Postscript: Sadly Redroller halted operations recently.

Mark Taylor knows a thing or two about shipping. He is the nation’s leading authority on utilizing high-tech to increase productivity in warehouse, shipping and mailroom operations and has consulted with over 10,000 organizations in 30 years. So when entrepreneur Bill Van Wyck told him of his plans to build a website for automatic comparisons of shipping vendors for small business, they hit it off well.

Soon a free web-based service called became reality, and with it unprecedented functions giving mall businesses one-stop shipping functionality from multiple vendors. “We level the playing field for small businesses who depend on shipping,” said CEO Van Wyck, “The old way involves unnecessary expense and time to find the best deal and turnaround time – so similar to the travel sites, gives users control.”

The public has embraced brand-neutral offerings such as these. Take Travel, where 60% of US bookings are done via on-line channels, such as Orbitz, Travelocity, and Sidestep. Shipping packages on this system feels a little like buying an airline ticket for a box (only much quicker) and it feels very, very natural. Any of these services will get you from point A to point B, so why not choose the one best suited?

According to Taylor, now the Chief Logistics Officer at the company, there are nearly 8 million U.S. businesses that send a lot of packages but not enough to earn special discounts from carriers. “They are paying retail (or more) to ship. We can save them up to 40% immediately without adding any complexity to their process.”

When comparing, results can be sorted by pick up or drop off times or arrival guarantees, depending on the needs of that particular shipment. Sometimes it’s better to pay a little more to get the package to the customer a day sooner, and delight that person’s child on their birthday, for example. USPS, DHL, Federal Express, and regional carriers are currently in their system. As this goes to press, a brand new service called DHL Home, combining DHL’s air logistics with the USPS’ neighborhood delivery reach, is coming online.

Noticeably absent is UPS. “We’ve invited UPS to participate, and we’d love to work with them.” says Taylor. UPS has earlier stated that they do not offer access to third-party software where they lose control of the customer interaction, so have to date chosen not to be a part of this tool’s vendor list.

One-click simplicity is critical to RedRoller’s success, and they know it. It’s got to be easy and fast, or changing is hard to contemplate. Many small businesses don’t want to use something new, but with fuel surcharges and fees fluctuating wildly, differences between carriers can have nasty surprises. “We’re not talking about saving a few cents here,” says Taylor, “we have studies where savings of 42% were realized.”

To use, you enter the starting and ending zip code, package type, and weight – just like any other carrier’s site. The system then goes out and compares prices, feeling very much like the last time I bought a plane ticket.

A table comes back for sorting and choosing, with “ship it” buttons next to listings, which communicates with the carrier and prepares a label. “We are built upon IBM Websphere, so there is openness to other fulfillment solutions as they come along. We also support scales and other hardware already.” continued Taylor. Ecommerce integration is also on the agenda. Using a system that finds the cheapest route back “home” for a returned item can save the merchant money at minimal inconvenience to the customer. It imports QuickBooks and EBay order data directly already.

I shipped a 15 lb package from Lexington to Santa Clara, CA in a test. Within seconds, RedRoller had offered me a dozen options between carriers. Sorting to arrive next business day, it gave me costs for USPS, DHL, and FedEx of $47.20, $70.71, and $83.13, respectively. This took 25 seconds from zip code to label, the exact same time it took me to get a ship quote from FedEx alone. Slick.

Still, some small businesses are taking a wait-and-see approach. Mark Parks, owner of P&S Transmission Parts in Lexington ships heavy packages to anxiously awaiting customers, relying on UPS for most of his shipments. “We have invested a lot in UPS. We take orders right up to our pick-up times and need to be absolutely able to ship to every rural address in the USA in 1-2 days” says Parks. “I’ll keep my eye on this technology, though, because the other shippers are becoming more competitive.”

As to the future, Mark Taylor of RedRoller speaks of a global marketplace, “We’ve built our model for point to point global shipping by anyone. International shipping can be intimidating, but we intend to remove that fear by simplification, opening the markets to China and beyond. That’s all I can say right now.”