22 Tips for Ecommerce Shipping and Fulfillment

Most sellers don’t get excited by shipping and fulfillment – and with good reason. It’s time-consuming, messy, repetitive and inconvenient. Great sourcing and marketing translate directly into profits, but fulfilling orders seems like a necessary evil.

So I asked twenty online sellers and ecommerce suppliers from around the world if there’s anything sellers can do to make fulfillment more, well, fulfilling.

It turns out that there’s plenty you can do, and with some creative thinking fulfillment can even be turned into a competitive advantage. Here’s what the experts said:

1. It’s Not Just Boring Logistics

John Lawson

At least fifty percent of our business is fulfillment, we can do everything right up front but if they open that box and things are not right it messes up the entire experience. You gotta get that part right.
John Lawson, CEO, 3rd Power Outlet and ColderICE Media

2. Have a Daily Routine

Ofir Amsalem

Being on top of your fulfillment process means constantly reducing costs and clearing your time. Setting up a daily routine will help the process flow and make it much easier to spot bottlenecks and cut costs. Get help the second your business allows it; your business needs your invested time in order to grow – no growing is done while packing!
Ofir Amsalem, Head of Ecommerce, AVH Diamonds

3. Be Creative With Storage

Neil Waterhouse

If you need more storage there are a few options available. You can rent an unused garage in your area, or a more secure (and expensive) storage unit. If you have room on your property, consider purchasing a garden shed, enclosed box trailer, old truck or an old shipping container. As we were growing, we purchased an old furniture truck with over 1 million kilometers on the clock which could hold a whole unloaded shipping container. This saved us a ton of money, then when we finished with it, we sold it for the same price we paid for it. Just make sure whatever you use is waterproof!
Neil Waterhouse, Author of Million Dollar eBay Business From Home

4. Get Help With Export Regulations

Rory O'Connor

International markets can open a whole new world of growth opportunities and potential for merchants, but in my experience the complexity of finding accurate information about international shipping can often be a reason for avoiding international expansion. A little known but powerful free service offered by UPS helps with quickly navigating the complexities. It should be the first port of call for anyone looking to investigate the shipping regulations for a particular territory.
Rory O’Connor, CEO and Founder, Scurri

5. Know Your Own Worth

Ian Dade

When planning their fulfillment process, many people never consider the cost of their own time. Consider how many hours per day you are actually involved in the processing of orders, and the cost to your business. Many retailers will spend their time processing orders thinking that they are helping the business, but in reality they are probably holding the business back by focusing on the wrong areas.
Ian Dade, Senior Account Manager, UK Fulfilment

6. Pick Suppliers’ Brains

John Lawson

Go and meet your fulfillment suppliers. They’re great resources. You will be amazed at what they can do and tell you about the process of fulfillment that can save you time, money and effort. Get to know these people because they’ll make your life so much easier.
John Lawson, CEO, 3rd Power Outlet and ColderICE Media

7. Cheap Items Might Not Be Worth Tracking

Dan Burnham

Not all carriers are created equal. Price is one consideration and there’s tracked versus untracked. That really depends on the unit value of each item – it may be more cost effective to save money on shipping and go with the cheaper carrier that doesn’t require a signature – the amount that you lose is less than the amount you would pay out to get those signatures. That needs to be viewed on a case-by-case basis.
Dan Burnham, Head of Account Management, eSellerPro

8. Shop Around for Carriers

Amine Khechfe

It’s equally important to identify and continuously evaluate the right shipping mix for your business. Many businesses think it’s easiest to select one carrier for everything, but each offers distinct advantages and pricing options. For packages under 10 lbs., the USPS offers the most affordable rate. For heavier packages, check with private carriers.
Amine Khechfé, Co-founder and General Manager, Endicia

9. Learn the Details of Carrier Pricing

Eric Nash

Sellers need to take the time to analyze their shipping programs every year and make sure they are using the correct products. With annual rate increases happening every year along with new carrier shipping products, common box sizes that are the most cost effective one year can change and be more expensive the following year. A great example is the Regional Rate Box A, introduced by the USPS a few years back. While the name includes “Regional” indicating is a geographical-based price, the Regional Rate Box A is actually the cheapest Priority Mail option for packages weighing 2 to 15 lbs traveling to any destination in the U.S. (including Zone 8).
Eric Nash, Senior Director, Online Marketing, Stamps.com

10. Let the Professionals Handle It

Brandon Dupsky

When it comes to ecommerce warehousing, I have one word – outsource. I have years of experience building and managing my own warehouse operations with pallet racks, fork lifts, conveyor systems, bar-code scanners and more. At one point I had 17 warehouse workers. The single best thing I did for my business was when I decided to outsource my warehousing and fulfillment operation to a third party warehouse three years ago. Moving boxes and adding shipping labels does not make you more money and third party services are available to do this quicker, cheaper and more efficiently than you can ever do on your own.
Brandon Dupsky, CEO, eCommerce Money for Nothing

11. Follow Instructions to the Letter

Jordan Malik

If you use a fulfillment or pre-fulfillment service, follow their instructions to the T. They’re expecting to receive your goods in a certain way – don’t assume that sending a box of products “as-is” suffices. The fulfillment facility will appreciate your time and attention to detail, or, alternately, bill you extra charges if their instructions weren’t followed. You’d be surprised at how many ecommerce merchants don’t adhere to the fulfillment house’s rules.
Jordan Malik, Founder & CEO, FindSpotter

12. Say Goodbye to Fixed Costs

Ian Dade

Consider the cost savings that could be made with third-party fulfillment. No direct fixed costs such as building rent, insurance, rates or utilities for example. Staff is another key factor. In an in-house operation staff need paying even if there are no orders, or they request holidays when orders are high. With a fulfillment provider, these costs are spread over many customers which generally means lower costs to your business. Labor too, should be on a pay as you go basis, so you only pay for the orders that are processed. In low months, no wasted staff hours and at peak times, no need to hire additional costly labor.
Ian Dade, Senior Account Manager, UK Fulfilment

13. Embrace Dropshipping

Fred Lizza

Should online retailers embrace the trend toward drop shipping? Absolutely. When implemented correctly, a drop shipping strategy can reduce distribution and fulfillment costs drastically and provide significant service level improvements. As a business model, there are many benefits to drop shipping: less upfront capital required, easy to start a business and/or expand your product offering, saves you as the merchant time and money associated with picking and packing orders yourself, and it’s a highly scalable model. Imagine what you could do with the time and money you save – how about using it to strategize on how to grow your business!
Fred Lizza, CEO, Dydacomp

14. Keep Fulfillment Workers Sweet

Jordan Malik

Surprise fulfillment workers by including (say) a book of gift certificates every now and then. I’ve heard of merchants buying a book of McDonald’s gift certificates and adding a few to every box. Do this at least once a year (during the Holidays) and ensure you include a note so the workers know it’s “for them”. They will appreciate it and you don’t know when you may need the extra special attention they may give you.
Jordan Malik, Founder & CEO, FindSpotter

15. Give Buyers Every Option

Dan Burnham

In terms of process, it’s about how fast you pick up your orders. A lot of businesses will only ship them out once per day. Out of ten buyers, eight might be fine with three-day delivery, but one will want next-day delivery, and one will want free delivery. If you don’t offer both options that’s twenty percent of your sales that you are potentially missing out on. That could have a detrimental effect on your eBay Best Match visibility because your conversion rate is dropping. You need to give buyers every option.
Dan Burnham, Head of Account Management, eSellerPro

16. Do It Like Amazon

Daniel Koernke

Amazon has set the bar high for ecommerce fulfillment. Their shipments are packed securely, fulfilled quickly (generally on the same day), and the customer is notified when they are on the way with tracking. These three simple steps are a great place to start for any new ecommerce retailer. The improvements in multi-carrier shipping software and order management software have made it easier than ever before to simplify and automate this process. Trying to accomplish those three important steps using a one-by-one process with a different system for each shipping carrier and sales channel or marketplace is not scalable and is barely possible.
Daniel Koernke, President of Sales, TrueShip

17. Manage Expectations and Be Transparent

Dan Wilson

Speedy dispatch is vital because buyers are increasingly impatient to receive the goods asap. But rather more important than speed is managing expectations and keeping your promises. The couriers are slower than Royal Mail (but cheaper) and budget services can take as much as a week. The key is to be transparent, let your buyers know when the item will arrive and aim to beat your predicted delivery date.
Dan Wilson, Editor, Tamebay.com

18. Remove the Grunt Work

Brian Nolan

Automate as much as possible. Remove the grunt work from the equation so you can focus on growing your business. With many options for managing orders, printing labels, and even shipping products for you (such as Fulfillment by Amazon), there’s no reason to be fulfilling orders the old fashioned way. Worrying about order fulfillment should never be a deterrent for listing and selling your products on multiple sales channels.
Brian Nolan, Co-founder & CEO, Sellbrite

19. Look For Efficiencies

James Hyde

The best systems should become more efficient the more similar orders it receives. Multiple orders can be picked at the same time in waves. Other activities in the chain can also be scheduled in waves. Therefore the more orders for a single type of product are placed the faster the picking and packing becomes on average. This is particularly useful during promotions.
James Hyde, Director, James and James Fulfilment

20. Keep Your Delivery Promises

Shiran Liyanage

Getting parcels to customers safely, quickly, on time and with as much status visibility during the delivery journey is a constant focus for retailers. After all, delivery is the main promise a retailer gives a customer who decides to buy from them. Keep the promise and the next sale is theirs. For us it means using a selection of carriers to provide first-time delivery and contingency, proactive communication during the delivery journey and an efficient returns service once it gets there.
Shiran Liyanage, General Manager for myMetaPack, MetaPack

21. Amazon FBA is Not Just for Amazon

Carlo Silva

Use Amazon FBA if you have the capacity to, and list on both Amazon and eBay. On Amazon it shows up with the Prime logo, and you can use Amazon fulfillment for eBay orders so you don’t have to pay for different warehousing. If you use Amazon FBA they do all the customer service for you on Amazon. If you’re doing orders on eBay or Sears or Newegg, AutoMCF will automatically send your orders to Amazon on your behalf – it will automatically sync everything.
Carlo Silva, CEO, 2nd Office

22. Surprise the Customer With Shipping Upgrades

Jordan Malik

Delighting your customers, instead of just delivering what they expect on time, is a low-cost strategy that can help you boost sales, loyalty, or both. For instance, I will frequently upgrade customers to priority USPS shipping for their item because the cost for sending priority is just incrementally higher – or in many cases lower than sending the item standard. Including a note that you upgraded them at no extra charge is easy to do as well. Or you can announce the “free upgrade to Priority shipping” in your product listing. I do this frequently for my merchant-fulfilled listings on Amazon and eBay.
Jordan Malik, Founder & CEO, FindSpotter

In Closing

In some ways fulfillment really is just a necessary evil – it has to be done, and it’s not much fun doing it. But with automation and outsourcing you can make sure that you have to do as little of it as possible.

So for most sellers getting orders out the door is not a source of enjoyment. But for buyers it’s rather different. Receiving accurate, well-packaged and timely orders is expected. Lightning-fast dispatch, free delivery, express shipping options and great communication can still impress customers and help bring them back.

How do you feel about shipping orders? Would you like to avoid it all together, or are you more interested in turning it to your advantage? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!

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