How to Take Product Photos for Your Store Like a Pro But on the Cheap

As online shopping continues to grow market share, the sense of touch has been removed from the buying process, making visual appeal more important than ever. According to ecommerce consultant BigCommerce, two-thirds of consumers rate image quality as “very important” when it comes to online purchases.

Before you rush out and hire a pricey photographer, check out these great tips for cost-effective and professional-looking DIY photos.

1. Technique Is More Important than Equipment

Don’t let anyone talk you into dropping hundreds or thousands of dollars on a state-of-the-art camera. If you can afford it, then by all means, but modestly priced cameras and even smart phones are capable of producing high-quality photos. Decisions such as lighting, staging and processing play a more significant role.

2. Create Your “Studio”

• Set up a table as close to a window as possible without getting into the shadow cast by the windowsill.

• Use poster board or mats to create a generic white background, “sweeping” it from the horizontal tabletop to the vertical wall to provide a seamless look.

• You’ll need at least two lights. Clamp-style is preferable as they stay in place but can be easily moved around. Make sure to use identical light bulbs with a cooler shade.

3. Include Action Shots When Appropriate

In many cases the white background will be sufficient, but some products have more appeal when shown in use. For instance, a picture of a person wearing sunglasses can be more attractive to potential customers.

4. Don’t Stop at One

Take a number of pictures of your product from a variety of sides and angles. Multiple views are the best way to overcome the two-dimensional aspect of online images.

5. Keep It RAW

For best results you should shoot in RAW format, which captures all of the visual data and gives you greater latitude in editing. In addition, changes don’t affect the original file so you won’t have to worry about losing data.

6. Evaluate and Adjust

After every session, review your work with a critical eye to see what worked and what didn’t, and then apply your findings to future photo shoots.

Ecommerce Fulfillment Services for the Busy Entrepreneur

Are inventory, order processing and logistics taking valuable time away from the business of driving sales? Contact Medallion Fulfillment & Logistics to learn more about our comprehensive ecommerce fulfillment services.

Looking Ahead: Disasters, Disruptions, and Demand – the Supply Chain Learns from Coronavirus

There are a number of ways in which coronavirus is affecting the supply chain and freight system, both long and short term. As the crisis shines a spotlight on problems with current supply chain practices, it is also shining a light on improvements that can be made.

Below are four areas to explore to minimize supply chain exposure and prevent disruption. We encourage all operations professionals to take charge of the factors they can influence and share their successes and trials with the community so that we will all be stronger after this situation passes.

1. Communication

Customers can become antsy in times of crisis, but we also see great examples of humanity during these times. Lack of information is one of the biggest obstacles to a peaceful response.

Open communication should be encouraged at all times, but none so important as times like these. Simply informing customers, clients, partners, and suppliers of delays with accuracy and honesty is essential.

Take the toilet paper crisis, for example. When consumers see only empty shelves and have no idea when supplies will be restocked, there is more panic-buying and hoarding.

However, when the store tells customers when the shelves will be restocked, there are reports of calmer buying practices and sharing. If people know that there will be more on the shelves in a few days, or can find back-in-stock dates online, they can relax a bit.

There is security in knowing, and this cannot be overemphasized as a strategy to avoid supply chain collapse.

2. Artificial Intelligence

In a recent Forbes article, Dave Evans recommends three areas for improvement to “future proof” supply chains. Two of the three areas are technology based, indicating that implementing more automation and artificial intelligence (AI) in fulfillment and logistics will have a tremendous positive impact.

Using automated data analysis helps predict demand on the fly and respond immediately and effectively. A solid dynamic AI for ERP provides actionable data insights, which enables companies to be more efficient and resilient.

When demand begins to increase slowly, the AI notices immediately and continues to re-forecast, ordering inventory earlier and more efficiently than a human purchasing agent. These AIs can continue to run regardless of human health and impact.

Evans suggests that businesses build a self-driving supply chain using blockchain, AI, machine learning and other related technologies to keep things moving on time and without delay or major disruption.

Phasing out human-dependent operations like manual spreadsheets and phone calls is another area where efficiency can be increased with the use of technology.

Automation in the fulfillment center can also help 3PLs meet increased demand with the same amount of staff, increasing flexibility. Not only is this strategy supportive of daily business and spikes in demand, but it also protects against disruptions due to labor shortage, such as a pandemic.

When staff is depleted due to natural disaster or disease, elements of the supply chain may find themselves shorthanded and in the face of increased demand at the same time. Automation relieves this strain and is not affected by the human condition.

3. Diversify Sourcing

Richard Wilding, a professor at the Cranfield School of Management, urges businesses to assess and mitigate supply chain weaknesses immediately. “Companies need to urgently review their supply chain to find out how exposed they are. They need to ask the question as to where their suppliers and suppliers’ suppliers are located and review other sourcing locations, which, although often more expensive, can protect from disruptive events such as this,” he said.

The Harvard Business Review suggests that a new kind of design is needed that enables companies to rapidly reconfigure their supply chains and be ultra-agile and responsive to rapidly changing global trade policies, supply dynamics, and disruptions.

Using local suppliers and manufacturers helps minimize disruption. When transportation breaks down, particularly overseas shipments or long-haul freight, businesses that require parts or supplies from outside the region are easily affected.

Without materials, the business may need to close temporarily, which naturally affects workers and, in turn, impacts the economic health of the community.

Sourcing locally can make a big difference and allow a business to continue producing and selling its products within the community. Of course local sourcing doesn’t fix everything.

Some products or supplies simply will not be available locally and if the transportation chain is disrupted, businesses may not be able to get their products to customers. If the local area is directly affected, this strategy will have limited success during the disruption itself, but can bounce back more quickly after the threat has passed.

In general, modern supply chain strategy should include regional diversity. Counting on a single location is too risky in the current marketplace. Experts recommend evaluating a variety of sources and considering availability, location and speed in addition to price.

It might cost a little more to source locally, for example, but there are often selling advantages to this approach.

4. Plan Ahead

Using just-in-time inventory practices is one of the best ways to minimize carrying costs in any inventory-based business. But running lean can leave you out of stock quickly in the face of increased demand.

Forecasting is already a challenge and is made more complex by an emergency situation. Some emergencies are a little predictable though, like hurricane season. Companies in the Southeastern US are accustomed to preparing for short periods of down time and shortages every year between June and November and can be ready with higher inventory levels during these times.

The first reports of COVID-19 emerged in late December 2019. While that may have been too early to react, it’s easy to see now that there have been opportunities along the way to beef up stock levels before it became a national emergency. And this is still the case.

As we all monitor this situation, there may still be opportunities to predict near-future fallout and prepare. It will take some time for businesses to recover, so consider what the next failing may be.

After toilet paper, it was paper towels and other paper goods. What might be next? In the longer term, demand may increase for sanitizing appliances or it may decrease for real estate purchases. Identifying changes early is your best weapon.

Conclusion

While we are already knee-deep in supply chain changes due to the coronavirus outbreak, it’s not too late to adjust. Even small changes can make an impact to lessen the overall negative impact on your business and your partners.

This experience can be taken as an education to inform more robust future disaster plans for supply chain management. We hope you will share your thoughts and contribute to a conversation that can benefit everyone as we move forward through this difficult time.

We invite you to find out more about Medallion Fulfillment & Logistics by visiting our website to see why we are the fulfillment leader for both the East and West Coasts.

Online Returns are Growing Faster than E-Commerce Sales

Return Policy

We have been writing about return merchandise more and more throughout this year as the business of reverse logistics heats up to a record pace.

When 20% of your revenue is in a revolving door, forecasting can get pretty dicey. Add to that the overwhelming percentage of customers who expect easy, inexpensive return options, and it’s clear no business can overlook the power of reverse logistics.

Incidentally, if you like statistics, this article is going to be a fun read. The numbers on the subject are compelling, to say the least.

Breaking Returns Records

In the U.S. alone, Statista estimates return deliveries will cost $550 billion by 2020, an increase of more than 75% in four years. If that seems pretty bleak for the bottom line, let me point out that this figure does not include inventory loss or restocking fees.

The rate of returns is always higher during the winter holiday season. In 2019, UPS predicted an impressive number of returns even before Christmas Day even arrives… to the tune of 1.6 million per day. Merchandise is literally flying back and forth, changing hands constantly. For statistics fiends, this means there are more than 18 returns per second before the holidays are over.

January 2 is typically the biggest day for returns, forecast at nearly 2 million in 2019 (an increase of 26% in a single year). But online sales are only projected to increase by around 12% in 2019, which means returns are growing at twice the rate of online sales.

New Models

The current digi-centric commerce model relies on returns. According to Shopify, a full 90% of customers “highly value” free returns as a key factor in their buying decision. And nearly 70% avoid buying from companies that do not offer completely free returns.

Online sales returns are now averaging 20%, with 30% for holiday orders and even as high as 50% for “expensive items.” This is more than twice the rate of brick-and-mortar retails. Ironically, the physical storefronts often limit returns to re-saleable merchandise and simply put it back on the shelves.

Online Returns Are Another Species Entirely

Amazon encouraged a “no questions asked” returns policy, but has recently begun to address the overuse of the policy. Many of the returns cannot be resold and end up on liquidation sites. Small sellers on the giant platform may end up losing significant revenue if they cannot minimize returns, since they don’t always have the option to refuse and remain in good standing with Amazon. And with Fulfillment by Amazon sales, the decision is out of the seller’s hands entirely.

So what’s the bright side?

Benefits of Reverse Logistics

When handled correctly, reverse logistics can actually improve your bottom line as we described in our guest post at Storeya.

Planning for returns is actually quite similar to planning inventory requirements. If you address it ahead of time and have a strategy in place, there is nothing to fear. Although it’s hard to adjust the mind set, your business will benefit from letting go and embracing the inevitability of growing returns volume.

Get out ahead of the returns spiral by offering alternative programs. For instance, the Amazon wardrobe program allows customers to buy clothing with the intention of trying it on and only keeping what they like. It’s a perfect example of embracing the problem. This way, the business is prepared and can also charge accordingly.

Zappos is another company who made it a policy early on to accept returns, for free, all the time. And although they struggled operationally, the customer satisfaction rate was very high. They found that customers who returned the most also spent the most overall.

Reverse Logistics Strategies

Of course, the strategy will vary greatly depending on your business category. Apparel is the number one returned product category, with over 50% of these due to sizing issues. In this case, providing detailed sizing information up front can help cut down on the number of returns. And including accurate images from all angles, preferably with 3D viewing and human models helps too. Beyond that, designing a loyalty program around returns, similar to the examples above, mitigates the inventory loss and manages customer expectations.

For products that are easy to restock, such as DVDs and books, focus on the packaging and restocking needs and streamline the process so it makes a lesser impact. These items don’t expire and they rarely show wear, making it easier.

However, vitamin companies need to have a clear policy to avoid restocking expired (or close-to-expiring) products, which will only make a bad impression on the next customer to receive the item. This factor can impact the supply chain even earlier in the process, to manage inventory with longer shelf lives to allow for returns without gumming up the works.

Proactive Management

In some categories, it may make sense to build the cost of returns into product pricing. Since an average of 20% of merchandise will be returned, consider factoring this into the margins from the beginning. There are many elements to evaluate for improving reverse logistics flow.

Embracing the New Normal

The bottom line is returns are the new normal. How your business handles them can make all the difference between loss and gain.

When you are ready to explore options for fulfillment services, Medallion Fulfillment & Logistics and Sprocket Express are ready to step in and handle shipping and return processing.

The Amazon Effect: Considerations for eCommerce and Brick and Mortar Store Owners

In the increasingly crowded and competitive world of eCommerce, Amazon remains the gold standard. The impact of the online retailing behemoth has been so primal and far-reaching that marketing experts have coined a term for it: “Amazon Effect.”

As the leader in California fulfillment services, we work to stay on top of trends and innovations influencing the industry. Here’s what you need to know about the Amazon Effect and how it applies to your business.

Shifting Buyer Expectations

Amazon’s principal effect has come in the area of buyer expectations. Consumers are demanding a buyer’s journey be “frictionless and immediate,” and these expectations cut across the digital arena to goods and services purchased in brick-and-mortar locations.

These three benefits top the list of what retailers are expected to provide today:

• Free shipping, which is most prominently featured in Amazon’s Prime membership program. While shipping costs can be steep, Amazon has found that it’s paid off in powerful customer loyalty and add-on sales.

• Speedy turnaround time, where customers receive orders in days rather than weeks. Amazon Prime’s free shipping takes only two days, and same-day delivery is available in more than 10,000 locations.

• Easy access, with a variety of options for ordering and delivery. For example, Amazon offers delivery or pick-up for grocery orders and certain items are eligible for subscriptions where orders are entered and delivered automatically.

Generational Differences and the Millennial Mindset

Not surprisingly, younger consumers who have spent their entire lives with technology are more demanding when it comes to eCommerce fulfillment and delivery. A 2018 survey of online shoppers in the U.S., Canada and U.K. found that less than 50 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 34 were fully satisfied with their orders.

Other studies have uncovered the “Millennial Mindset,” which Amazon has embraced with great success. The Millennial Mindset is a group of six brand values that buyers from 18-34 rate highly in their shopping experience:

• Social Circle: Is a brand popular within a buyer’s circle of family and friends?

• Self: Does a brand generate an emotional connection?

• Innovative: Does a brand lead its field in creative advancements?

• Trusted: Does a brand have consumers’ best interests at heart?

• Purposeful: Does a brand contribute to the greater good?

• Accessible: Is a brand easily assimilated into a buyer’s lifestyle?

While this mindset originated with Millennials, it’s having a ripple effect through other generations. At this point, Generation X has adopted the mindset nearly as completely as Millennials have.

Countering the Amazon Effect in Brick-and-Mortar Stores

• Use locations to complement eCommerce, not duplicate or compete with it.

• Engage high-tech solutions to track in-store behavior

• Leverage mobile apps with mPos, location-aware coupons and personalized service.

California Fulfillment Services that Exceed Customer Expectations

Medallion Fulfillment & Logistics provides a comprehensive set of eCommerce services that scale to meet your specific needs. Contact us to learn more about why we should be your first choice in cost-effective and efficient California fulfillment services.

Medallion & Sprocket Express Can Help with East and West Coast Warehouse Locations

Coast to Coast Fulfillment Service Coverage

As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to do everything yourself. You soon find yourself spending more time working in your business rather than growing your business!

Growing your business means focusing your efforts on your strategic goals and delegating the rest of the work to the experts.

Doing your own fulfillment is a perfect example:

• It demands your attention every day even if you have more important things to do.

• It can get complex if you’re trying to expand your reach into multiple channels and other countries.

• It gets in the way of scaling your business.

Outsourcing your fulfillment:

• Let’s you pay for only the services you use.

• Saves money on staff, warehousing & order processing & shipping.

• Can speed delivery when shipping from multiple locations.>

• Let’s you focus on growth.

We’d be happy to have  a no cost, no obligation discussion to help you decide if you’re ready. If you already are using a fulfillment center let us see if we can improve your level of service and/or save you money. Give us a call at (818) 998-8366 today!