In recent years, e-commerce fulfilment has been growing at an exponential rate, surpassing the expectations of most industry analysts. Some sources have reported upwards of 15% growth in ecommerce sales each of the past few years, and project more of the same going forward over the next few years. Unlike more traditional brick and mortar sales channels, ecommerce sales require a very specialized set of fulfilment and delivery requirements, since the transactions take place in cyber space instead of a retail store. And while the fulfilment process for ecommerce transactions are less tangible, customer expectations can be even loftier than with more traditional sales channels, requiring a high level of service to meet and exceed expectations. In fact, many online merchants are turning to specialist ecommerce fulfilment services companies in order to provide the best and most professional service for online fulfilment and delivery.
Outsourcing Has Become a More Popular Option
Online fulfilment providers, or e-commerce fulfilment companies, specialize in connecting to merchants’ Web Stores, receiving orders directly from the online shopping cart, fulfilling the orders, and providing online support and reporting. Online retailers benefit from the specialization of these fulfilment providers, and can thus focus on the ever evolving and changing online marketing function for their business, as well as product development and procurement. And more and more companies are using an outsourced service as opposed to fulfilling orders in-house. According to a recent study by FulfilmentCompanies.net, 43.06% of all respondents indicated that they utilized outsourced fulfilment as the answer to their fulfilment challenges, as opposed to only 29.86% that reported using in-house fulfilment exclusively.
Use Caution When Looking for an Ecommerce Provider
Because of the explosive growth in online sales and the increased demand for internet fulfilment services, many traditional fulfilment companies are expanding into this niche in order to capitalize on the opportunity. But be careful if you find yourself in the market for e-commerce fulfilment services, since many of these providers may not be well suited and equipped to handle the specific demands and rigors of online fulfilment. In addition to the more customary vendor screening, to be able to separate the less than capable providers from the experienced professionals, pay attention to these key areas:
- Experience with Integration: At the heart of any successful e-commerce fulfilment relationship is a solid foundation of integration between the shopping cart, or Web Store, and the fulfilment providers’ inventory management system. Not only does the fulfilment company need to receive orders from the shopping cart, but they also need to either send tracking information back to the Web Store or provide custom emails to end consumers so that shipments can be tracked. Specialist companies will likely have pre-existing connections with most of the major shopping carts, or will be able to link to the Web Store with relative easy. Pay close attention to their focus on technology, which can be exemplified by their in house technology staff as well as the systems they employ. At the end of the day, a professional organization will make the integration process quick and painless – and it won’t cost a fortune either.
- Robust Online Reporting: Because the fulfilment firm will have full visibility over the shipping and order fulfilment process, it’s important that a robust set of reports are available for merchants to adequately oversee the distribution function. Expert companies will provide detailed reports, on a real-time basis, and will even offer flexibility in customizing the reports to meet specific needs.
- Customization: Speaking of customization, the most professional firms will be able to adapt to the specific needs of their clients, tailoring other pieces of the fulfilment process outside of reporting. For example, custom packing slips, invoices, and specialized packaging services help retailers put a unique spin on the overall fulfilment experience. Every detail matters, and fulfilment providers have to be able to adapt in order to assist merchants in differentiating from the competition.
- Additional Services: One of the most critical success factors for any partnership is the ability of the outsourced provider to be a true “partner” in the relationship. In the context of e-commerce fulfilment, that can be as simple as offering expertise and advice on how to grow existing online sales, new online sales channel recommendations for growth, or even complimentary services, such as inbound call support to help provide a high level experience from order to delivery.