It’s a perpetual battle for online merchants to keep expenses low and customer satisfaction high as they push to deliver an online order. The Amazon Effect is still very much in effect: Consumers want free shipping and they expect packages to arrive quickly.

Of course, shipping isn’t free for retailers. That means Inc.’s competitors, which include virtually every retailer online and offline, must figure out ways to minimize costs while maximizing speed. Some are building more warehouses so they can put goods closer to their customers, while others use logistics specialists. Meanwhile, retailers that operate stores are using them to fulfill orders to nearby customers.

Cost remains the first thing on consumers’ minds when it comes to shipping, but they increasingly want options as to when and how their online orders can be delivered and returned. Many retailers don’t yet offer the Amazon buffet of options that include two-day delivery, same-day delivery or delivery within a few hours. That leaves retailers playing catch-up with Amazon, which offers its Prime and Prime Now fast-shipping membership service for an expanding number of products in a growing number of markets.

“Amazon made it impossible to charge for shipping because Prime consumers are prepaid on Amazon,” says Michele Romanow, co-founder of Canadian daily deal site and an investor on “Dragons’ Den,” Canada’s version of the popular TV show “Shark Tank” …

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