The increasing popularity of online shopping makes contracting with a professional order fulfillment service a wise move for many small e-tailers seeking to streamline their operations.
Rather than dealing with the varying time, labor, and cost requirements to ship orders, a fulfillment service does the job for you. Your products, labels and other unique packaging can be stored in the fulfillment company’s facilities. When orders are placed—either through your website or directly to the fulfillment firm’s system—the contractor packs and ships the items. Many firms also handle customer service and returns/exchanges.
But as with any other contracted service, shopping for the right fulfillment firm requires some research on your part. A good place to start is the Mailing and Fulfillment Service Association (MFSA), a professional organization for mailing and fulfillment companies.
MFSA’s website (www.mfsanet.org) offers a search feature that can help you search for candidate vendors depending on the services you’re interested in. Many offer direct mail services for catalogues and sales flyers, as well as creative and design assistance to customize your packages and labels.
Once you’ve identified some candidate firms, learn as much as you can about their experience. Ask for references from companies similar to yours and contact them about their experience with the fulfillment house, especially problems and how well they were resolved.
The costs of fulfillment services will also be a consideration. Some may require minimum orders, charge extra for certain types of packaging, or add storage and inventory fees. There’s also the matter of product management; how easily can you integrate new items with different characteristics? And, of course, ask what guarantees do they offer for responsiveness and shipping quality. The last thing you want is customers receiving late or damaged orders, or not getting them at all.
You may well find that your final selection involves some trade-offs. A fulfillment house located nearby may not offer as much value as one further away, which means getting your products to them will cost more. You may also find that while handling fulfillment in-house may cost more than outsourcing, but also gives you greater control over the process, and keeps you one step closer to your customers.
To learn more about shipping and fulfillment options for your small business, contact Raleigh SCORE, “Mentors to America’s Small Business.” Raleigh SCORE is a nonprofit organization of more than 50 professional volunteers who provide free, confidential business mentoring and training workshops to small business owners. To schedule an appointment, go to http://raleigh.score.org.