8 Essentials When Choosing a Fulfillment Company
You can have the greatest product in the world, but if you can’t get it to your customers safely and on time, it won’t mean much. For this reason, choosing a fulfillment company for your eCommerce business is a crucial decision.
If you make the right choice, your fulfillment partner can greatly contribute to the success of your brand—but make the wrong choice, and it could ruin your customer experience and prevent you from bringing in future revenue from repeat customers. With so many fulfillment companies out there, how can you choose the right one?
8 Things to Look for when Choosing a Fulfillment Company
It’s important to do your research and make sure you’re choosing not just any fulfillment partner, but the right one. Here are eight things you should look for when it’s time to choose an order fulfillment company for your online business.
1. Shipping Speeds
Amazon Prime's two-day delivery speeds are the new norm, which means modern consumers are expecting faster shipping speeds than ever before.
So, how can you align with these evolving expectations? By working with an order fulfillment company who can deliver on them—literally. If you don’t, you could lose out on revenue from the 53% of consumers who say they’ve abandoned an online purchase because of slow delivery times. Top fulfillment companies should have efficient and effective fulfillment processes that enable them to get your products to your customers quickly. This becomes possible when they have numerous, strategically-located fulfillment warehouses and simplified order fulfillment software (which we’ll get to in a minute!).
2. Location of Fulfillment Warehouses
It’s clear that customers expect lightning-fast shipping speeds and, naturally, an important component of this process is the proximity of the fulfillment warehouse to the customer. It makes a ton of sense—the closer the order fulfillment center is to the end customer, the shorter the distance your products have to travel to get there, which means shorter shipping timelines (and lower shipping costs).
So, when choosing a fulfillment company, it’s necessary that you know where their fulfillment warehouses are located. For example, a fulfillment company with just a few fulfillment warehouses most likely won’t be able to deliver at the speed your customers are expecting, so working with them could hurt your user experience. It’s important to make sure your fulfillment partner has warehouses located where your customers are.
Plus, if you sell worldwide, you need to be sure the fulfillment company you’re thinking about working with offers global shipping before agreeing to work with them. After all, if you can’t ship your products where your customers are, your business won’t stay in business very long!
3. Features of Order Fulfillment Software
As an eCommerce business owner, you’ve got a lot going on. You’re already using various digital tools, applications, and platforms throughout your day-to-day operations—so the last thing you’d want to do is implement yet another software that’s slow, disorganized, and nearly impossible to figure out. For this reason, it’s important to not only do your research on the fulfillment company you’re thinking about working with itself, but the order fulfillment software they’re using.
Different fulfillment companies use different order fulfillment software with various features and capabilities. It’s important to understand what your needs and goals truly are, and choose a fulfillment partner who leverages a software with features that can align. You also want to make sure their order fulfillment software is easy to implement and actually use throughout the day-to-day, and that it can seamlessly integrate with any other platforms and business apps you’re already using.
4. Transparency and Visibility
There are so many companies out there selling similar products, so determining which ones are actually worth buying can be an overwhelming task for consumers. So, when they find a brand they feel they can trust, they're likely to stick with them long-term. But how can you actually build this trust? Transparency.
In fact, 56% of consumers in a survey said they would be loyal to a company for life if it provided complete transparency, and 81% percent said they would be willing to try a brand's entire product line if they were comfortable with its degree of transparency.
Your fulfillment process is a key component of this transparency – 88% of consumers say the ability to track shipments in real-time is important, and 69% say they are less likely to shop with a retailer in the future if a purchase is not delivered within two days of the date promised. A promise is a promise, and if you can’t fulfill it (literally), you shouldn’t make it.
For example, if your website guarantees two day shipping but your fulfillment company can’t actually meet that deadline, there’s a good chance they won’t become a return customer (especially if this was the first experience a new customer had with your brand). Why? Because you have failed to build trust with that customer. So, it’s essential that you’re choosing a fulfillment partner who gives you full visibility into their fulfillment process, is reliable, and that you can trust to be held accountable.
5. Branding Options
There’s millions of eCommerce businesses out there competing for consumers' attention, so how can your brand stand out? Sending your products in generic, boring brown boxes certainly won’t help because it creates a disengaging, impersonal customer experience. On the other hand, choosing an order fulfillment company that provides branding options can help you build a brand and create a buzz for your business.
Why is this so valuable? Modern consumers are more likely to engage with brands who personalize their experience. A custom-tailored, fun, and exciting user experience will delight your customers and make them want to purchase from you again and again.
The bottom line on branding? With 89% of digital businesses investing in personalization and 51% of digital marketers saying that personalization is currently their number one priority, failing to consider branding potential when choosing a fulfillment partner can be detrimental to your user experience!
6. Packaging Options
Along with branding, you want to choose a fulfillment center with a wide variety of packaging options depending upon the product you are shipping. Not all boxes are created equal, so you want to be sure you have your pick of packaging (check out six types of packaging to use). Having options for the right type of packaging will also reduce damage to products.
In addition to packaging, sometimes it’s what’s on the inside that counts! So, you want to be sure you have your pick of insulation materials too, whether that’s styrofoam peanuts, corrugated paper, foam rolls, shredded paper, bubble wrap, or air pillows.
You should also keep an eye out for how your team packages your products. A dedicated warehouse kitting team makes sure your products are packaged securely, every time.
7. Returns Management
You don’t want a fulfillment center to be hands-off once they’ve shipped the product; after all, about 30% of all products ordered online are returned. Some returns are uncontrollable (a customer simply didn’t like the product), however a reputable fulfillment company will work with you on returns management to mitigate controllable returns – those that could potentially be reduced or eliminated through better forward logistics.
Your fulfillment company’s software should also be able to help you identify “serial returners.” These are those customers who repeatedly make purchases only to return them. By identifying them, you might hold off on sending them promotional material when you’re having a large sale, or you might send them emails following a purchase highlighting glowing reviews from satisfied customers about the product they just bought to give them confidence in their purchase.
It’s to be expected that unloading fulfillment to a third-party logistics provider will involve some initial upfront costs. In the long run, however, you will ultimately save on labor, overhead, packing supplies, and more. In addition, you also want to be sure the fulfillment center you choose is offering you the best deals possible.
Since you’re paying for fulfillment (your products are constantly moving, after all), your fulfillment center shouldn’t be charging you for long-term storage; that’s what a warehouse is for.
Fulfillment centers are also able to get better rates from carriers than any individual eCommerce retailer could due to the volume they ship, so you want to be sure they’re passing along some of these savings to you. These reduced costs often allow eCommerce retailers to compete with retail giants by offering free or reduced shipping.
8 Best Fulfillment Companies to Consider in 2021
When it comes to choosing a fulfillment company, you have options! Here’s a look at some of the top companies to consider in the new year.
Founded in 2012, The Fulfillment Lab (that’s us!) is one of the more seasoned fulfillment centers on our list. Our company was born out of a passion for the business. Our founder, Rick Nelson, had experienced the shortcomings of other logistics and fulfillment centers when managing previous businesses, so he started his own! Today, we have 14 international locations and are known for our cutting-edge software and for inventing fulfillment marketing. More on our company in a moment!
Located in Knoxville, TN, Red Stag Fulfillment was founded in 2013 by Eric McCollom. While many fulfillment companies fulfill products of all sizes, Red Stag focuses on heavy and oversize parcel fulfillment (if you’re selling T-shirt or cell phone cases, look elsewhere!). Red Stag has even designed their warehouses around larger products, with wider aisles and specialized equipment designed for shipping goods above 10 lbs in weight.
Even newer to the fulfillment scene but making a name for itself is ShipBob, founded in 2014 by Dhruv Saxena and Divey Gulati. In just a few short years, ShipBob’s dedication to quality fulfillment services has helped them grow from a small operation working out of Dhruv’s apartment to a national business with warehouse space across the United States.
4. Amazon FBA
A name that needs no introduction, Amazon introduced FBA (Fulfillment By Amazon) in 2006. FBA allows you to store products in Amazon's fulfillment centers, and they will pick, pack, and ship them for you. You don’t even have to be a seller on Amazon to use FBA services. If you like being affiliated with the Amazon name, FBA is a solid choice – although some customers feel they don’t receive the same level of service as they would with a dedicated fulfillment service.
Another company whose reputation precedes it, FedEx launched FedEx Fulfillment in 2017 to help small and medium-sized businesses manage inventory for their retail stores and fulfill orders from multiple channels, including websites and online marketplaces. A benefit of FedEx Fulfillment is the immediate access to FedEx's transportation networks, which can increase the number of shipments made per day.
The ShipMonk story is a unique one, beginning when the founder, Jan Bednar, moved to the United States from the Czech Republic. Many of Jan's friends back home wanted U.S. products, but companies were unwilling to ship overseas. As a work-around, they would have the products shipped to Jan, who would forward them to the Czech Republic. So in 2014, Jan created ShipMonk! Today, ShipMonk is well-known for its subscription-based fulfillment services, but the provides all types of fulfillment services to small and medium-sized businesses.
Justin Singletary, CEO and Founder, started Fulfillment.com in 2011. The company once worked in an 800 square foot space above a pizzeria in Thunderbolt, GA (a small town just outside of Savannah). Today, Fulfillment.com has shipped more than 13 million orders worldwide and continues to grow. They’re a popular choice for companies that ship a large volume of products.
Founded in 2013 by Marcus Startzel, Whitebox has become a popular fulfillment option for many top companies, such as Starbucks and Goodyear. Brands using Whitebox like that the company provides data that can help them answer questions such as, “Should I fulfill this big wholesale order or hold inventory for the marketplaces?” Whitebox does charge new users with a $3,000 starting fee which may be an obstacle for some businesses.
Experience the Best Fulfillment Services with The Fulfillment Lab
You have your pick of fulfillment companies, but in an increasingly competitive online market, order fulfillment needs to move just as quickly as your eCommerce businesses. Our cutting-edge, proprietary order fulfillment software is changing the way that fulfillment is handled and meeting the needs of modern online businesses through:
- Reliable shipping. We offer dependable, efficient shipping, with global order fulfillment capabilities and expedited shipping options that guarantee delivery in 3 days or less.
- Strategically located fulfillment warehouses. With 14 fulfillment warehouses (2 domestic and 12 international), you can be sure your products are always on the fastest possible route to your customers. Utilizing multiple warehouses cuts down not only on shipping time — but also costs by reducing the number of zones that each shipment will cross.
- Proprietary order fulfillment software. Our proprietary Global Fulfillment Software (GFS)™ was designed to be easy to use and seamlessly fit into your existing day-to-day business processes.
- Kitting services for product delivery. We deliver assembled products in branded packaging for you—all as part of our kitting services.
- Full visibility into every stage of the fulfillment process. GFS™ provide clear visibility into every stage of the order fulfillment process. You’ll be able to see what we see in real-time, so we’re always held accountable and you’re always in the know.
- Customized packaging for limitless branding potential. GFS™ allows you to quickly set up your fulfillment logistics and design customized boxes, labels, coupons, and inserts so you can deliver a customized, engaging user experience that drives repeat sales.
- Dynamic integration. We offer dynamic integration with every major eCommerce system including Magento, Shopify, Limelight, SquareSpace, and more.
- Unmatched flexibility. With the ability to make last minute edits, changes, add customer service delays, and more, you can tailor the entire fulfillment experience to your customers and make adjustments as necessary.
Ready to learn how we can help your business boost efficiency and improve its user experience? We’re ready to be your end-to-end fulfillment partner. Contact us today!