You already know that order fulfillment is a critical part of your entire business operation. For ecommerce businesses that don’t have space or manpower, it alleviates the pressures of storage and shipping. On top of that, good inventory management is essential to creating the best possible customer experience and thereby developing strong, lasting customer relationships.
If you’re expanding your business or starting an ecommerce business, finding the right fulfillment center is something that takes time and attention. Fulfillment is not a one size fits all sort of operation and getting involved with a subpar fulfillment center or one that just doesn’t understand your business can be a disaster.
If you’re currently seeking a new fulfillment center due to your business plan of expansion, it’s advisable not to take changes to your current processes lightly. Good fulfillment can be make or break for ecommerce.
Short and Long Term Goals
You have to know, clearly, what are your short and long term goals for your ecommerce business. This is going to help you connect with a fulfillment center that will be able to grow with you and remain a partner in the future. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you suddenly have to change fulfillment providers because they cannot accommodate your growth.
This means evaluating what you need immediately like cutting down on shipping times and costs, improving order accuracy, and reducing the number and frequency of returns.
You’ll also want to think about the long term, where you want to be in a year, five years, and what you’ll need to get there. Maybe you’re going to want to expand your fulfillment operations multiple facilities, perhaps East and West coast. You may want to expand product lines to allow additional SKUs and inventory.
That’s present and future thinking and that’s what you need from a fulfillment center. Talk about these goals with your potential fulfillment partners. Make sure they’re set up to support your specific goals into the future and that they understand why you’re seeking to achieve them.
Level of Expertise
Take time to evaluate the fulfillment provider’s expertise within your market niche. As we’ve said, all ecommerce is not alike so your fulfillment needs are going to be unique. The diversity of goods sold over the internet signals the need for diversity in fulfillment. Can your fulfillment provider satisfy your diverse needs?
Find out what industry verticals they pick, pack, and ship. If you have a specialized product or you need a customized fulfillment process, you’ll want to look for a provider with similar clients.
Ask questions pertaining to the handling of products similar to yours. This can help you determine if the fulfillment provider is a good fit for you and your business. Also, you’ll discover if they are reinventing the wheel in order to accommodate your needs. You don’t want to get into that kind of situation. You need a provider with experience.
Many ecommerce fulfillment centers are set up with specialized robotics and equipment designed to handle specific types of products. When seeking a fulfillment center, makes sure you share your specific needs so that you can tell if they can handle your work or not.
What kind of storage do you need? If you’re working with high-value electronics then heavier security is going to be on your radar. If you’re selling larger items, like furniture, then ample storage is going to be one of your requirements.
Again, fulfillment is not one-size-fits-all. You need a center that’s going to be able to handle your specific products and have employees that are familiar with your specific needs. Employees who have prior knowledge of handling, packing, and shipping products similar to yours are a must. Lack of experience in this area is going to lead to problems in the area of efficiency.
Vision and Values
Any good business has a clear vision and strong values as part of its overall mission statement. When looking for a fulfillment provider, make sure they align with your vision and values.
The right fulfillment provider is a partner in your business. You want to find a partnership that’s going to last, strengthen and be in it for the long term. This is going to be a lot easier and a lot more productive if the fulfillment provider’s business model lines up with yours.
Do they believe and support the same things that you’re building or have built your company on, such as professionalism and maximizing customer satisfaction? You don’t want to get stuck in a long-term partnership where you suddenly find yourself looking for the exit.
Flexibility and Personalization
How flexible are they and how personalized can they be? Good questions to ask before you jump into a partnership. If you’re planning to build up your business over time or you’re seeking a new fulfillment provider because you want to expand quickly, these elements are going to be a major factor.
Explore the extent to which accommodations can be made as your business expands. Can they handle change on short notice? This is a crucial element if you’re looking to grow your business at any speed. With rapid expansion comes stressful situations. You’ll want a fulfillment provider with streamlined operations and vast resources to handle the stress and not fall apart.
If they are flexible and can give you personalized solutions to your business, then they are probably a good fit. Again, experience and familiarity with products and companies that are closer to yours will make this transition easier.
Support and Communication
How good is their support of your team and their communication?
When you first interact with a potential fulfillment center, pay close attention. Keep in mind that you’re getting a glimpse of how it’s going to be working with them in the long run.
During your initial inquiry or quote here are some questions that will be good to have in the back of your mind as the interaction progresses:
How quickly and accurately did you receive a response from them? Did they “get right back to you” in a few days, hours, or minutes? And, is that going to be good enough for you in a long-term relationship?
How knowledgeable was the rep in answering your questions? Did you get a feeling of confidence in the answers?
Did they actually take time to get to know your business a little bit? This goes beyond volume and storage. Did they ask about the origins of the company, your business mission, or your values? Did they seem like they would align with your goals?
Finding the right fulfillment partner is a process that requires you to ask a lot of questions. These questions aren’t about finding weaknesses or finding a gotcha, they are about the ability to set up open and proactive communication.
You’re looking for a business partner in a fulfillment provider, one who will be an aid, support as you take your business higher. Don’t take this lightly and don’t put yourself in a position where you have to make a rash decision that you’re soon going to regret.
A good fulfillment partner is going to provide constant, in-depth communication and also have answers and support for your team. The way they communicate this and offer support is a good indication of what your future relationship with them will be like.
It cannot be stated often enough, fulfillment is the lifeblood of an ecommerce business. It is the key to giving the customer the best possible experience across all touchpoints. The better the customer experience, the better chance to build strong, lasting productive customer relationships. Make sure your fulfillment center is on the same page as you.