From lipsticks, makeup mirrors, beauty creams and lotions to complete outfits accented with belts, scarves and jewelry, subscription box consumers are increasingly putting their faith in “tribe leaders” to package the perfect monthly orders. Oftentimes subscription services utilize a wealth of social and personally collected information in order to tailor the perfect purchase. In a world where time is a precious commodity, it makes perfect sense that more and more consumers are adopting the philosophy of not only purchasing online but also further decreasing their time investment by “outsourcing” their purchase decision.
As ideal as this type of purchase seems, it comes with a great deal of risk associated with “getting the purchase right” by choosing the right types of items to include on the order and by ensuring that the overall purchase experience is exceptional. It’s the process of ensuring a memorable purchase experience that separates mediocre subscription box fulfillment companies from those that keep customers coming back for more. A good subscription box fulfillment services company will always ship out boxes in a timely matter so they get to the customer on or before the day they are promised – but there is so much more to it than just accurate and on-time delivery of product. Ultimately, these superior subscription box fulfillment services companies realize that an order is more than a package – it’s an experience. This vision, coupled with the important features below, will help you distinguish a high quality company to manage your company’s ongoing subscription shipments should you find yourself in the market for such a service provider.
Branding Reigns Supreme
Companies that provide subscription box fulfillment services work with business owners who are looking to reach out to customers and build brand loyalty. Not only should every box that is shipped to the customer prominently display the brand name, but the box or packaging should also catch the recipient's eye. Images, graphics, and logos can all be helpful in attracting attention. Every single aspect of the box has the potential to incorporate branding elements and therefore is an opportunity to convey something unique to its customers. Each detail to the packaging medium must be well thought out – which requires a fulfillment provider that can help advise the subscription company of packaging options and act as a sounding board for ideas.
An average subscription box fulfillment service might use bubble wrap and Styrofoam peanuts to pack the branded items in a non-descript cardboard box. A superior subscription box fulfillment service will think outside the box. They will take the opportunity to re-enforce the brand. Instead of putting the branded items directly into the cardboard box, they think, why not put them in a custom box, carrying case or canvas bag that has your company colors and company logo? After all, people keep festive tote bags and colorful carrying cases around long after the products they contained are gone. They have a utilitarian purpose and most people find them appealing.
Chris Bingham, President of Riley Life Logistics, a company that specializes in subscription box fulfillment services, is always searching for unique ways to add value to the branding element. In one case, (a monthly developer coding kit) his company assisted their customer in addressing each specific attribute of its packing, down to the font on the boxes, which now include emoticons and font types that match the overall company branding. As Mr. Bingham puts it, “Everybody is looking for ways to stand out and be unique in some way. Fulfillment is one of the keys to standing out, and it requires a partner that can be a consultant and help scrutinize each and every detail to provide a unique experience.”
The best subscription box fulfillment service companies help build your brand. By building your brand, they also help build their brand. It requires investment of time and a partnership approach, but with this strategy everyone wins.
A Reflection on Your Company
Everything that goes out of the fulfillment center and into the hands of a customer reflects on your company. At the end of the day, errors negatively impact the overall brand. The customer does not blame the third-party company that shipped the subscription box when their order is wrong. They blame you and your company. While mistakes do happen occasionally, if they recur too often, it will hurt your company's reputation. Errors hurt your brand. Therefore, superior subscription fulfillment companies realize that accuracy is paramount to success. In fact, as Mr. Bingham emphasizes, “fulfillment companies must eliminate any errors as much as possible. It’s about shipping one order correctly and then doing it 1 million times.” Accurate shipments are a result of many factors, including quality control processes and technology systems that formulate a foundation for success. At the end of the day, performance builds trust.
Without Quality Control There is No Quality
Because subscription fulfillment programs usually run in large batch shipments, it’s important that the fulfillment provider has a solid and established quality control process that can be easily replicated over thousands of orders. The most frequently seen errors in subscription box fulfillment seem to be either not including every item that is supposed to be in the box (usually there is a card or printed piece in the box that describes all of its contents), or not including all of the packaging in the order. The fulfillment company is responsible and accountable for putting everything in the box.
Human error can never be totally eliminated, but by instituting a strong quality control system, mistakes can be minimized. When selecting a subscription box fulfillment services company, don't be afraid to ask them to share the feedback they receive from other clients and customers. Question them about their process from the time they "build a box" to the time it leaves their warehouse. Does the company check and double-check each order before it ships? How do they keep track of orders? Do they have a computerized labeling and tracking system?
You also want to know how they resolve complaints from subscribers. Do they have an 800 number or some other means by which a dissatisfied subscriber can easily register a complaint or follow up on an order that did not arrive?
Communication is Key
Another aspect of the quality control process involves communication – especially as it relates to the shipping schedule. For most subscription programs, shipping is done on the same day every month, offering a layer of consistency that tribe members come to expect. Successfully run programs tend to build a labor calendar into the process, allowing them to manage customer projects without any delays and factor for any unforeseen challenges. For fulfillment companies that manage multiple subscription clients, it’s extremely important to routinely communicate the scheduling to its customers – a function that spans the entire organization from sales to operations. In your search for a fulfillment provider, be sure that the potential vendor has a proven track record of appropriately setting timeline expectations, tempered with the flexibility to listen to your needs and adjust as your needs change.
Along the same lines, don’t discount your role in the communication process. The extent to which you communicate about every detail with your chosen company will help determine the success of the program. According to Mr. Bingham at Riley Life Logistics, the most successful subscription companies seem to be the “ones that are most particular in thinking through every detail and communicating that to everyone involved in the process.”
Technology is at the Center of Execution
How your subscription orders get to the fulfillment center and how the center provides tracking information to either you or your customers play a vital role in the fulfillment process. These types of outsourced providers can usually receive orders a number of ways – either electronically from your order management system or using other methods such as via Excel or CSV file (which they will ultimately upload into their warehouse management system). In an ideal world, orders would flow automatically from your order management system or shopping cart directly to the fulfillment center, eliminating the chances for error. However, there are many cases when this isn’t possible, such as when the subscription list resides in another database. Because of this, it’s important that you select a company that can successfully receive and process subscription lists from a multitude of channels. Furthermore, if you will be sending over a manual listing, such as an Excel or CSV file, the better providers will also know how to properly configure and organize the file, taking some of the data processing work off of your shoulders.
Similarly, when orders are sent to your customers, there must be a robust way of tracking everyone’s order so that each customer has vision of the movement of the shipment from the warehouse to their doorstep. This is an opportunity to further touch the customer, adding additional value. Your chosen fulfillment company should be able to either send you a file of all of the tracking numbers for the monthly orders or they should be able to send individual tracking emails to your customers – branded with your specific branding and messaging desired. Flexibility is key as you may prefer one methodology instead of another, or your order management systems might prohibit you from easily being able to send the tracking emails yourself. No matter what course is taken, it is imperative to make sure that this vital correspondence is done in the specific language of the tribe, paying close attention to every word of the email being sent.
Targeting your Customers
A good subscription box fulfillment services company should have a complete understanding of your customers and the people you are trying to reach. Your company may produce a line of women's clothing. You may make clothes for teenage girls, young mothers, and career women. While all may wear skirts and shirts, they do not have the same approach to fashion. Each box that is sent out must be targeted to the specific age group of the recipient. A teen may like to see some pictures of Taylor Swift wearing the same sweater as she received in the box, while a 45-year-old businesswoman might appreciate something altogether different.
A True Partner Acts as an Advisor
Superior subscription box fulfillment companies act as an advisor – someone that takes time and invests time to think through everything. Acting as a partner requires both a commitment of time and a set of core values that promote giving. Unfortunately, many companies are inherently selfish, looking out for their own interests. Pay close attention to the tone of the organization as you vet potential providers, watching in particular for team members that not only promise to give your company the valuable commodity of time, but also “walk the walk” in the steps before you become a client. Does the company talk in terms of your business, or are they more focused on theirs? In speaking with their customers and references, does it sound like they really care about their clients and dedicate the necessary time to your program?
In an industry where inventiveness and creativity and true commitment to a mutually beneficial relationship are not commonplace, finding a subscription box fulfillment company that can help you think outside of the box can be challenging. While the third party service provider fulfills the orders for subscribers, they are not free to do whatever they want. As a customer who hires a subscription box fulfillment service, you should have great input into the type of things that get sent out each month and the overall methodology. The subscription box company provider may act as an advisor as to the best way to put together the box, but ultimately, you should have the last say before orders are about to ship.
Don't rush your decision on which subscription box fulfillment company to choose. Take some time to learn how the company operates and ask to talk to some of their other customers. Remember they are working for you, and what they do, good or bad, will reflect on your company brand.
Finally, be careful in simply looking for the lowest priced provider. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. The lowest cost won’t provide the greatest quality in every situation.
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