By Maureen Alley, Managing Editor
For e-commerce business owners, product and
marketing are typically core competencies while
managing inventory and shipping solutions often are
not. But not focusing on these parts of a business
can often result in a poor consumer experience. This
is where fulfillment companies step in as partners
with expertise to allow merchants time to focus on
their bigger business goals.
SpeedFC and Dotcom Distribution are two fulfillment companies that
work closely with e-commerce merchants. SpeedFC offers an end-toend
solution providing customers with website development, hosting,
fulfillment and call center solutions. Dotcom Distribution offers customer
service and fulfillment management. However, it does not offer
Utilizing an up-to-date inventory management system is vital because it
tells merchants when to send more inventory to the fulfillment company,
and where their inventory is located. It also ensures customers are
purchasing product that is available.
Dotcom uses radio frequency scanning to manage inventory. “It’s
important to scan products when you receive them and scan them as
they move from receiving to storage, and scan again when they are being
packed into a shipping carton. The scanning controls the accuracy of
shipping and quantity of items you’re reporting in the inventory system,”
says Doug Sternberg, vice president of client relations, Dotcom
SpeedFC’s inventory system, SpeedOrder also allocates orders against
available inventory. “SpeedOrder checks the order, releases the order to
the distribution center to pick, pack and ship. SpeedOrder will then put
information on tracking orders and e-mail customers with shipping confirmation.
Then we update all the associated inventory and orders related
to those shipments,” says Jeff Zisk, president and CEO, SpeedFC.
Order management systems are typically integrated with the merchant’s
website to guarantee accurate information and order processing.
If SpeedFC operates the merchant’s site, they receive the order directly
from the site. Otherwise, they receive the order in an XML or FTP file.
Preparing for the Holidays
The holiday commerce season is a big part of any retail business requiring
planning and forethought to meet consumer demands. And this is
no exception for e-commerce merchants. “Merchants need to be able to
forecast their business to the extent where they can order and send merchandise
to a vendor’s facility as much before the holiday season as possible,”
Fulfillment companies typically start planning for the holiday
season in April and May. Starting the conversation with these partners
early in the year guarantees everyone is up-to-date, inventory
is filled, promotions are ready and packaging is in stock.
Some merchants provide gift wrapping and gift boxes as part of
their customer service. If this is something you plan to offer, it’s
important to note that these items often need to be ordered well in
advance — as well as notify your fulfillment partner that this is part
of your program. “If you’re going from no gift wrapping to 80 percent
gift wrapping, it’s a huge difference for the warehouse and that
can negatively affect shipping dates,” Sternberg says.
Website functionality also needs to be considered when planning
for the holiday season. “Focus on consumers so they can use
gift cards and promotions, which are more appropriate gift opportunities,”
says Beth Roy, vice president of consumer magazines and
media, CDS Global. CDS Global is a fulfillment company focused
on the publishing media industry, consumer products, nonprofit
and financial markets.
Choosing the Right Partner
Partnering with a fulfillment company that will represent your brand
in a positive light falls heavily on customer service. When considering
a fulfillment company, it’s important to look at how it will work
with your customers prior to purchase as well as after purchase.
Before-purchase customer service includes accurate, available
inventory so customers purchase product that is in stock. It’s also
important to make sure product description is accurate.
After-purchase customer service relies on providing contact
information if customers have questions or concerns, as well mitigating
the wait time before they receive a response. “We need to
execute flawless customer service — looking at how we’re treating
the customer. Are we giving them opportunities if they have questions;
are we giving them choices,” Roy adds.
Another factor that can influence customer experience is shipping
time. SpeedFC has been updating its daily shipping times over
the last few months and now will ship the same day as order placement
if the order was placed by 3 p.m.
One of the enticing aspects of partnering with a fulfillment company
is it eliminates the need for the e-commerce merchant to house
product. This eliminates the investment on a building that may only
be used during the holiday season, Sternberg says.
The other advantages of outsourcing inventory management
range from low overhead, assistance in areas of low expertise and
increased brand reputation. “[Merchants] can look to us who have
the expertise in these areas and they can focus on their business to
drive it forward,” Roy adds.