Today, I’m going to show you what air express is and how you can leverage it to support your Amazon FBA business.
The Just One Dime team and I have a combined 50+ years experience selling on Amazon. We’ve shipped thousands of products to Amazon fulfillment centers, tried all the shipping methods, and learned how and when to use each type of freight.
What is air express?
Air express, also known as air courier, is the fastest and, oftentimes, most expensive method of international shipping, as compared to sea freight (cargo ships), rail freight (cargo trains), and air freight (a slightly slower and less expensive air option).
The cost of air express shipping depends on the volume of your shipment (this is unlike air freight in which the cost depends on both volume and weight). While smaller objects (such as swim goggles)—and even small-yet-heavy objects (such as kettlebells)—are well-suited for air express, bulkier objects (such as minifridges or large boxes of pool noodles) are not.
When you ship your products air express, they will typically ship from one of these well-known carriers (companies that ship cargo):
You can also get quotes from several different services using Freightos.com.
When you opt for an air express shipment, the carrier typically handles customs for you, which differs from other common international shipping plans used in transport methods such as sea freight.
How does air express work?
Air express is essentially door-to-door shipping that typically takes around five days to get your order from origin to destination.
When you set up your shipment for air express transit, you will do so both through Alibaba.com (if you follow our training; you can also easily set up air express through AliExpress.com) and on Amazon.
Setup your shipment through your Alibaba.com order.
You will first set up an air express shipment for your order when you submit a contract and initial inventory payment with your supplier.
It’s best if you first have an understanding of the weight and dimensions of your product (by unit) and how large your order will be altogether. If not, you could set yourself up for an extremely high air express bill for not understanding how much volume and weight your entire inventory constitutes.
To set up your shipment on Alibaba,
Login to your account on Alibaba.com. Hover over the person icon in the top left and select Sign In.
Hover over Orders in the top right and click Order with Trade Assurance.
We walk you through the entire process of filling out your contract to your exact specifications in our Amazon FBA Mastery membership.
Once you’ve gotten your contract set up in Alibaba, the next step is to inform Amazon.
Create your shipping plan through Amazon seller central.
Shipping plans tell Amazon that your products are headed for fulfillment centers, what those products are, what they weigh and how much space they take up, if they’re dangerous (this is often when you’ll find out what, if any, certifications your products require), when they’ll arrive, and who’s carrying them.
Once your units arrive, Amazon employees will load them into the fulfillment center. After that happens, your products will be available for sale to Amazon shoppers!
To create your shipping plan,
Login to your Amazon seller central account.
Click on the three lines in the top left corner.
Hover over Inventory and select Manage FBA Shipments.
Click the Send to Amazon button in the top left.
You should then see a list of your products with which you can create shipping plans for, as well as Quantity boxes where you can tell Amazon the number of individual items or boxes of items you will send.
However, if your product is not there, or you haven’t added it to your Amazon store, you’ll need to do that first. Check out our Amazon FBA Listing Tutorial to get your product listing set up.
Now, there’s tons of steps to create your shipping plan, some of which are dependent on the type of product you’re sending, how many different products you’re sending at once, how they’re being sent (one box or multiple), etc. To get the entire, step-by-step breakdown, including all the variable options and when to use which, visit JOD.com/freedom. Our Amazon FBA Mastery Membership will give you comprehensive instructions to navigate this somewhat daunting process.
Once you have your shipping plan setup, there’s just one final step before you can load your products on the plane.
Affix the required labels to your inventory.
You will need two types of labels for your air express shipment:
- Shipping labels to go on the outermost box (carton)
- FNSKU labels to go on each individual item
Both of these will be available through seller central once you’ve created your shipping plan, although you can get your FNSKU labels at the beginning of the process.
Download your FNSKU and shipping labels and send them to your supplier.
Ensure that if you are sending multiple boxes or mixed inventory that your supplier affixes the correct shipping label to each box. Each shipping label states that box’s contents as well as its weight.
Let’s say, for example, that you will ship two boxes: One that contains 300 pairs of swim goggles and weighs 15 pounds, and one that contains 100 pairs of swim goggles plus 100 pairs of water wings that weighs 10 pounds total. You must ensure that the label that reads 15 pounds and 300 units of one product goes on the first box, while the label that reads 10 pounds and 100 units of one product plus 100 units of another goes on the second.
You should also ensure that your FNSKU labels are affixed to the outermost packaging of each individual unit in your inventory. And keep in mind that each individual product type or variation gets its own FNSKU. Following our example above, you’d need 400 labels for the swim goggle product and 100 for the water wings product. You can’t just use 500 of the water wings FNSKU labels and call it good.
Whenever possible, I recommend having the supplier incorporate the FNSKU into the product’s packaging, so it’s printed on rather than being a sticker.
Alternatively, you might choose to have Amazon affix the FNSKU labels to your items instead of your supplier. This will, however, incur a per item fee.
When should you use air express?
Air express can be cost effective…but only for smaller shipments. If you will ship large batches of inventory or heavy and/or bulky items that take up a lot of space, air express might not be your best option.
However, just because air express is typically the most expensive shipping option doesn't mean it has to be the most expensive. There are certain scenarios where air express is the way to go.
Typically when you order samples from a supplier, or even multiple suppliers, they will ship the samples to you via air express. This allows you to quickly receive your samples so you can test them out and make your final supplier decision without disrupting your manufacturing timeline too much.
Additionally, if you will order samples from multiple suppliers, you can use a consolidation service or sourcing agent to collect all the suppliers’ samples together into one air express shipment.
This is especially important as oftentimes when you order samples, the suppliers will only ask you to pay for international shipping, which can get quite hefty. By bundling multiple suppliers’ samples into one shipment, however, you can often cut back on this cost.
Ordering a full inventory of smaller items
If you’re shipping a batch of 500 minifridges, air express is probably not your strongest option.
However, if you’re shipping a batch of 500 pairs of swim goggles, air express is probably your best bet as long as you are confident the shipping costs won’t tank your profits.
Consider that when you ship via air, rail, or sea freight, you will often ship in containers (corrugated metal boxes up to 40 feet long). It is typically more cost effective, as well as safer and faster, to fill an entire shipping container with your inventory.
This is because freighters prefer to ship full containers and, if you don’t fill up your entire container (or most of it), the freighter must find another company to fill that space to make it most cost effective for them. This then often leads to your container being opened multiple times by customs inspectors and inland shipping companies upon arrival, which both slows down your shipping lead time and increases the risk that some of your inventory will become damaged in the process.
But if you can fill the entire container on your own, you drastically decrease the number of times your inventory will be touched at the ports, which also keeps it safer.
Of course, if you order enough inventory to fill up 60% of a container, that shipment is likely too large for air express to be a cost effective method.
However, if your inventory, even in a full order’s load, doesn’t even come close to filling or partially filling a container, air express could actually save you money. Afterall, swim goggles are quite small and lightweight.
Ordering partial batches of inventory
Consider the following scenario:
Your Amazon FBA store sells pool floats for dogs, which, thanks to a recent heatwave, are selling like hotdogs on the fourth of July. In fact, they’re selling much more quickly than anticipated.
You had calculated your inventory planning carefully based on previous months’ conversion rates and your supplier is scheduled to ship your next full batch of 1,000 dog pool floats via sea freight next week. Except that with current sea freight timelines, that inventory will likely not reach your Amazon fulfillment center for another 45 days, at best.
In the meantime, you’re down to your last 200 units and, at your current sell rate, you’ll run out within 20 days.
Enter air express.
Rather than wait the 45+ days for your full batch of 1,000 units, you might instead opt to ship 300 units via air express and ship the remaining 700 units via less than container load (sharing a shipping container) sea freight.
Your first 300 units arrive at the fulfillment center within five days, well before your remaining stock runs out.
In doing so, you omit any gaps in your Amazon inventory, which helps to preserve your established ranking (how high your product appears in search results when customers search a relevant search term) and your BSR (best sellers rank—how quickly your product sells compared to others in its product category). All of this benefits your seller account’s health and helps your store maintain continuous conversions. Win win.
If you instead keep to your existing plan, shipping all 1,000 units within a few days and waiting at least 45 for them to arrive to a point where shoppers can order, there will be gaps in your inventory, you will lose valuable ranking, and your seller account’s health will take a hit.
Pro tip! Other sellers can and will swoop in to take advantage of competitors’ out of stock periods. It’s better to be a vulture in this scenario than the seller with a 0 in their inventory tracker.
If you ever do have gaps in your inventory, however, even while using air express to ship a partial batch of inventory, you might try your hand with Amazon’s In-Stock Head Start Program that allows you to sell inventory that is en-route to, but not quite at an Amazon fulfillment center.
Ordering wooden products
You will often find that shipping wooden products via air express, regardless of their size (ok, unless the products are truly gigantic) is worth the extra cost.
The reason for this is that the US is extremely particular and thorough with wood imports. In fact, wood is a more restricted product type because the US doesn’t want to accidentally allow foreign bugs into its ecosystems.
When you ship wooden products through sea freight, for example, those products will go through intensive, sometimes delay-causing customs inspections.
When you ship via air express, however, those same inspections are often bypassed due to air express’ quick nature, saving you both time and hassle.
So if you sell wooden tops, bookends, or even rocking horses, air express might just be the way to go. However, if you will sell much larger items, such as bookcases, you might be better off forgoing customs inspections altogether by sourcing from a US-based manufacturer.
Air express freight sometimes gets a bad rep with Amazon sellers for its high prices. However, with the right inventory, air express can absolutely be a viable shipping option to get your products into shoppers hands lickety-split.
Interested in building an Amazon FBA store? Dead serious about turning your life around?
Visit JOD.com/freedom to speak with a member of our team who will discuss your goals and show you how Just One Dime can help you achieve them and support you along the way.
What will you use air express shipping for? Let me know in the comments.