Because of the explosion of e-commerce sales in the US and abroad, it’s no surprise that much of the fulfillment world has adapted by adding e-commerce fulfillment services as an additional service offering, Furthermore, a wealth of new companies have started operations, focusing almost exclusively on providing warehousing and shipping services to e-commerce and online merchants. With so many options at your businesses’ disposal, the biggest challenge is to find the best outsourced fulfillment services provider for your unique business. Below are some of the most important things to consider before signing on the dotted line with an e-commerce fulfillment company.
David or Goliath?…Choosing the Right Sized Company
When you start your search for an e-commerce shipping solution, you may run into quite a few of the larger fulfillment operations, since they have extensive sales and marketing budgets. However, they may not be the best choice for your company. Smaller, more regional companies oftentimes have far greater flexibility that they can offer your business than the bigger options. For example, smaller companies may be able to provide more flexible packaging options, cut-off times, value added services, and a more authentic customer experience. Even more important to smaller businesses is the notion that these smaller fulfillment providers usually come with a smaller price tag – which translates into additional cost savings for your business. As FulfillmentCompanies.net recently reported on its annual fulfillment cost survey, order fulfillment and storage fees vary widely among suppliers.
Ability to Integrate Seamlessly with Your Shopping Cart
This may seem like a given, but definitely make sure that your e-commerce provider of choice has a robust system for integrating with your shopping cart. Shopping cart integrations allows you to send them all of your order information automatically via web services, API, or EDI (electronic data interchange), in addition to receiving their updated tracking information after the packages have shipped. Furthermore, a sophisticated integration allows for much more than just the exchange of order information – it includes real-time capabilities of updating stock and inventory information. Inventory updates are critical, so that online shoppers see true and accurate information about available inventory when browsing your online store for their next purchase. One last word of advice about real-time – there are differing intervals with which fulfillment companies can pass data back and forth. Timeframes vary from set intervals (for example, every 15 minutes) to real-time. One way isn’t necessarily better than the other, but make sure you’re comfortable with the frequency of information exchange.
Talking About Technology…
While we’re on the subject of technology, pay close attention to what technology each fulfillment provider implements in their warehouse. It’s absolutely critical for your chosen provider to have documented processes and procedures, as well as the technology to support a virtually error free service. Pay close attention to whether or not the company relies more heavily on manual and human interface in their order picking and shipping processes, or if they use available technologies such as bar code and RF scanning devices to verify the accuracy of order information.
Are They Really an Expert at E-commerce Fulfillment?
In this day and age, shipping e-commerce orders in a timely and effective fashion is the baseline. Fulfillment firms that focus on the e-commerce niche must go above and beyond to meet the increasing needs of online retailers. One way that some e-commerce focused companies are meeting this challenge is by becoming experts at the e-commerce sales channel in general, so that they can provide strategic guidance and expertise for smaller and growing merchants that may not have as much experience with online sales. For example, some fulfillment companies are providing strategic guidance on additional online sales channels, resources for online marketing, and other assistance to help you grow your sales. Furthermore, specialized providers may also help with product photography and other tasks related to managing the online experience for your customers.
Where in the World Should the Warehouse be Located?
Oftentimes, e-commerce fulfillment companies claim that it doesn’t matter so much “where” their warehouse is located. In some cases, this might be true. But in many others, this is a very important factor in your decision. For example, if you’re bringing in product from overseas and sell throughout the US, southern California may provide great benefits for quick entry into the US. In other cases the location needs may be different. Nonetheless, be sure you factor for where your product is coming from, where it is being shipped, and any other factors you think are important to the success of your business.
Don’t Forget About Service
At the end of the day, customer service forms the backbone of any business-to-business relationship. Many e-commerce providers will claim that they provide stellar service, but you’ll have to gauge this by talking to customers and employees and online reviews. One other thing to consider relates to the size of the provider. If using a larger company, beware that you might get lost in the crowd a bit unless you represent a large percentage of their overall volume, whereas with smaller providers you may have a direct line of communication to senior management or even ownership.
By taking a look at the above factors, you will have a much better idea of who to choose for your e-commerce fulfillment needs. There are a lot of options out there in the marketplace, so be sure to take a thorough look before you make the giant leap into outsourced fulfillment services.