Whenever you think of ecommerce, you will have to naturally think about warehousing, shipping, and fulfillment providers as these go hand in hand.
But finding a fulfillment provider that suits your requirement may not be as easy as expected. So if you are ready to make the leap and outsource the fulfillment of your orders, carefully consider below points on who you partner with.
Outsourcing order fulfillment can be a cost-effective way to free up time to focus on your business and meet the growing demand for your products. It could also be your downfall. Select the wrong fulfillment provider and you’ll end up with a swarm of dissatisfied customers – plus a reputation that may be impossible to fix.
Many fulfillment companies promise the world but do not all deliver. Less scrupulous providers make costly mistakes whether its shipping products to the wrong location, choosing incorrect inventory, or under-reporting damaged and lost products. If you’re not careful, you can lose control of the returns process and customer service.
There are lots of challenges when selecting a fulfillment provider, but they aren’t insurmountable. Choosing the right fulfillment house does require great deal of due diligence. After all, these companies will receive, store, pick, pack and ship your products and have an enormous impact on the customer purchase experience.
To protect the integrity of your brand you need a trusted partner or you could also use a fulfillment matchmaking service. To determine who that should be, put them through the paces with these six key questions.
Just How Reliable Are You?
Your business is only as good as your ability to get products to customers. If there are any snafus your enterprise will suffer. Consumers have grown accustomed to speedy delivery. They have little tolerance for delayed packages or incorrect items.
That’s why choosing the right fulfillment provider is so important. You need one that is reliable and backs the service it promises to offer. Taking the vendor’s word for it isn’t enough. They should have clear policies on the books that state how they plan to protect you.
Make sure to ask the fulfillment provider if they offer an inventory accuracy and an order accuracy guarantee and what these accuracy guarantees entail. With these guarantees, the vendor agrees to cover the wholesale amount of the product if inventory is damaged or lost. If the service provider doesn’t meet the order terms, the order accuracy guarantee kicks in, paying the shipment and sometimes a fee for the inconvenience.
Pay close attention to the accuracy rate and how the vendor gauges it. A 98% accuracy rate based on boxes shipped could be higher than an accuracy rate based on orders shipped, which includes errors. Furthermore, ask for customer references in order to validate any accuracy claims and to gauge the overall experience of other customers.
Do You Understand My Product Offering?
No fulfillment service provider is alike. Each one caters to different businesses. If you have a product that has special fulfillment requirements, it behooves you to find an expert in your field. Let’s say you sell glass figurines or high-end electronics. How the items are packaged and shipped is extremely important to your brand.
Before settling on a vendor, inquire about the types of customers they serve and how they handle their picking, packing, and shipping needs. Is the environment dust free if you’re selling computer parts? Are the items stored in a temperature-controlled warehouse if you’re selling perishable goods? How do they ensure fragile items make it to the customers in one piece?
Can You Easily Integrate with My Inventory System?
One of the perks of working with a fulfillment provider is that orders placed on your website or through other sales channels are automatically passed on to the vendor. But that can only happen if the fulfillment service provider has the right technology in place. Without proper technical integration between your shopping cart and the warehouse, it can become a shipping disaster. To confirm the technology is up to snuff, inquire about the logistics provider’s IT systems and more importantly request a demo.
You want to know how IT aspects are handled. Do they have an in-house IT team that works with you to ensure successful integration? Does the firm provide a testing environment to make sure everything works before going live? Is there ongoing support to help you if problems arise? Don’t forget to inquire about the fees associated with integration and tech support. It will vary from one fulfillment provider to the next.
Is Your Security Up to Snuff?
Security should be top of mind when interviewing potential fulfillment vendors. Fires, burglaries and other calamities can happen, negatively impacting your inventory. You want a partner that takes security seriously. Choose one that has monitoring of the operation via security cameras, has ample backup power sources in the event of a storm or natural disaster and can provide 100% uptime. A power outage in North Carolina won’t matter to customers in New York. If they can’t put it in writing move on to the next one.
Employee theft is also a problem in warehousing. For some people, the allure of making a quick buck off stolen goods is too enticing. To protect your inventory, find out if your potential fulfillment partner vets its employees. They should at the very least conduct background checks of staff handling the merchandise.
Why is Your Location Best for My Business?
Speed is of the essence when shipping products across the country or globe. Where your fulfillment partner’s warehouses are located is going to determine how quickly and cheaply packages arrive at their destination. If most of your sales come from the West Coast, it wouldn’t make sense to use a fulfillment provider in New York. Also consider growth. You may only ship in the U.S. today, but if you expand internationally, can the vendor support that? The closer your products are to your customers the better the service will be.
Can You Help with Customer Service?
Mistakes happen, even to the best of businesses. How your logistics partner handles them can make or break a company. Before choosing a partner, you have to understand how it deals with inquiries regarding orders. If the fulfillment provider doesn’t field those types of calls it falls on you. If the fulfillment provider offers that service the process for handling complaints is important. It only takes one bad conversation with a customer service rep for you to lose even the most loyal customer.
If you don’t need the fulfillment house to provide customer service to your end customers, it’s still important to determine the level of support that your team will receive. Do they offer a single point of contact to answer your questions about inventory and orders? Do they conduct regular account reviews with your team to ensure quality standards are being met? The extent to which service is provided to your team will be a huge determinant of the overall success of your outsourced relationship.
Fulfillment service providers can be a great way to save money and focus on growing your enterprise. But not all are the same. Choose the wrong one and your business can face irreparable damage. To avoid that, make sure to ask the tough questions before signing up. It’s much easier to do the work upfront than to scramble when the relationship sours.