When business owners think about ecommerce, fulfillment services are often out of sight and out of mind. Companies are so concerned about getting orders that they neglect to consider how they're going to fill them. Big mistake. Product fulfillment may be one of the last steps in the purchasing chain, but it's also one of the most important. After all, it's often the final touch-point between you and your customers, and final impressions -- which hinge on order accuracy, timely delivery and professional packaging -- are just as powerful as first.
When it comes to online fulfillment for ecommerce websites and other online businesses, reliability is key. And while there are several solid choices available to you, there are basically four options for handling online fulfillment:
1. You can handle online fulfillment yourself, which allows immediate shipping and gives you control over customer service.
2. You can outsource order fulfillment services to local suppliers in order to free up storage space and save on shipping costs.
3. You can choose to handle online fulfillment via drop shipping, sending select products directly from your distributor to your customer.
4. You can outsource ecommerce fulfillment services to fulfillment companies, which store and ship all of your inventory for you.
Stay in control of online fulfillment with do-it-yourself solutionsIf your volume is low and your need for giving good customer service high, do-it-yourself product fulfillment is a good option, particularly when you're just starting out.
Cut online fulfillment costs by partnering with local suppliersIf you don't want to tie up your money, or fill your office, with massive amounts of inventory, consider entering into a partnership with local suppliers or bricks-and-mortar retailers. You can call in orders, and your partners can ship them locally for you, saving on shipping costs, eliminating storage needs and providing business to both of you.
Use drop shipping for product fulfillment, putting shipping in wholesalers' handsFor a fee, you can send orders for pre-specified products directly to your wholesalers, who will handle ecommerce fulfillment services for you. And because you only pay for products that you sell, you avoid spending money on overstock.
drop-shipping services at Business.com.
For full-service online fulfillment solutions, turn to fulfillment housesWhile they tend to be more expensive than other online fulfillment solutions, fulfillment companies offer complete turnkey ecommerce fulfillment services. They'll keep your inventory in stock, they'll ship it in your boxes and with your labels, and most will even offer extra services, such as back-end integration with your online store.
- When choosing order fulfillment services, consider vendors' locations. Because 70 percent of the nation's population is located in either the Northeast, Southeast or Midwest, you can save on shipping costs if you choose a partner that's centrally located within those regions, in Ohio or Pennsylvania, for instance. You want to choose a company that's close to your customers, not to you.
- Evaluate online fulfillment companies for space. Ask how large their warehouse is and make sure they can accommodate you as you grow. Still, be careful not to choose a company that's too large for your current size, as many product fulfillment companies require a minimum order volume and charge extra when you don't meet their target.
- If you decide to outsource your order fulfillment services, make sure your chosen vendor gives you a dedicated account manager who can address problems directly and offer solutions.
- The best online fulfillment companies guarantee their services. Look for companies who promise 100 percent precision when it comes to order accuracy and delivery time. More than that, though, look for companies who provide multiple shipping options, as flexibility is key.
- Ask potential online fulfillment companies for references; ask those references about the company's accuracy, prices and customer service.
- Look for ecommerce fulfillment services that include not just shipping, but also returns.
- While free shipping can be a differentiator for your company within the online marketplace, charging your customers for shipping and handling can help you pay for the costs of outsourcing your online fulfillment services.