Most eCommerce businesses rely on some kind of shipping and fulfillment process to operate successfully. For example, if you manufacture the products you sell in-house, you’ll need to find a way to ship those products to your customers. If you’re an online reseller, you may need to communicate with your warehouse and/or distributor to ensure orders are properly fulfilled.
On the surface, it seems simple, but when you’re planning, establishing, and scaling your business, you’ll likely run into a number of challenges that aren’t easy to resolve.
Biggest Challenges in Shipping and Fulfillment
These are some of the most significant problems you’ll need to confront:
- Shipping internationally. Shipping internationally can be a headache, but as long as you’re prepared for it, you can handle it smoothly. When shipping an item to a foreign country, you’ll need to fill out the proper customs forms (provided by your shipper), identifying what you’re shipping, how much it costs, and whether it was a purchase or a gift. In rare cases, these items may be held for days or weeks, and in many cases, your customer may be liable for additional customs fees when they receive your shipment. Include this information on your website to prevent any confusion.
- Selecting the right software. Most online businesses use some kind of shipping and fulfillment software to manage their orders, both for convenience and for consistent tracking purposes. However, picking the right platform can be a pain; some focus on specific industries, while others are limited in functionality. Platforms like Sellbrite, however, offer convenient options for both shipping and fulfillment, enabling users to print shipping labels when an order is made, or route those orders to a fulfillment center. Do your research and pick the platform that works best for your business.
- Shipping products safely. If you’re delivering anything that could be damaged or broken (i.e., probably everything), you’ll need to be careful how you pack it. Including bubble wrap, paper, and similar shock absorbing materials can prevent your items from being damaged as they shift during the shipping process. Choosing a reliable carrier can also mitigate the risk of any damage during shipment. Of course, you’ll also need to be frugal in choosing your packing materials, so you don’t interfere with your profitability.
- Keeping costs low. Shipping is going to cost you money, so you’ll need to keep those costs as low as possible—especially if you plan on offering free shipping to your customers. Big businesses like ValueMailers and eSupplyStore offer low-cost packaging materials you can use, but you’ll still need to make some important decisions with how you pack and ship your items. Most shippers charge based on the weight of your package, so keeping things as small and compact as possible is a must—so long as you also keep them safe (see above). Finding this balance, and working out a deal with a courier service are musts if you want to remain profitable.
- Communicating with vendors and partners. Unless you’re doing all the work of production and shipping yourself, you’re going to be communicating with vendors and partners throughout the shipping and fulfillment process. This can get complicated, especially if you have multiple vendors and partners to speak with. If they use different software, it may be challenging to get your systems to communicate with one another, and you’ll need to agree on consistent standards for shipping and fulfillment, as well as costs for any services provided.
- Addressing returns. No matter how good your products are, you’re going to have some customers who are unhappy. Accordingly, you’ll need to have a strong, consistent return policy in place. Managing returns requires a careful balance between cost, convenience for the customer, and simplicity, and finding a system that works can be difficult. Consider your options carefully, and if in doubt, go with the option that’s easier for the customer to understand and follow.
Establishing a streamlined shipping and fulfillment process isn’t going to happen overnight. You’ll discover new hiccups in your system, change partners, get new products, and face new challenges as your business develops. For that reason, you need to remain as flexible as possible, ready to adapt your systems for whatever comes next. Work with your team proactively to make changes as necessary, optimizing for both your customers and your overall profitability.