The Technology Behind Successful Ecommerce Fulfillment

Online sales in the United States have more than surpassed expectations. In 2012, online sales hit a record $226 billion, and accounted for 7% of all total retail sales. Experts projected $327 billion by 2016, but they were wrong… Total online sales in 2016 were $394 billion! If your fulfillment company isn’t participating in the ecommerce segment, no doubt you know that you’re missing out on an exceptional opportunity!

In this article, I’ll focus on the technological capabilities a warehouse needs in order to implement an ecommerce fulfillment service. The article isn’t going to be about listing the pros and cons of the Top 10 software programs on the market, because I don’t know your current capabilities or strategic goals. Instead, I believe that the most productive approach is to breakdown the process to help you identify where you can improve your systems.

Let’s talk about process integration. Ecommerce clients will typically approach a fulfillment company with an established business infrastructure. Integration means adapting your systems to plug into those of your customer. The processes that are frequently affected are:

  • Order Capture & Management
  • Picking/Packing & Shipping
  • Synchronizing Order and Inventory Status
  • Visibility
  • Client & Customer Service

Order Capture & Management

There are more than 300 ecommerce shopping cart companies on the market. Your company needs to be technically capable of adapting to the wide variety of methodologies for communicating with those carts. Orders from carts need to be harvested on a regular basis, controlled to insure none are dropped or duplicated, and converted into a form that is compatible with your system.

I believe this area represents the greatest technical challenge for fulfillment companies in the ecommerce space. Your tool bag for interfacing with a client’s systems must include a wide array of technologies, including the ability to interact with flat files, Application Program Interfaces, Web Services, File Transfer Protocol, call center systems, and the occasional manual-order entry. IT resources to plan the implementation and support this process need to be broadly skilled and creative. Administrative resources that perform the daily-order harvesting routines need to be highly attentive to detail.

Picking/Packing & Shipping

This process is probably the most straightforward. Picking slips are generated, product is picked and boxed, and shipping labels are applied using traditional fulfillment methods. Although there may be special requirements for packing slip and box branding, those requirements don’t vary much from conventional fulfillment. It is essential to operate at a very fast past as ecommerce performance is measured in hours and the volume of orders is measured in thousands per day.

Synchronizing Order and Inventory Status

Ecommerce fulfillment requires that the client’s shopping cart has the most recent inventory and order status information. Your systems need to regularly communicate inventory availability to the cart to ensure that a client’s customer is made aware of out-of-stock situations before placing an order. Customers also need to be able to reference the shopping cart to find the status of their order. Process synchronization between your operation and that of your client is an absolute necessity.

Visibility

Ecommerce fulfillment is very fast moving! We used to joke that customers would press the “buy” button and run to the front door looking for the UPS truck! With Amazon’s latest experiments in same-day delivery, this joke is almost a reality. Given the speed of ecommerce, it’s important for your clients to be able to have a real-time window into your process and inventory. At a minimum, clients should be able to see orders and inventory in near real time. The leading-edge, ecommerce fulfillment companies have taken a more pro-active stance by publishing “alerts” when important events are happening in the fulfillment process. Alert examples might include: Product X is running low on inventory; a new shipment of stock has arrived; or a customer has returned an order.

Client & Customer Service

The fulfillment process is heavily impacted by fast-paced marketing and promotional decisions. Ecommerce client support typically requires a designated coordinator to represent the client’s requirements to the fulfillment organization and to coordinate program changes. The volume and minutiae of detail often warrant the implementation of “issue logging” and “project workflow” processes within the organization. Given the pace of the business, these processes are best automated.

Some clients, particularly the Entrepreneur and Offshore segments, may ask the fulfillment organization to manage customer support. This might involve call-center work, authorizing returns, handling the occasional complaint, and so on. These client groups often have too small a volume to outsource their work to large call center. Having an arsenal of exceptional customer-support tools, therefore, positions you to capitalize on a good revenue opportunity.

In summary, successful ecommerce fulfillment relies on solid technical foundations. Warehouses and 3PLs must understand that ecommerce clients have very different needs (and expectations) for the technical aptitude, agility and pace of their fulfillment partners.  To fully capitalize on the ecommerce segment, your fulfillment service must meet–and exceed–these requirements.

Building an E-newsletter List? Make Sure You Are CAN-SPAM Compliant

Learn More About Medallion Fulfillment

Have you ever felt burned by getting a piece of mail from your bank, cable company or insurer whose envelope blared “Important Account Information Enclosed”? You know the outcome: You opened the envelope, that “important information” turned out to be an ad.

Translate that print tactic into untold millions of e-newsletters in distribution, and you will understand why the CAN-SPAM business compliance guide was created.

Email a Powerful Attraction Tactic

Even in an age of Facebook “likes” and Twitter “tweets,” email and e-newsletters — when handled right — continue to be a robust tool for marketers.

  • According to 2011 statistics published by Exact Target, 42 percent of subscribers are more likely to purchase from a company whose emails they subscribe to.
  • The other side of that coin? Content Marketing Institute notes that the e-newsletter open rate can go as low as 8 percent, with monthly newsletters averaging in the low-20 range.

So the audience making up your e-newsletter lists needs to be one you screen carefully — those on your list should be the people most likely to find your information valuable enough to subscribe and to read at least occasionally with few opt-outs. If you use purchased e-newsletter lists, ensure they are from reputable sources consisting only of “opt in” subscribers.

Keeping Out of Trouble

Once you’ve identified an audience to invite as subscribers, you must establish an acceptable template for your message. Just a few false moves, and your carefully crafted e-newsletter could end up in the spam folder.

CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003) establishes standards for commercial email, including e-newsletters. It spells out what you can and cannot say, and sets penalties for violations.

Under the CAN-SPAM rules, for example, you are required to:

  • Identify the nature of your message as an e-newsletter.
  • Tell recipients where you are located. Your e-newsletter must include both an email return address and a valid physical postal address.
  • Tell recipients how they can opt-out of your e-newsletter, and honor their request within 10 business days.

Conversely, the CAN-SPAM law prohibits:

  • False or misleading header information. In other words, the “To,” “From” and “Reply to” headers must accurately identify the person or company initiating the email.
  • Deceptive subject lines. No false promises, “gotcha” wording or other text that doesn’t reflect on the actual content of the e-newsletter.
  • Sending through an open relay or using harvested email address (both examples of technology that allows spammers to find and use lists).

And of course, the CAN-SPAM act requires you to truthfully describe any products or services you are offering for sale in your e-newsletter — and if you are positioning this information as an ad, you must identify it as such.

How to Attract More Subscribers

Subscribers can quickly become un-subscribers, so identifying and attracting new audiences is an important part of your e-newsletter strategy.

How can you encourage people to opt-in?

  • Promote your e-newsletter on your website’s homepage. Keep a colorful sign-up icon near the top of the screen, as you can never rely on visitors scrolling all the way down.
  • Invite new customers to subscribe. If someone makes a purchase through your website, follow it up with an email invitation to the newsletter. You can use the same tactic with visitors who leave contact information on your landing page.
  • Include a “send to a friend” link on every e-newsletter to encourage forwards from subscribers.
  • Promote your e-newsletter on your social media pages; include sneak-peeks of articles or offers that subscribers will find in the newsletter.
  • Offer a free gift to new subscribers. It can be a special deal or item associated with your business, or something general, such as a drawing for an iPad. (However, all giveaways and drawings must be “no purchase necessary” in nature and something anyone may enter.)

Test and Test Again

The way you handle your e-newsletter lists may change once you see how many people opt-in and opt-out of their subscriptions. As with most forms of web marketing, e-newsletters can benefit from testing and measuring results to create the ideal marketing tool for you.

Boosting Your Business with Loyalty Programs and Incentives – 3 Considerations

As online shopping continues to make the consumer marketplace broader than ever, incentive-based programs remain an effective way to gain, nurture and retain customers. Not convinced? Consider these eye-opening statistics:

• According to a January 2016 report in Chief Marketer, the average North American shopper is a member of 13 loyalty and promotional programs.

• Jupiter Research has found that 80 percent of Internet users enter a sweepstakes at least once a year.

Planning Your Promotional and Loyalty Programs

Promotional programs should be planned carefully to get the most bang for your buck. Here are three factors that play a crucial role in the success of any rebates, contests or loyalty rewards.

1. Big Data
While the term may not sound particularly sophisticated, it gets right to the point: “Big Data” refers to the massive sets of information that can be captured and analyzed to uncover consumer habits, patterns and trends. The amounts of available data are increasing exponentially, so the key is getting your arms around it up-front to keep it organized and consolidated in a way that allows for thorough and accurate analysis to allow you to have actionable information for your promotion.

2. Social Media
Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have become popular vehicles for promotions, and growing channels Instagram and Snapchat have quickly joined the party. It pays to partner up with a promotions expert who understands how to best leverage social media for easy participation and maximum returns.

3. Rise of the Millennials
Millennials are defined as young adults born between the years of 1980 and 2000. Members of this tech-savvy generation are more willing than their parents to allow access to personal data and web habits when the results, such as personally targeted offers, benefit them. Combine that with an expected spending power of $1.4 trillion by the year 2020, and it’s clear that millennials should be a big part of your promotional plan.

Medallion Fulfillment & Logistics: Your One-Stop Solution

For 2020 plan on focusing on growing sales and boosting your marketing efforts and let us handle the rest. We have more than 25 years of experience handling fulfillment services ranging from receiving and warehousing goods to credit card and rebate processing. Contact us today to learn more about how we can be a full-service solution for your fulfillment needs.

More Shopping Carts Now Interface Directly with Our System

We’ve created a collage of the logos of the shopping carts that our fulfillment management software now interfaces with. These new enhancements give you more options. Here are the details.

1. Once connected to our system, orders in your shopping cart are automatically sent to Medallion’s system with no intervention on your part. It’s all automatic!

2. The automatic connection sends back inventory data to your shopping cart interface updating your on-hand counts; allowing you to better manage your ordering and inventory.

3. Shipping data from our system flows back into your shopping cart allowing customers to monitor their order status and for you to know exactly when items have shipped. It’s all automatic!

Isn’t it time for you to take another look at Medallion Fulfillment & Logistics? Call us today for a free account review.

Looking for a Reliable, Cost-Effective Service Partner?

Don’t let rate increases or poor service handcuff you to your old fulfillment provider. With Medallion Fulfillment & Logistics, you have scalable options that grow with your business. You can rely on our more than 29 years of experience providing sellers with efficient and cost-effective fulfillment services to understand your warehouse and fulfillment needs.

USPS Holiday Shipping Rate Increases

USPS has raised rates.

We have received notification from the United States Postal Service that shipping prices will temporarily increase on October 18, 2020 until December 27, 2020. These increases are being enacted due to the higher shipping traffic from the pandemic and the expected increase in holiday shipping volume. Read more information.

FEDEX and UPS Shipping Rates

UPS has also announced rate updates due to pandemic shipping volume and extra handling.

FedEx has certain surcharges already enacted but has not announced holiday rate increases at this time.

As we know more, we will communicate any updates to you in our newsletter.