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.