Choosing a fulfilment company that suits your needs is not an easy task. Choose wrongly and you will lose time, money and customers. Chose wisely and you will have the time and energy to make your eCommerce business grow.
The first thing you need to do is to assess your company’s needs – not just the current needs, but the future ones too. Clearly, a lot will depend on what you are selling – type of products, weight, size, packaging etc. For example, not all
fulfilment companies handle heavy products, such as furniture. Some fulfilment companies specialise in specific products, such as organic products (which need a Soil Association certified organic fulfilment warehouse), supplements or cosmetics.
Some products need special facilities and handling (from some food products to fragile items), and others require a licence to store and distribute – most notably, alcohol.
Businesses selling apparel or jewellery sometimes need bespoke packaging, a costly service which is not offered by all fulfilment companies. Multiple small, cheaper products per order means that picking and packing fees will eat into your profits, so maybe other options should be considered. The type of products you sell will affect your choice of a fulfilment partner.
Choosing the shipping model that works best for you is another important factor. Is it ‘Just In Time’? Drop-shipping? Or maybe Amazon or Ebay? Again, you need a fulfilment partner that specialises in your preferred shipping model. So if you work with Amazon for example, you will need an Amazon fulfilment company.
So, now that you have short-listed some fulfilment companies that suit your needs, you need to check their fees. One thing you need to remember is that cheaper is not necessarily better and might even turn out to be more expensive in the long run. Another thing to keep in mind is that the pricing policy should be clear and transparent – which means that there should be no hidden costs. Generally, costs include a set-up fee (account set-up and integration), receiving, picking and packing products, shipping orders, package and storage.
A fulfilment company’s returns policy is also very important. State-of-the-art warehouse management systems minimise mistakes and take away the headache of returns handling and dealing with unhappy customers. These systems will also give you access to order status in real time too, making it much easier for you to see strengths and weaknesses.
However, some customers will send products back – it is inevitable. For some products, such as apparel, returns can even reach up to 40%. Whether you prefer the returned items to be forwarded to you or be inspected and re-stocked, make sure that your fulfilment partner gives you these options. Again, top-notch warehouse management systems and, of course, simple returns procedures will help reduce the amount of time and money spent.
Getting to know your potential fulfilment partner is always a good idea. As well as talking to sales people, checking the company’s website and social media will give you a better idea of the company, its strong points and its culture. It will also give you a chance to find testimonials and read what other companies say about their fulfilment partner. What is important is that the company culture matches yours, as it could make co-operation smooth and easy. If convenient, of course, visit the company’s facilities so you can see for yourself what the company, the warehouse and people are like, as well as how they work. This will give you the opportunity to see first hand the whole process, from receiving an order to picking and packing and shipping.
Last, but certainly not least, make sure that the fulfilment company you will work with has a top-notch warehouse management system. As mentioned above, nowadays this means that it should offer automation of order processing. Making sure that the software can be integrated with the eCommerce system you are using is, needless to say, probably the most important aspect. Whether you are selling on a marketplace (like eBay, Amazon etc.) or on your own website, whichever software you are using (from carts like Shopify to management systems like Brightpearl) integration is going to save you time and money and gain you some happy customers.