are equipped to accept larger shipments. For example, a grocery store typically has a receiving dock where trucks can back up and unload pallets of products. Most residences do not have this capacity.


How does commercial shipping work?

Once your goods are ready for shipment, a commercial shipper will pick them up from the warehouse. They will deliver them to your customer’s loading dock, which makes delivery easier when you’re sending pallets of goods. The receiving clerk will verify receipt of your shipment, confirming the order is complete. 

After you've made a sale, the way you handle shipping can affect future orders. If your shipment arrives safely and on time, your customers will be pleased. On the other hand, late or damaged goods do not reflect well on your business, even if the problem did not originate with you.

That’s why it’s so important to partner with a trustworthy commercial shipping company or 3PL that can manage the fulfillment. The third-party should have a proven track record for getting goods to their destinations undamaged and on time.

Components of the commercial shipping process

Companies of all sizes commonly partner with third-party logistics companies rather than handle product storage, packing, and shipping in-house. An incoming order from your business’ customer kicks off the supply chain management process. Once you forward the order to your 3PL provider, a staff member will check the inventory to confirm the products are available. 

The 3PL service provider will gather the items in the order and package them securely for shipping. For large orders, the shipper often packages items in pallets for safety and convenience. If your products require special handling such as refrigeration, you can trust your commercial shipper to take care of it. Once packing is complete, each piece of the shipment will receive a trackable label with your customer’s information.

When an order is packed and labeled for shipment, the 3PL will determine the quickest way to transport the items from the warehouse to your commercial customer. Upon delivery, your 3PL drivers unload the products on the dock or in another receiving area. The receiving clerk will check that the order is complete before signing for it. 

The commercial shipping process is similar to direct-to-consumer shipping, but there are a couple of important differences. First, commercial shipments involve a much larger volume of products. A commercial shipping company routinely groups multiple items on pallets for transport rather than packing each item individually, saving time and expense. 

Also, your commercial shipment typically arrives faster than a package you mail. A 3PL provider strives to get an order to its destination as quickly as possible. Once it arrives at a commercial loading dock, the recipient must acknowledge delivery. In contrast, common carriers that make home deliveries rarely require signatures.


The benefits of using a commercial shipping provider

For many ecommerce businesses, working with a commercial shipping company is a dependable, economical, and efficient way to keep products—and profits—flowing. Although you may not think your firm is large enough or busy enough to merit taking on a shipping partner, doing so can accelerate business sales and growth.

Commercial shipping providers handle order fulfillment from origin to destination. They do this so effectively that more and more B2B firms happily leave the process to the pros. You’ll enjoy a number of benefits, including:

  • Having all your shipping costs consolidated into a single, predictable monthly bill
  • Negotiating with a 3PL provider for more affordable costs 
  • Lowering your capital investment with third-party warehousing, packaging, and logistics
  • Providing scalable capacity for peak volume periods like the holidays and for business growth
  • Freeing up you and your staff for more skill-dependent tasks like marketing and innovation
  • Providing storage space for large orders
  • Ensuring your products are secure in transit and arrive in excellent condition
  • Saving you money since a commercial shipper can make many deliveries within concentrated business districts, conserving fuel and time
  • Tracking and implementing the latest rates and regulations for worldwide shipping

What are the best practices for commercial shipping?

There are a number of factors to consider when deciding on the best practices for shipping commercially. These include the following.

Provide free shipping

Customers are always on the lookout for free shipping because it represents savings. However, you must make it affordable for your business as well. Strategies such as incorporating shipping costs into your pricing structure and/or setting a minimum purchase level for free shipping make it a win for both parties.

Demonstrate care in preparing products for shipment

First impressions are key to establishing trust. Make sure your products are well packaged for safe arrival at their destination. Customers see and appreciate your company’s care and attention to detail before they even open the boxes.


When weighing your commercial shipping options, look for automation that cuts costs and helps keep operations flowing smoothly. Find out what type of Warehouse Management Software the shipper uses, and ask what they like about that particular WMS. Find out what parts of the picking and packing process the 3PL has automated. For example, weighing, measuring, and labeling are all tasks that are automation-friendly. These predictable shortcuts help get your products to your commercial customers quicker. 

Maintain quality control

Never ship outdated or damaged products, even at a discount. Every item you ship should represent your company’s exacting standards for quality and value if you want to build a trustworthy brand. When outsourcing your commercial shipments, make sure you choose a provider with enough warehouse space for your products. Ask your customers whether their orders arrived in good condition and on time. Before peak sales periods, check ahead with your 3PL to make sure there is plenty of product to fulfill the increased volume of goods. 

Follow up

After customers have placed their orders, be sure to maintain communications with them. This includes providing them with tracking information, answering questions about the shipping process, and addressing their concerns about unforeseen delays in transit. If you use a 3PL provider, it will handle these communications on your behalf.


How to choose a commercial shipping provider

Consider the following factors when comparing shipping services:

  • Transparency in fee schedule and processing
  • Willingness to customize services
  • Cost and how it compares with similar shipping firms
  • Track record for on-time, damage-free deliveries
  • Security for your products and your customer information
  • Customer service for problem-solving and damage control


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