As an online seller (or someone beginning a business focusing on online sales), you have a lot on your plate. It could be the main reason behind the decision to make a fast switch and outsource your order fulfillment. While it means handing over control to another business, it also means sparing you added costs and hassles (such as staff, warehousing expenses and more).
Unfortunately, it can also mean that you may inadvertently put the success or failure of your business into the hands of others.
How? After all, you have done due diligence about products and offer good customer service, how can e-commerce fulfillment have any negative impact? Wrong items, shoddy packing or handling, lengthy delays in sending orders…these are but a few of the glitches that can affect your bottom line.
Fortunately, we offer these simple steps to ensure you can setup up your e-commerce fulfillment segment effectively, and quickly, and without a lot of issues that could cost you some of your first customers.
The Basic Steps
Before you start sending your inventory to an e-commerce fulfillment provider and preparing to link your shopping cart to their warehouses, take a moment to review the basic steps involved with a rapid switch to new fulfillment provider:
- Account Setup
- Integrating Shopping Carts
- Sending Inventory to the Fulfillment Provider
- Ensuring They Understand Your Preferences for Sending Orders to Customers, Handling Orders and Completing Orders
- Handling Returns
If you understand that your e-commerce order fulfillment provider is in charge of that many steps of your sales (and returns), as well as inventory management, you begin to see why you shouldn’t rush the process too much. While you can easily setup operations in a matter of days – take the time to review the steps noted, and be sure all of those proverbial ducks are in a row. Let’s spend time looking at each point in a bit more detail:
You are going to need to create or review the contract that will exist between your firm and your fulfillment provider. This is going to outline all of the key details and protocols. The contract should specify all of the issues that follow (below) and include any contingencies in the event of a breach of contract or other issues.
Some of the points you want to emphasize in the contract or account setup include issues like shipping/order cutoff times each day (as this can allow you to provide faster shipping times) and how you prefer communications to occur.
Your account setup also has to include specifics about communication. How and who will communicate with the warehouse and fulfillment provider? What about billing procedures, reviews and major points of contact?
Finally, a key part of setting up your account must be a proper testing period. Test ordering, test order changes and test returns. Test communications, inventory controls and all of those crucial details before launching.
Integrating Shopping Carts
Your e-commerce fulfillment provider may already have some proprietary software that could be used in your online store and which will also deal with everything from packing slips and customer communication to returns. It should also relay details to your end, letting you or your team know when items are sold, what’s going on in terms of inventory and more. Keep in mind that some of the best providers can integrate with popular platforms and shopping carts already in use.
Be sure that any previous order information can be securely transferred as this eliminates the need for clients to create new credentials. Also, you want to be sure that you can always find out where any order might be at any given moment in time. The best systems allow shoppers to make changes and updates (including cancellations) right up to the moment the item is tagged for shipping – this is something to double check if it is important to your customers.
As one of the most substantial steps in getting your new e-commerce fulfillment provider up and running quickly, we are going to dedicate a bit more attention to this part of the process.
At your end, it begins with you doing a thorough inventory and creating a master list of all of your product numbers (SKUs) and all product details. This will even include items out of stock or temporarily unavailable. Be sure you give your fulfillment provider every bit of data – even variations, sizes, colors, kits, combinations and more.
It is going to be your responsibility to coordinate the shipping of your materials to the fulfillment provider’s warehouse, and to be sure that comprehensive inventory data is included. You are also going to be tasked with coordinating and/or arranging the shipment.
Once it arrives at the destination, your new fulfillment team will have to re-inventory and then properly store the product. They are more than likely going to need the time to enter data into their system.
If you have products that require a lot of attention during selection, packing or even during returns, it may be in your best interest to arrange some sort of product training. If the fulfillment center is at a great distance, a manual may be best. However, if you feel it would benefit all involved to do in-person training, it could be a key to success. This is true in shipping, as well, and you may want to be sure the items are packaged in the way you require. If you want specific wrappings, tags and labels inside of packages, be sure this is detailed in your contract and as you setup the fulfillment process. If there are to be additional inserts or special packaging – make sure you are clear about how this will arrive, be ordered, maintained, and so on.
Sending Orders, Handling Orders, and Completing Orders
It is going to be in your hands to let your fulfillment provider know which shipping methods you prefer. Before you begin the process or transition, be sure that your chosen provider is able to handle the kinds of shipments you desire. If they are unfamiliar with international packing and labeling, this can become a serious problem. Also, be sure you are guaranteed the kinds of shipping terms you need – orders out at a specific time each day, changes made before orders are shipped, and so on.
Also, pose the question of what happens in the event of an error. What if the wrong items are shipped? What if the wrong method of shipping is used? What if inventory tracking is not done properly and an item sold is not available?
Planning for contingencies and knowing how you want specific issues handled before you begin is another key to success. You can often avoid such issues by acknowledging that they can occur and proactively troubleshooting.
Will your provider handle returns? If so, what is the process they must follow? How are they to communicate issues about returns to you? This is crucial because you need to understand what is returned, why and how to overcome this costly issue. You also need to be sure customers are getting premium service where returns are concerned.
Yes, this is a lot, but if you work with a reputable firm that has experience in the process, and you use these steps, you can be up and running quickly.