Theft during the last mile of product fulfillment is a growing problem in ecommerce. According to a report by InsuranceQuotes.com, 23 million Americans had packages stolen from their doorsteps in 2015. Even worse - a DropOff study found that 94% of consumers blame the e-tailer for poor delivery, while only 42% blame the delivery provider. Not only are you losing product from theft, you're also losing repeat customers and brand reputation.
While there isn’t much you can do to directly prevent this type of “shoplifting,” there are things you can do to decrease the likelihood of theft and provide customers with a better delivery experience.
Secure delivery options
Unattended packages are the ones thieves like to target, so secure delivery options can be a major deterrent. Some common solutions are:
- Signature request
- In-store pickup (if you also operate brick-and-mortar locations)
- Delivery to a storage locker (Amazon Locker is a good example)
- Customer-supplied delivery instructions (for example, you can add a new checkout field where customers write instructions, like “Please leave package on the back porch.”)
Proactive shipping notifications
Most ecommerce sites allow customers to passively check the delivery status of an order. Taking a more proactive approach to this idea can not only make your deliveries more secure, but improve your customers’ experience. Encourage customers to sign up to receive delivery notifications via text message, email, or even app push notifications.
Work with your carriers to offer your customers the ability to select a specific delivery date and time. This can be a value-added shipping option at checkout, or you can offer it for free with a minimum order.
Most omnichannel retailers take an ad hoc approach to selecting fulfillment management software; opting for solutions designed to suit the needs of each sales channel. For example, you may utilize POS software for brick-and-mortar locations and an ecommerce platform (such as Shopify or Magento) for your ecommerce site.
Ideally, a 3PL provider should have no problem integrating your current technology and software solutions to keep everything working seamlessly. But if your expansion into omnichannel is recent, you may not know what features you need or which vendor to go with. In this post, we'll go over some tips for selecting fulfillment operations software and providers that will enable you to give your customers the best possible experience – no matter which channel they purchase through.
Brick-and-mortar Point-of-Sale Systems
There are many inventory management features you should look for in a POS. From an omnichannel perspective, it's critical to have real-time product availability from all store locations, and the ability to receive orders from your other sales channels (like your ecommerce site). This level of inventory oversight confers numerous advantages: store personnel can see inventory status across the chain, customers can buy online and pick up in store, and overall product availability is much clearer.
Shoppers rely on various types of product information in their purchasing decisions. Therefore, you need an ecommerce platform that allows you to easily manage lots of merchandizing attributes like photos, product features, etc. The goal is to have detailed, searchable product information on your ecommerce site so customers can comfortably "add to cart" without needing to leave your site and find the information elsewhere – possibly from a competitor.
Choosing a vendor
Ideally, you'll want a software vendor that specializes in working with omnichannel clients. In addition to providing robust support for omnichannel processes (such as inventory synchronization), an important thing to look for is a commitment to building software with free and open APIs that allow your sales channels to share data and work together. At Fulfillment Works, our fulfillment management system has a fully-supported, real-time SOAP XML API that allows a client's programming team to write their own code for custom features and functionality.
Providing customers with a good experience the first time (and every time) they purchase from you is an important part of building customer loyalty. Loyal customers grow your company, so it's critical to assess your customer service from multiple angles and improve where necessary. Below are some tips you can use to get the full picture of your strengths and weaknesses in customer service.
Shop your site
What better way to evaluate customer service than by becoming a customer? To get an authentic experience, you’ll need to do more than just place an order. Contact your company with product questions or for help with placing an order. Buy something from yourself and evaluate your checkout process. After the order arrives, call customer service to troubleshoot some issues. Go through your returns process. Browse your website with a critical eye and ask yourself: are products easy to find and compare? Do product descriptions provide the right kind of information? Is the shopping experience the same on mobile devices?
Review customer feedback
If your customer service department uses call monitoring tools, that’s another excellent resource for finding areas of the customer experience that need improvement. Reviewing customer service calls can reveal patterns or errors you may not find by manually browsing your site, such as pricing errors, frequently asked questions, or even areas where customer service reps need more training. Additionally, you can review the most recent product return codes to look for recurring issues.
Improve your reporting
Is your customer service perfect, or could there be issues you’re not hearing about? Review the customer service and fulfillment reporting you have in place and look for gaps to fill. For example, there are opportunities to create new product return codes to get more granular customer feedback. If your reporting is thorough, you may be able to supplement it further with customer satisfaction surveys.
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.
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?