In years past, fulfillment companies simply served as an outsourced shipping department, storing goods for companies and shipping orders to their customers. While the breadth of services have steadily increased over time in order to meet the rigorous demands of multi-channel fulfillment, including retail and e-commerce fulfillment environments, fulfillment has largely been…fulfillment. That is, until a new breed of fulfillment companies have cropped up that offer services outside of the scope of packing and shipping.
How Innovation in Fulfillment Got Started
Perhaps it all started with some of the major online marketplaces, such as Amazon and eBay, offering fulfillment for companies selling on their respective marketplaces. For smaller and more regional logistics companies looking to compete with services like Fulfillment by Amazon, new and creative ideas had to be fostered to level the competitive playing field. After all, it seemed to make sense for a large number of sellers to not only list their products on a website but also have that same company fulfill orders. If traditional fulfillment companies didn’t want to become a dinosaur, they had to come up with a way to win back sellers.
Further complicating the competitive landscape was the introduction of additional sales channels online – from social media to crowdfunding platforms and beyond. Online merchants, with each passing day, had more and more sales channels online at their disposal – which was particularly intriguing for smaller and start-up businesses because they were finally afforded the opportunity to compete with bigger retailers and businesses. In fact, with the world at their fingertips, online merchants were only limited by the time and investment required to participate in these sales meccas.
Opportunity and Timing Collided for Forward Thinking Fulfillment Firms
Naturally, the first wave of fulfillment innovators chose the path of becoming a niche expert for fulfillment services in these specific online marketplaces. For example, some firms chose to focus specifically on fulfilling order for crowdfunding campaigns, or became e-commerce fulfillment experts – building sophisticated integrations with web store software programs so that they could receive online order, offer real-time reporting, and even in some cases offering support for inbound calls and order taking.
But a new breed has evolved to take things to the next level of service, offering even more than fulfillment itself for businesses that either don’t have the time or resources to take advantage of every opportunity. For Utah Based IFS (International Fulfillment Solutions), the move from straight fulfillment to value added services was obvious. According to Ryan Treft, President at IFS, the company saw a need to assist companies with selling in various online marketplaces. “We have essentially created a distribution arm of our company which allows us to offer the channels as additional sources of revenue for our clients. Half the battle in selling a product into retail has nothing to do with the product itself…it has to do with convincing the buyer to set you up as a vendor. That’s where we come in. We are the vendor of record with 21 major ecommerce retailers. We ask our fulfillment clients if they want us to manage sales of their product into any of these channels. Once they pick the ones relevant to their brand, we submit and we can add much easier than they can. We confirm the order, we provide the tracking, we buy product from our own clients to manage the channels they have chosen. “
This unique add-on service does a couple of things for companies like IFS. First, it adds tremendous value for fulfillment customers. According to Danny Villarreal of Zarbee’s (who utilizes IFS for value added services), “We have been able to fully offload our online orders and samples fulfillment and have confidence that our customers will be taken care of. The great part is that we can now focus on driving our marketing and business and know our fulfillment is in a solid place.”
But adding value isn’t the only benefit. In addition, these services make the entire process faster, bringing sales and profits to growing companies sooner than later. For another IFS customer, ATGStores.com, the add-on service was an easy decision. Because the process to add new brands is quite extensive, having a relationship with a current vendor already intact makes the process easy and to get things done fast. They were able to get from point A to point B much quicker than on their own.
Innovation Will Continue to Shape the Fulfillment Industry
Outside of the benefits to customers, value added, online sales oriented services does another very crucial thing – it allows these creative fulfillment companies to compete with much larger fulfillment marketplace competitors and fulfillment companies in general. As is true in business, healthy competition and changes in the marketplace spur innovation and growth. It will no doubt be interesting to see what will come about as a result in this most recent shift in fulfillment services. As online selling and logistics continue to collide, companies will continue to find new ways to add additional value and further differentiate from their competitors, which will help propel online sellers to a new level of potential success and continue to disrupt the logistics industry.