ShipStation is an order fulfillment service for ecommerce merchants. The software integrates with a wide range of ecommerce platforms, marketplaces, and shopping carts and allows you to import orders and quickly print shipping and packing labels. Extra features include automation and branding tools, a mobile app, and a robust reporting suite. Prices start at $9 per month.
One of the most complex aspects of operating an ecommerce business is order fulfillment. In ecommerce parlance, order fulfillment is the process of packing, shipping, and delivering products ordered online. This is probably the most labor-intensive aspect of running an ecommerce store—however, it’s an important one. Order fulfillment is likely the one time that you, the ecommerce merchant, deal directly with your customers. Deliver a seamless experience and you’ll create a loyal customer who may leave you a positive review and grow the profile of your store.
On the other hand, if you take a long time to fulfill orders, ship the wrong products, or deliver damaged goods, it won’t matter how good your products are—customers likely won’t be coming back. Fortunately, there are now a variety of software solutions designed to make ecommerce fulfillment a lot easier.
Perhaps the most popular option in this space is ShipStation. Founded in Austin, Texas in 2011, ShipStation is used by thousands of ecommerce merchants who need to fulfill their orders quickly and without a lot of hassle. In this review, we’re going to break down how it works to determine if it is a good option for your ecommerce business. We’ll also provide you with some alternatives so you come away with a complete picture of the ecommerce fulfillment software market.
ShipStation is a software application that integrates with a wide array of ecommerce platforms, marketplaces, and shopping carts in order to expedite the process of fulfilling orders. The software is entirely web-based, meaning the merchant does not have to install anything on their computer.
At the most basic level, ShipStation works by importing orders from an integrated order source, such as an ecommerce website. Once the order is imported into the program, the user can then select the shipping carrier and shipping service for the shipment, receive postage rates, and print a shipping label. It then notifies the selling channel and your customer of the shipment, and provides tools to track shipments and manage returns.
For the user, ShipStation also provides tools to manage your shipping workflow, track your processes to eliminate confusion and mistakes, and use automation to minimize how much manual work you have to do.
Currently, ShipStation can service merchants in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Those are the basics, now let’s learn more about how to get started with them, and the kinds of features you’ll have access to.
ShipStation offers a simple four-step process for setting up your account. To get started, sign up for their 30-day free trial by providing some basic information including your name, business name, and email address. You’ll then be routed to a Welcome page that will prompt you to connect a selling channel to your account.
To do so, choose from the list of accepted partners ShipStation works with (more on this later). Each shipping channel has its own unique process for connecting to ShipStation, but most can be completed with relative ease. Note that you can connect as many shipping channels as you need with your ShipStation account,
Next, you’ll be prompted to select a primary shipping carrier to work with your account. ShipStation works with most major brands, including USPS, FedEx, and UPS. Again, each shipping partner has their own specific steps for connecting to your ShipStation account. Note that if you sign up for USPS through ShipStation, you also get free access to a Stamps.com account. This allows you to create labels for USPS and other carriers using your Stamps.com account balance and payment method.
The third step is to create your label layout. You’ll need to tell ShipStation whether you print labels to a thermal label printer or to a standard desktop printer. All labels created are 4-by-6-inch labels suitable for thermal label printers. If you use an inkjet or laser printer to print multiple labels on a standard letter-sized sheet, ShipStation adjusts the label orientation 90 degrees to print two labels horizontally on an 8.5-by-11-inch sheet of paper. Select the format that matches the type of printer you use, and whether to print labels only or to print labels and packing slips together—then save your settings.
Lastly, you’ll set your shipping location. This tells ShipStation where you are shipping from, which is required before your postage provider will return a rate. Once this step is complete, you’re ready to begin importing orders from your shipping channels.
When a customer places an order via one of your shipping channels, you can add that order to ShipStation by clicking the “Update All Stores” option on your account homepage (you can also choose to only import orders from a specific store).
In order to create a label for the order, you will need to give the postage provider the shipping details, including the order weight and dimensions, shipping carrier, delivery time, and confirmation and insurance options (if applicable).
Once you have set your shipping options, ShipStation will provide you with a postage rate. Note that they also have a Rate Calculator that will show you the postage rate amongst your connected providers so you can find the lowest rate for your shipments.
In order to print the shipping label, you will need to install ShipStation Connect—an application that passes print jobs from your account to your printing hardware. You can also download the label and print through a PDF viewer. ShipStation features an option to print shipping labels and tracking slips in batches.
When you create a label, it sends notifications to the selling channel and can also send shipment notifications to the customer (if you enable this option). The postage provider also assigns a tracking number to your label. This number can be found in the Order Details and in the Shipments Grid. Click the tracking number to open the carrier’s tracking page. Customers also can see the location of their order with geo-tracking.
With the shipping label in hand, you can either arrange for your shipping carrier to pick up your orders at your shipping location, or deliver them directly to your shipping carrier’s nearest branch.
ShipStation also has functions for combining and splitting orders, validating shipping addresses, insuring shipments, creating return labels, connecting scales, tracking customer shipping information, tracking inventory, branding your shipping labels, and more. Let’s go over some of ShipStation’s most notable features.
ShipStation integrates with over 100 different third-party platforms. Here are some of the most notable options currently available. You can view a complete list on their website.
The mobile app, available for iOS and Android devices, allows you to manage and ship orders, check reports, communicate with customers, and receive push notifications from your phone or tablet. Specific features include the ability to view shipment status and resend tracking conﬁrmation emails, get shipping rates for quotes, generate scannable end-of-day manifests, and scan barcodes with your device’s camera.
ShipStation’s automation tools allow you to set specific rules depending on order type to further expedite the fulfillment process. You can automate so that the information is already filled in for things like product lists, auto-routing, using specific packing slips, and more.
ShipStation’s custom shipping labels gives you the freedom to add your logo and other branding info when creating shipping labels and packing slips. You can also customize your confirmation emails with your business’s social media handles, customize images and colors, and add an FAQ section.
ShipStation allows you to print return labels to ship with every order to make the return process simpler for the customer. You can also set custom rules for returns, track returns, and select specific carriers to fulfill returns.
All carrier integrations can facilitate international shipping, meaning you don’t have to set up extra accounts. ShipStation also provides $100 package coverage on all international shipments at no cost to you and can facilitate two-day delivery to select international cities.
From your account dashboard, they provide you with detailed analysis and reporting of operations, customer engagement, sales trends, customer behavior, and product inventory recommendations. The reporting tools can give you insight into the following areas of your business:
ShipStation offers all merchants direct support via email from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday. Merchants who sign up for one of the higher paying subscription plans can also get access to live chat support and phone support. There is also a lot of documentation on the ShipStation website designed to help merchants. Resources include:
ShipStation offers clear and transparent pricing. Here is the breakdown of all six subscription plans. Note that all plans are month-to-month and can be cancelled at any time for no additional fee.
Given everything ShipStation offers, here are what we see as the benefits of using this service as your ecommerce order fulfillment solution.
The goal of ShipStation is to make fulfillment easier, and their automation tools take this goal to another level. With them, you can set custom rules so that specific orders are automatically assigned shipping information, meaning all you have to do is print the shipping label. That’s about as easy as it gets.
The creators have designed a product that is so flexible it can work with any major ecommerce platform, marketplace, or shopping cart. On the off chance that an integration isn’t readily available, ShipStation has developer tools that allow you to create a custom integration. With so much flexibility, it’s not hard to see why ShipStation is among the most popular fulfillment software on the market.
Fulfillment can be complex, but the ShipStation dashboard isn’t. Users are allowed to customize the look of their account dashboard to only show the stuff they need and block the stuff they don’t. If there is ever anything that trips you up, ShipStation has a variety of resources where you can get help.
Overall, we don’t have a lot to criticize when it comes to ShipStation. There have been reviews where users complain about difficulty integrating with the software, but these sorts of technical issues aren’t unique to this shipping software, so we wouldn’t count them out based on those complaints alone.
One notable complaint that comes up is that users have their subscription plan automatically upgraded if they exceed their plan’s shipping volume. This is something to be aware of if your business receives a sudden influx of orders.
Here are what ShipStation customers have to say about their experience with the platform:
“We use Shipstation as a central hub for processing our shipping labels and keeping track of our sales statistics for all of our online ecommerce stores. Their system integrates all sales information as well as shipping information so we can see how each storefront is performing at a glance and over time. Having the single interface saves us a lot of time in producing shipping labels. Having a single view of all of our sales is a bonus! The price for the service is well worth the cost for all the time saving benefits of producing the labels efficiently. I would recommend ShipStation to any business that sells online.” — Deboarah Dennison, GeoJango Maps
“Currently, ShipStation has been working well for us and has offered us the flexibility we were looking for. Shipstation integrates with Squarespace, which is a major plus for us. One dislike is that I have to download the printing capability everytime I want to print a label. However, at this time it works well for us and I would definitely recommend ShipStation to other entrepreneurs.” — Linda C., GranolaMoms
“One of the best things about ShipStation for us was the ability to set and automate shipment rules with a high degree of personalization—such as for international orders which could then be shaken down and fine-tuned into individual rules for specific countries, with further filters applicable from there. Given that we ship all over the world and have a lot of variables to deal with as a result, ShipStation’s options on automated rule setting gave us way more options than the alternatives we’ve tried. The main downside of ShipStation that we found was their access to one-to-one support from a real live person and in a timely manner. There are lots of help and support options on ShipStation including a community forum, email, and live chat (for some packages); but all of them are frustrating and time consuming to get a resolution from.” — John Moss, English Blinds
Not sold? Here are some alternatives to consider:
ShippingEasy and ShipStation are quite similar. Both offer handy features like order filtering, online store integration, and discounted postage rates. Differentiators between the two? It really comes down to personal preference, but some find that ShippingEasy has a more intuitive UI, better quality customer service, and fewer technical issues. That may not be much of a surprise from a business that calls itself “ShippingEasy.” Perhaps the main difference is pricing. ShippingEasy only offers four pricing plans, including a free Starter plan that comes with 50 shipments a month. The other plans range in price from $29 per month (500 shipments) to $99 per month (6,000 shipments).
Like ShipStation and ShippingEasy, Shippo imports all your ecommerce orders onto its platform and allows you to print shipping and packing labels. Some unique differentiators include discounted insurance rates, 99.9% uptime, automatic syncing between ecommerce platforms and your Shippo account, and the ability to print international customs forms. Note that Shippo does not integrate with as many shipping carriers as ShipStation. Shippo offers a pay-as-you-go plan with a $0.05 fee on all shipments, as well as a subscription plan that can cost anywhere between $10 and $125 per month depending on your shipment volume. There is also a Premier plan for enterprise businesses.
There is a reason ShipStation is one of the most popular fulfillment services on the market: It works. The software integrates with nearly any platform under the sun, and does everything you’d want it to in order to make fulfillment as painless as possible. This product should be a top consideration for any ecommerce merchant looking for help with fulfillment.
Matthew Speiser is a former staff writer at Fundera.
He has written extensively about ecommerce, marketing and sales, and payroll and HR solutions, but is particularly knowledgeable about merchant services. Prior to Fundera, Matthew was an editorial lead at Google and an intern reporter at Business Insider. Matthew was also a co-author for Startup Guide—a series of guidebooks designed to assist entrepreneurs in different cities around the world.