More and more websites are adding subscription order services for their customers. The model may benefit your current ecommerce site, or be the major feature for your next business. In either case, subscription fulfillment has some challenges that you may not come across in standard fulfillment operations. Fortunately, fulfillment providers like yours truly are uniquely prepared to tackle these challenges.
Take order volume, for example. Because of the predictable delivery cycle for orders, subscription fulfillment is subject to peaks and valleys of volume. One week, your warehouse is packing and shipping like mad to meet the subscription deadline. The next, everything is quiet as you prepare for the next subscription offering. Predicting volume from subscription to subscription can be difficult, so it's critical to have flexible warehouse space for storing inventory and sufficient labor for fulfilling orders. Because they work with multiple customers, fulfillment providers have the flexibility to scale space and labor to accommodate volume fluctuations easily.
It’s also important to get the logistical timing right for subscriptions. Subscription boxes are often promoted extensively in social media, so you’ll want to synchronize arrival dates so that subscribers in different shipping zones receive their orders at approximately the same time. This requires close communication and negotiation with carriers. Logistics is an area where Fulfillment Works excels – we help you to optimize your distribution network to reduce transportation costs and work with multiple carriers to negotiate competitive shipping rates.
Additionally, fulfillment providers are invested in warehouse management systems and data analyzing solutions. When you find the right fulfillment partner, you can leverage their resources without the overhead investment. As a result, you’ll be able to improve inventory management and process orders faster - ultimately, enabling you provide a better subscription service.
There are LOTS of moving parts under the hood of a well-oiled ecommerce operation. Try as you might, unpredictable situations are bound to occur. To help customers with common questions, have your shipping and returns policies outlined on your website. In most cases, an FAQ-style page allows you to clearly state your policies in a format that customers will understand.
When developing this content, your customer service staff should be able to provide frequently asked questions that are specific to your business. At minimum, you’ll want to address the following general areas:
Shipment lead time
Most online customers assume that their orders ship out the same or next day. If your average lead times don't fall into that timeframe, you should explicitly state how long it takes an order to ship. Otherwise, you may see a higher number of calls from customers asking about their order status.
Military destinations require customs forms for deliveries and restrict on the types of items they will accept. Plus, not all carriers deliver to military addresses. Clarify whether you ship to military addresses, which products are eligible for military delivery, the carrier used for military shipments, and any additional rules or restrictions.
Packages can be returned as undeliverable if the address is wrong or incomplete, or if the recipient refuses to accept delivery. Make sure your customers understand that it takes time to process packages that are returned as undeliverable - which can impact how long it takes to re-ship or issue a refund.
As the ecommerce industry continues to evolve, so too do approaches to customer service. For example, self-service support – where customers use FAQs, user forums, site content, or other means to solve a problem or answer a question without the assistance of customer service staff – is more popular than ever. While this approach to customer service certainly has benefits, it may be detrimental to make self-service content the sole focus of your customer service efforts.
Self-service content works best when it's supported by a customer contact center. The two work together – call centers provide personalized service and fill in the gaps commonly found in self-service resources. Meanwhile, self-service content lightens the load on your call center. Call centers can also provide some extra advantages over self-service content, such as:
- Resolving order fulfillment, payment processing, and other problems not related to specific products
- Assisting with social media engagement
- Retaining customers who have a disappointing experience
- Generating revenue through upsells, cross-sells, etc.
- Providing customer feedback to management – resulting in new product and service ideas
Because of these advantages, choosing the right customer contact center is a major step in leveling up your overall customer service. To learn more about the call center services provided through Fulfillment Works, contact us today.
Improving the efficiency of your fulfillment operations is something you should always be striving for. Because the peaks in your annual sales cycle test the maximum capacity of your operations, these times are an excellent opportunity to identify challenges or inefficiencies. Unfortunately, this can be almost impossible to do while you're in the thick of things - even outside of peak season.
A 3PL provider is an invaluable solution to this common problem. Not only can they objectively analyze your current operations, but they can also leverage their experience to find solutions that work for your unique situation. In this blog post, we'll cover a few of the main areas your 3PL provider will investigate at the beginning of your partnership. The more data that you can provide, the better that they can help you. During your peak season when you are facing the most challenges, try to be cognizant of the following areas so your 3PL provider can learn where the best opportunities for improvement are.
- What are your current procedures for recruiting and training?
- When hiring for peak season, which areas do you hire for?
- What is the average number of staff used to accomplish different types of workloads?
- Are there recurring tasks that are overly complex or time-consuming?
- When productivity drops occur, are there identifiable causes?
Warehouse layout and inventory storage
- Are there ways to reorganize or upgrade pallet racks and storage systems to get more capacity?
- Are there bottlenecks in your current layout that affect picking productivity?
- Would a new warehouse facility be a cost effective solution?
“Shipping” is more than just an added cost at the end of the checkout process. Speed, cost, communication, logistics – all of these and more combine to form the shipping experience your business is known for. If you can improve on these areas, you can turn your shipping options into a competitive differentiator that attracts more customers. In order to make effective improvements, be sure to consider the following:
Total Cost to Customers
It’s no secret that ecommerce customers love free shipping. However, it's important to remember that the reason customers love free shipping is because it's a discount. If customers can find the same product with a cheaper total cost elsewhere, it no longer matters whether or not the shipping is free. When using shipping discounts as a selling point, make sure that customers aren’t just absorbing the shipping costs through inflated product pricing or other charges.
Outbound vs. Inbound
If you are having trouble finding an effective way to provide your customers with discounted shipping, consider the benefits of reducing the cost of returns instead. Many customers decide to commit to a purchase based on the seller’s return policy. If the return’s policy is customer-friendly, customers are more likely to purchase from a seller – but not necessarily more likely to return their orders.
The order fulfillment process is mostly invisible to customers. But if you do your due diligence here, it can make a big impact on customer service. For example, don’t limit yourself to only one carrier. By negotiating with multiple carriers (or working with a 3PL who can negotiate on your behalf), both you and your customers can save a lot of money on shipping.