Don’t Get Stuck – Best Practices for Outsourcing Your Product Fulfillment

With more and more individuals and small business owners selling online, getting the fulfillment side right has never been more important. It does not matter if you own a small eBay store, a third-party website or a large online operation – if your customers do not get what they ordered, or if the goods they ordered arrive damaged, you will not be in business very long.

If you want to succeed online, you need to offer your customers real value, and that means getting their orders to them in pristine condition in within a reasonable amount of time. No matter what kinds of products you focus on, what kind of mix you offer, you need to know that the fulfillment side of your business is being handled properly.

Choosing the Right Fulfillment Option

As a small business owner, you have four basic choices for your fulfillment services. You could handle all of your fulfillment in-house, filling up your warehouse, or your garage, with unsold inventory and picking orders as they come into your online store. You could also choose to do third-party fulfillment, paying the resource you choose based on order quantities and the amount of business you do.

You could choose to drop ship your products, relying on the drop shipper to hold up their end of the bargain and provide your customers with the quality goods they are expecting. Or you could outsource your fulfillment services, working with a reputable company to relieve the burden of in-house fulfillment and let you get back to doing what you do best – running your small online business.

The Advantages of Outsourced FulFillment

Each one of these four fulfillment options has its advantages and drawbacks, but there are some sound reasons to choose the outsourced fulfillment model. Outsourcing your fulfillment to a qualified expert can free up your resources, and your precious storage space, making it easier to grow your operations and build your store without the need to constantly store inventory in-house.

Outsourcing your fulfillment responsibilities to an expert can also speed your shipping times and improve your customer service. These days, customers do not want to wait for the products they order online. They have been trained to expect fast delivery, and it will be hard to grow your online store if you fail to provide that timely shipping.

When you choose to outsource your fulfillment, you are leaving that vital part of the business in expert hands. Shipping and fulfillment is what they do, and they have the expertise and the volume to do it right.

Choosing the outsourced fulfillment model can also free up your time and let you focus on running your online business more effectively. Instead of wasting your space storing inventory and squandering your precious time packing boxes and running to the post office, you can focus on providing great customer service, fielding questions, writing product descriptions and performing other activities that will enhance the value of your online store and help you build your brand and reputation.

Best Practices for Outsourced Fulfillment

As you can see, choosing the outsourced fulfillment model can provide a wide variety of benefits for small business owners and online stores, but understanding and following best practices will be key to success. Just outsourcing your fulfillment is not enough – you need to know that the outsourcing partner you choose is up to the job, and that they are as committed to quality customer service and the reputation of your business as you are.

One of the most important lessons of outsourced fulfillment is that business owners need to first make sure their own online ordering systems and back-end operations are in place and running smoothly. If the shopping cart function does not run smoothly, or the back-end systems are not linked to a robust inventory management system, even the best outsourced fulfillment will not be able to make up the deficit. No matter what kind of outsourced fulfillment partner you choose, you need to make sure your end of the operation is robust, flexible and ready to link to the fulfillment operator.

It is also important that any outsourced fulfillment partner you choose be flexible enough to handle post-order changes. Customers need to have the ability to change their orders before they ship, and your outsourced fulfillment partner should be ready to make those changes.

Keeping the lines of communication open between yourself and the outsourced fulfillment company is another essential best practice. You cannot simply assume that the outsourced fulfillment partner you have chosen will understand the intricacies of your business. You need to spell out exactly what you need, and what you expect, from the outset.

By communicating your needs and expectations at the start, you can avoid harmful delays down the road. Once your fulfillment partner knows what to expect, they will be able to operate more independently, speeding the time of delivery and moving orders from your shopping cart to the customer’s door.

Constant communication with your customers is just as important when working with an outsourced fulfillment partner. You do not want to leave your customers in the dark or make them wonder where their products are. The outsourced fulfillment partner you choose should communicate with your customers in a proactive manner, sending an email when the order is received, another when the order is packed and shipped and another when a delivery date has been established.

All of these communications should bear your company name and logo, and each should contain a link that allows the customer to track their shipment in real time. This ongoing communication is an essential part of the fulfillment process, and it should be a top priority for any outsourced partner you choose.

Last but not least, ongoing testing and refining of your fulfillment system and the relationship with your outsourced partner is essential. It is not enough to leave things in the expert hands of your outsourced fulfillment partner and assume that everything is running smoothly. If you want to build your online business and serve your customers, you need to test the fulfillment system and look for ways to make it even better.

From customer surveys and follow-up emails to your buyers to test orders and mystery shoppers, there are plenty of ways to test out your outsourced fulfillment and make sure it is operating smoothly and efficiently. When done right, outsourced fulfillment can enhance the value of your brand, boost your profits and help you make your online business the best it can be. Understanding, and abiding by, proven best practices can help you make the most of your outsourced fulfillment and build your business for the future.

Is Outdoor Advertising in the Cards for Your Brand?

How much time and effort (including money) do you invest in outdoor advertising for your brand?

While you may be doing just fine with online ads, newspaper and magazine promotions, even television and/or radio ads, getting your brand’s name seen and heard outside on billboards and other advertising vehicles is quite beneficial.

That said where do you start when it comes to outdoor advertising for your brand?

Finding the Right Messenger

In order to get your outdoor advertising game headed in the right direction, the first key is finding the right messenger.

While there are many marketing firms out there with which to work with, finding the one you truly click with is important.

Among the factors to take into consideration when sizing up different firms:

  • Experience – How long have they been in the marketing business, specifically outdoor advertising? Do they create billboard messages (see more below) that resonate with consumers?
  • Pricing – If you are working with a tight advertising/marketing budget, getting the most for your dollar is important. That said don’t automatically go with the cheapest firm out there.
  • Service – Like any company you work with, customer service can’t be compromised. Look for a firm that has a stellar track record in this area.

Lastly, talk to other friendly businesses you know, getting their two cents on which marketing firms they would recommend.

In many cases, those conversations can yield a lot of good information, information that may very well help you in selecting the best marketing firm out there.

What Will Your Message Be?

Once you have the right marketing firm to serve as your messenger, what will your message end up being?

For instance, if you work in the real estate business, you know all too well what a grind it can be in moving homes etc. With that in mind, your outdoor advertising needs to hit home with potential buyers and sellers.

Whether you are using billboard ads, ads at bus stations or on buses and taxis, even ads on Uber or Lyft vehicles, you need to make the most of the available space.

While many outdoor ads end up being rather mundane when all is said and done, be creative with your efforts.

Certain images (children, puppies etc.) tend to resonate with consumers, so see how you can work something into your message that will make your brand easy to remember. Although you are limited in the space you have to work with, creativity will oftentimes win you points (and hopefully business) with many consumers.

Lastly, key items to get on those ads would of course be your business name, phone number, and certainly a website address.

With millions and millions of consumers using the Internet these days to search for just about everything, don’t leave your online business card (your web address) off the ad.

Don’t Forget About Placement

Finally, where your outdoor ads are placed is as important as anything else you will do.

In working with a marketing firm, get their feedback on where your ad will likely get the most notice.

Going back to the real estate example a moment ago, having your billboard or other outdoor message situated just before people come into town is a good idea.

In many cases, people (oftentimes individuals and families not from the area) will drive through a town with the idea of looking at homes and the town in general. If they see your creative real estate ad just as they are coming into town, it gives them a Realtor with which to consider doing business with.

When it comes to getting your marketing message heard and seen by countless consumers, outdoor advertising should definitely be in the cards for your brand.

Photo credit: Google Images

About the Author: Dave Thomas covers marketing items on the web.

Is It Time For A New Warehouse Management Solution?

Your warehouse management system (WMS) is instrumental in managing everything from order fulfillment to keeping on top of your inventory. That means your WMS has an impact on many aspects of your business, including efficiency and cost effectiveness, accuracy of order fulfillment, customer satisfaction and how much profit you make!

If your warehouse management system is lacking, your business will suffer. Is it time you looked for a new warehouse management solution? Here are 7 signs to watch out for:

1. You’re In Paperwork Hell

A WMS should reduce the need for paperwork and make managing your warehouse much easier. Drowning in paperwork slows down your operations in several ways. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • Order confirmations are delayed while you wait for the right paperwork.
  • You have to deal with filing and storing all those pieces of paper.
  • Things get misplaced or end up with the wrong person.
  • Your staff have to waste time hunting down the right piece of paperwork.
  • Doing accounts takes a long time because you have to gather all the right paperwork first.
  • Inaccurate or incomplete records because no one could find the right paperwork.
  • Lost or delayed orders.
  • Incorrectly filled paperwork leading to a chain of frustrating events.

If paperwork is taking up your time and energy, then your WMS isn’t doing its job. Investing in a WMS that eliminates all but the most necessary paperwork is a solid investment in the efficiency and productivity of your business.

2. Your Workers Aren’t Time Efficient

The picking, packing and receiving processes are prime spots for time wasting and inefficiencies. It’s so easy to keep doing things the way you’ve always done them, without realizing how much that’s costing your business. Your workers should be able to pick, pack, receive or shelve items swiftly and efficiently without wasting time or effort. If they’re making redundant trips, wasting time going back and forth, or doubling back on their route, then they’re not time efficient. A new WMS will make managing your worker’s routes so much easier. The right WMS makes it easy to steamline systems and routes for the best possible use of your workers’ time.

3. You’re Seeing Far Too Many Lost Packages Or Customer Complaints

If you want your business to thrive, you’ll want to avoid these problems:

  • Orders going missing.
  • Orders getting delayed and going out late.
  • Incorrect orders getting shipped out

Wrong, late or lost orders reflect poorly on your business and will make your customers frustrated and unhappy with you. They won’t be so likely to do business with you in the future – and if they start talking about their experiences on forums or social media, your reputation could suffer. Happy customers who are delighted with the speed and efficiency of your service are the kind of customers who will order again. They’re the ones who will leave you five star reviews and recommend you to their friends and colleagues.

4. Your Business Is Expanding

Expanding your business is an exciting time It’s also the best time to take a look at your current WMS and make sure it’s up to the challenge of serving your expanding business. Perhaps you’ve recently added online ordering. Maybe you’ve increased your inventory or added a whole new product line. Or perhaps you’ve started finding and taking advantage of lots of new opportunities for your business. All of these are exciting developments – and all of them need a WMS that’s up to the task.

5. You Need To Simplify Your IT

IT is there to serve your business and help everything run seamlessly. If your current IT is giving you a headache, it’s time for a change. Here are some common indications that it’s time to simplify your IT:

  • You’re opening a new location and your current IT doesn’t have the capacity to expand to include it.
  • Your current system is old and inefficient and leaves you standing around while you wait for it to do what you want it to do.
  • Carrying out IT tasks is time consuming and counter intuitive.
  • Your current IT doesn’t play well with other IT systems in your business.

The right IT solution supports your business and makes it easy to streamline your warehouse processes. If your current WMS isn’t doing that, your business well benefit from an upgrade to a system that does.

6. You’re Working With New Technology

As your business grows and new technology becomes available, you might find your current WMS struggling to keep up. Whether you’ve changed the way your staff clocks in and out or upgraded your ordering system, if your WMS isn’t equipped to handle it you could run into problems and frustrations in the future.
Whenever you implement new technology, ask yourself if your WMS can handle it. Check thoroughly to see if your current WMS jives well with the new technology you’re using, and whether or not your current set up is ready to handle it.

7. It’s Just Not Efficient

This one is straightforward. The role of your WMS is to save you money, save you time, make your warehouse processes the most efficient they can be, make picking, packing, inventory management and all the other day to day tasks as effortless as possible, and cut down on human error.

Ask yourself if your WMS is doing all of those things. If it’s not, it’s time to find a WMS that can do all those things for your business.

Your warehouse management solution is the glue that holds your warehouse together and keeps everything where it’s supposed to be. If things are looking a bit ragged around the seams, an upgrade will give your warehouse a much-needed boost of productivity and efficiency.