Choosing an e-commerce fulfillment partner is a big milestone in your company’s growth — and a crucial decision. After all, not only will this partner handle the basics of warehousing, packaging, and shipping your product, but you’re also trusting them with significant drivers of your customers’ satisfaction. You’re counting on them to provide speed, reliability, seamless management of your supply chain, and represent your brand as if it were their own. It’s a tall order, and not every fulfillment company is up to the job.
If you’ve been managing order fulfillment in-house but it’s becoming too time-consuming, resource-intense, and just plain complicated, here are six questions to ask when interviewing prospective e-commerce fulfillment partners.
Do they have the distribution network you require?
One of the easiest ways to keep shipping costs low and delivery times short is to choose a fulfillment partner that has facilities strategically located close to where your customers are. However, you need a balance because shipping from a single fulfillment center can cost you through unsatisfied customers, while shipping from too many sites can cost you by eating up your profitability and potentially leaving you with back orders. Strategically placed warehouses around the globe let you deliver locally or within region which translates to lower shipping costs and quicker delivery times. Where your products reside before going to the customer allows you to promote your product to neighboring countries and broaden the range of your brand.
Can they integrate with your e-commerce software?
Whether you’re using an e-commerce or enterprise resource planning platform like Shopify, WooCommerce, or Magento or you have your own homegrown software solution, make sure that your prospective partner can seamlessly integrate their warehouse management software with your system. This is a key part of ensuring a smooth ordering process for your customers.
Do they offer online inventory tracking?
Another important feature, that not all fulfillment companies offer, is visibility into your inventory quantities so that you can track on-hand levels any time, from anywhere, and prevent stockouts. You should also have access to detailed data so you can analyze ordering trends and keep best sellers in stock, while also forecasting intelligently to get through those peak periods smoothly.
Are they looking to save you money?
Every fulfillment company you interview will tell you they want to help you eliminate waste and save money, but do your homework to be sure you choose a partner who can back up that promise. Get specific details of how they have saved other clients money. Find out how they expect to save your business money. Get some comparison pricing, and don’t forget to ask for references so you can hear directly from their current or past customers.
Do they offer more than just fulfillment?
You’re focused on securing a partner who can ensure seamless order fulfillment, inventory management, and speedy delivery. There are many fulfillment companies to choose from that offer exactly that. But depending on your business strategy, you might want to look for a fulfillment partner who can do more and offer you more such as kitting and custom order assembly, or supply chain consulting – especially if you have goals for going global. Maybe your products are perfect candidates for customized printed pieces that pack the potential to increase sales, or maybe you are interested in branded packaging that can promote your image. Make sure the services they offer match your business model and can help promote your brand.
Will they grow with you?
Your company is in growth mode and you’ve made the big decision to add e-commerce to your business— that’s why you need an e-commerce fulfillment partner to begin with — but make sure to envision your needs beyond the next year or two. Find a partner who has the ability to scale with you for the next decade and more. Even if you’re not shipping internationally now, consider whether it might one day be a possibility and choose accordingly. Look at any prospective partners’ clients to be sure they can successfully serve companies of the size and revenue that you one day hope to be. Ask the right questions now, and you’ll be more likely to find the partner who can help you get there.
Interested in learning more about our e-commerce fulfillment capabilities? Get in touch with us to learn how we can deliver for you.
As your subscription box business grows, so do the benefits of finding the right fulfillment partner. A third-party logistics (3PL) provider is a company that specializes in warehousing, packing, and shipping, but the right partner can do far more than house and ship your boxes. From custom printing to inventory management, the ideal partner can streamline your entire supply chain, delivering big — and sometimes unexpected — efficiencies. Consider these potential savings when deciding whether to keep fulfillment in-house or search for a partner.
Even if you go with the most basic of 3PL providers, the move will likely end up saving you plenty of time. You and your team no longer have to spend your days buying packing materials, printing shipping labels, styling boxes, or managing returns — those day-to-day operations become the responsibility of the 3PL provider. Whether you’re aggregating products from outside vendors or separating bulk shipments, your partner takes care of carefully kitting your boxes so that you can focus on growing your business.
How much of your energy currently goes to sorting out shipping errors or tracking down missing packages? A fulfillment partner will have solid relationships with all the major distributors and established processes for ensuring smooth shipments, which will not only save you more time but can really be the deciding factor when it comes to delivering a positive end-to-end customer experience. Some amount of customer service recovery is required in every business, but the best way to increase overall shipping satisfaction is not to fix a problem promptly when it arises — it’s to make sure each box arrives at its destination on time to begin with.
As you grow, you might think it makes sense to take on additional space, but the risk of expanding your square footage is that virtually all subscription box companies go through seasonal cycles. There will be times when you need more warehouse space — around the holidays, for example — and times when you need less. Why pay for space you don’t need? A good partner will provide flexibility during peak demand periods.
With the subscription box industry experiencing explosive growth and change, it is essential that your box can stand out from the crowd. Eye-catching designs and customized packaging are key when it comes to giving your customers that extra excitement when their box arrives. Plus, a specially styled box offers you consistency in branding.
Make your box even more unique, work with a partner who offers value-added services like variable data printing to personalize those print pieces for each individual customer — 28 percent of subscription box customers say personalization is the most important reason they continue to subscribe.
Warehouse managers, customer service employees, shipping specialists: the number of people it takes to run a successful subscription box operation skyrockets as your business grows. And with additional employees comes concomitant paperwork, scheduling, and the need for even more space.
An experienced, professional fulfillment partner will take the extra worry about tax forms and timesheets off your plate. They know the questions to ask when hiring to ensure that the individuals getting your orders out are not only highly qualified but care about representing your brand.
All of these efficiencies add up fast and have an exponential impact on your available resources as you grow. Bottom line: finding the right fulfillment partner early on allows you to devote more of your time, energy, and money to scaling your business model and finding new ways to delight your customers. The right partner can also extend your revenue stream through an e-commerce store and global expansion.
When searching for a partner to produce, manage, and distribute your print materials, look for these five essential capabilities to maximize your ROI.
Print to Demand
There are major benefits to working with a print service provider who has invested in today’s incredibly sophisticated print technology, particularly when it comes to digital printing. Traditional offset presses are cost-effective for large print runs, but digital printing allows us to print the exact quantity needed for distribution — and to print more as soon as more is needed. There is virtually no difference in quality between the work produced by an offset press and the digital presses that are available today, and there is much to be gained.
A print-to-demand approach (also known as print-on-demand or POD) reduces inventory space requirements and the extra costs associated with keeping that inventory. It also creates far less waste and reduces scrap costs.
When you are able to print content to actual consumer demand, it gives you the ability to produce more accurate, relevant content. Gone are the days of scrapping outdated inventory over a minor edit; simply upload a new print-ready file and place a new order. Revisions are stored in the system for easy management, which also makes it easy to order and distribute customized pieces that are more personal and thus more effective.
Get (Really) Personal
Another reason to evaluate printing partners based on the equipment they’re using is that digital printing allows for the use of variable data, which means you can truly personalize each piece you print. Whether you’re printing collateral, educational materials, or promotional pieces, speaking directly to the individual can make a huge difference; for instance, personalizing direct mail has been shown to increase response rates by 300%.
To get the best return on your personalized pieces, go beyond simply using the recipient’s first name; today’s technology allows for the personalization of content, imagery, maps, and landing pages based on information like the individual’s location, demographics, or behavioral history. No matter what type of audience data you have, chances are you can tailor the message based on it.
Print Where Your Customers Are
If your customers are all over the world, you need a global print partner. This means not only someone who has a presence everywhere you have customers, but also someone who can handle the challenges associated with global distribution, from language and cultural barriers to international tax and customs issues.
By printing where your customers are, you can drastically reduce your shipping costs. Plus, working with a printer who has a local footprint makes it even easier to geographically customize your content in a relevant way.
Judge Your Print by its Cover
When it comes to print collateral, looks do matter. Customers are more likely to respond positively to a well-designed piece printed on quality paper using finishing techniques that bring the imagery and content to life. These aesthetic choices affect the customer experience your print creates, and you want that experience to be consistent with your organization’s brand. The right print partner can help you choose the highest-impact details to focus on in order to maximize your message, within your budget.
Use Online Print and Fulfillment Ordering
For global businesses, 24/7 access to print ordering is a must-have, saving you time and money. But online print ordering also gives you the benefit of transparent content management, the ability to complete and upload your own revisions, and the added security of version management — all in your own hands, on your schedule.
Even better than being able to order a print run at any time of day or night is being able to extend that ability to your own customers. The Elanders Online Ordering Solution can be branded to your company and allows your customers to place and pay for their own orders at their leisure. With Elanders handling e-commerce and order fulfillment, you’re free to spend your valuable time on your next big idea.
There’s a difference between working with a printer and working with a print partner. Take a look at our recent case studies to learn how Elanders collaborates with clients to develop solutions that add value throughout the entire production chain.