Choosing the Correct Fulfilment Partner: 5 Key Considerations

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How to judge if an eCommerce fulfilment provider has the right experience – 5 signs to look out for

The rise of eCommerce in the past 18 months, coupled with relatively easy access to business funding, has seen new entries to the UK fulfilment service market. But how can you be confident that a partner will live up to their promises, or might inexperience impact customer satisfaction.

 

Lockdowns, test and trace pings, working from home, ‘because we’re worth it’ – whatever the causes, eCommerce sales have certainly benefited. According to econsultancy, there was a 61% boom in growth in online sales in the UK in May 2020, a direct result of the first peak of the pandemic. That has now flattened off, but shopping habits do seem to have been changed for now, with more people adopting online shopping than ever before.

 

And with opportunity, come opportunists. With Bounce Back Loans and Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans on offer, and news stories about rising online sales hitting the headlines, some have seized the chance to invest in storage space, an off-the-shelf software management system, recruitment of staff and start-up as ‘eCommerce fulfilment services’.

 

With over three decades of experience, we can tell you that it takes a lot more than storage space and some willing workers to make a great experience for a customer. Let us give you some guidance on what to look for when choosing a great eCommerce fulfilment partner for your digital store’s stock holding, pick and pack, order dispatch and returns management.

Tenevo software demo

1. Cloud-based management portal

With shipping delays being one of the biggest frustrations of online shoppers, having ready access to a shared fulfilment management tool is invaluable. You’ll want access to one that has a simple API integration with all the key eCommerce platforms – Shopify, WooCommerce, Amazon and so on – as well as relationships with carriers such as DPD, UPS, Royal Mail. This will mean that, the second an order is placed by your customer, a smooth packing and shipping process can begin.

 

Our own bespoke portal, Tenevo, offers our eCommerce fulfilment clients full visibility with real-time data on stock levels of product and packaging materials. You can login whenever it suits you to judge when you need to replenish supplies. You can also see the stages the orders are at, from pick and pack, preparation and labelling all the way through to delivery.

 

A system like this also enables you to trace orders back to their individual packer to bring not only accountability but also evidence should it be required.

6-FULFILMENT-TO-US

2. Experience and knowledge

Reliable order fulfilment and dispatch is certainly an area where experience reaps rewards. Despite the relatively low barriers to entry, starting up an effective distribution centre is more complex than it might at first seem.

 

Starting from the outset, having a partner who can reliably predict how long a job will take to pick and pack is key to getting an estimate that isn’t going to change once the project gets underway. Trial runs with different teams of workers, as we do when pricing up jobs, give you clarity on price as well as timeframes. It all helps to minimise nasty surprises further down the line.

 

Experience also pays off in terms of solving nasty surprises that couldn’t be predicted. We recently had a project which switched to using sustainable packaging. Unfortunately, that packaging proved to be too difficult for customers to open, so we were able to offer up alternatives and keep the timeframes on schedule.

 

Similarly, long-standing relationships with logistics companies mean that, in the event of driver shortages or other problems as have been seen in the pandemic, an experienced company will be able to source alternatives so no shoppers are disappointed.

Establish efficacy of operations

3. Quality assurance processes

Ask your potential fulfilment supplier what they do in the event of a shopper complaint that a product had been poorly packaged. Can they provide time and date stamped CCTV footage of a named individual packing that order perfectly?

 

We have seen this come into play when shoppers are looking to get discounts for goods, when they aren’t in fact entitled to them. Having the evidence to prove you have done your due diligence in dispatching goods in adequate packaging means these complaints can rightly be brought to a close quickly.

 

A commitment to traceability should also extend to a dedicated customer service team that can provide live updates and resolve any issues.

Monthly Service Review

4. Flexibility and adaptability

Consider what might happen if the online shop becomes even more successful. Can your fulfilment house scale up in time to meet demand?

 

Is there sufficient extra pallet storage available? Can they pull experienced workers from other aspects of the business so that quality isn’t compromised, or might they have to suddenly recruit new workers who would have to learn on the job? With our experienced workforce, we can not only draw people from the contract packing side of the business, but also have sufficient labour to be operational 7 days a week for peak times.

 

Being confident in our capabilities means that we won’t panic or make mistakes when potential curveballs occur, like the customs changes resulting from Brexit. In instances like this, we draw on our experience to gain the necessary insights from the right sources to ensure that paperwork is correctly completed to prevent packages from being held up or rejected by customs.   

Onboarding Phase

5. Strong relationships

Having a long-standing reputation for being a fair employer puts clients in a strong position to confidently forecast their own projects, being assured that the support is there.

 

Over the years, we’ve retained a large number of workers, even despite the issues of Brexit, and they are committed to ensuring our clients’ success. This paid off during the pandemic in particular as they were happy to put on the necessary PPE and adapt their work schedules for COVID bubbles and social distancing to ensure that no timeframes were disrupted.

 

Depending on your shipping choices, you will need a partner who can factor in requests such as same-day or next day delivery, as well as being clear on the deadlines for domestic and international shipments. Good working relationships with a range of carriers will ensure that you can broaden your options to get the best price and the maximum flexibility.

Hopefully this has given some pointers to look out for, and to dig into, when looking for an ecommerce fulfilment centre for your business, and what you should steer clear of. Having some initial questions to hand will help to show who really has the infrastructure to make it a success.

We can talk you through the experience we’ve gained since 1987 to see if we’re a good fit for your next project in ecommerce fulfilment, returns management, contract packing or warehouse management. Please get in touch with us or call +44 (0)1268 498 950

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