As brick-and-mortar stores close due to the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers are turning to online shopping and thus putting pressure on merchant’s fulfillment processes. During this time, you could be opening a digital storefront and shipping for the first time. You could be dealing with closed warehouses and shipping suspensions by Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) causing you to diversify your supply chain. Some merchants might be experiencing an influx of online orders and trying to handle it the best way they can.
No matter what your situation is, we hope to cover your top options when it comes to successfully shipping online orders.
eCommerce Shipping Options
Online fulfillment takes the organization of all the people, processes, and technology needed to deliver an order to a customer. This includes everything from your online checkout processes, payment provider, and order management system to how you pick, pack, and ship items. A lot can go wrong from the time an order is placed then shipped.
Unless you’re Amazon, you probably don’t specialize in logistics either. Depending on your situation though, you have several options when it comes to improving your fulfillment processes.
1. Shipping Software
Shipping software helps retailers import, organize, and process all their online orders for fast and reliable shipping. They help you create and print shipping labels and compare carrier rates. Shipping software is an affordable way to take care of the tedious part of domestic shipping, while ensuring you’re using the most cost-effective carriers.
If you’re a small business, shipping software might be all you need. If you’re a high-volume seller, you’ll most likely use shipping software alongside your ERP or other technology used to pick, pack, and ship items.
A few popular shipping software options are:
2. Integrating your ERP
If you have an ERP, consider system integration software to connect it to your eCommerce platform, 3PL provider, or shipping software. System integration platforms enable merchants to sync data and automate processes between their systems like online order processing, inventory synchronization, and financial reporting. System integration keeps your data accurate and accelerates daily processes like order fulfillment.
For example, without integration, merchants often hand-key an online order from their eCommerce platform into an ERP for processing and then hand-key shipping/tracking data back to the eCommerce platform to complete the process. This can be slow and prone to errors like mistyping a SKU number or shipping address.
If you’re experiencing an influx of orders and slow fulfillment processes, integration could be the best solution for now to ensure timely and accurate deliveries.
Learn more about how nChannel automates order processing for your online business.
3. Outsourcing to a Third-party Logistics (3PL) Provider
Realizing that most retailers aren’t going to specialize in logistics, 3PLs, or third-party logistic providers, offer a way to outsource either part or all your fulfillment process such as warehouse management, transportation of goods, reporting and inventory forecasting, etc. There are many different types of 3PLs that serve different needs. Some 3PLs will specialize by industry or area of logistics.
Merchants use 3PLs because you don’t need to incur the cost to specialize in logistics. Instead, you can benefit from a 3PL who can leverage relationships and volume discounts that you as a merchant couldn’t otherwise achieve. Along those lines, 3PLs also save retailers from investment in warehouses, staff, technology, and transportation. Retailers can opt out of this responsibility and instead focus on core operations and customer experience.
Popular 3PLs include:
- Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA)
- DHL eCommerce
- Rakuten Super Logistics
- Red Stag Fulfillment
- eFulfillment Service
Learn more about 3PLs here:
- What is a 3PL and Why Are They Important to Retailers?
- Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) Alternatives
- Is FBA Worth the Cost?
4. Drop shipping
Drop shipping is a fulfillment process in which merchants buy goods from a vendor (like a manufacturer or wholesaler) who ships them directly to the consumer who bought them from the merchant. Here’s how it works:
- Merchants establish business relationships with vendors that carry products they want to sell. If selling in smaller quantities, merchants buy from wholesalers on an as-need basis.
- Merchants offer these products either on their online stores.
- When a customer places an order, the vendor is notified of the purchase and charges you the wholesale price of the product
- The vendor is then responsible for shipping the product to the customer.
The best part of this process is that the vendor is completely invisible to the customer. The product appears to be shipped from you the merchant. Drop shipping differs from traditional fulfillment process in that you don’t have to keep inventory on-hand. Instead, the vendor represents your stock of inventory. You only purchase from them when you sell an item.
Drop shipping allows you to sell items without ever actually seeing or shipping the item yourself. This becomes a very easy and attractive fulfillment process for merchants, especially if you’re trying to quickly launch a new online store or diversify your product line.
If you think drop shipping sounds like a good solution for you, read our Drop Shipping 101 Guide.
5. International Shipping
The international shipping experience for consumers today can range from incredibly simple and satisfying to incredibly frustrating. And, most of the experience depends on how the merchant sets up their shipping processes. How do you prepare your operations for international fulfillment?
One of the first steps is finding a technology partner that will guide you through the setup and launch process of international shipping, and is a complete solution. There are a lot of moving parts and government regulations to wade through, but a good partner can handle all of it. This allows you to focus on your product line and customers.
The other step is to speak with your fulfillment provider, usually a 3PL. Most of the best international shipping solutions offer an integration with any 3PL, so you should let them know what your plans are and how you will be launching your international shipping plan.
Lastly, savvy merchants are now including the customs and duties fees at checkout. This leads to a smoother experience as the fees are usually lower and can speed up delivery times as local customs offices don’t need to determine the fees.
Read through our Q&A with international shipping provider FlavorCloud to learn more about the complexities of international shipping.
Learning from Others
Recognizing the recent challenges of online fulfillment, many software vendors, service providers, and merchants are offering their expertise. One of our favorite resources currently is this panel discussion with direct-to-consumer brands and how they’re overcoming supply chain challenges due to COVID-19. Listen to the full panel session here: BVA Virtual Conference – How is the Coronavirus Impacting the Back-End of DTC Businesses?