An Introduction to Handling Order Fulfillment on your E-commerce Website
So you have your fancy new eCommerce site that you have invested time and money into. And, if you really knew what you were doing, it might look a bit like the DroverShop. :P
Now, however, comes one of the most important tasks you have as an internet entrepreneur: order fulfillment. Thoughtful and timely order fulfillment can make or break your brand. For example, suppose you are the customer of your own online store. If it takes 3 weeks for your items to arrive, only to see them in an over-sized and poorly padded box, you are most likely not going to order from such a site again. Or worse yet, imagine getting to an online shopping cart and finding that estimated shipping costs are actually more than the value of merchandise you are purchasing from the site. Problems like these can be avoided through thoughtful consideration and application of order fulfillment by you -- the boss, the head honcho, the fondateur of your own online store.
Throughout this guide, I will humbly try to contribute to the decent sized body of literature on this topic that already exists on the internet. As you further consider shipping and order fulfillment, I recommend you check out some of those such articles, especially this phenomenal Shopify article that helped guide us here at Drover when we set up our DroverShop.
Consider What you Are Selling
The typical online store sells either digital products/services, like paid-access tutorials, e-books, or tutoring; and physical services paid online, like massages or personal training; or physical products, like footballs, vintage records, food, or magic beans.
Digital Product/Service Order Fulfillment
The type(s) of products/services you sell on your site will obviously impact the nature of your order fulfillment. For example. I bought a discounted coupon to an Xbox Live subscription on a 3rd party site a couple of weeks ago. Such a purchase/store is a great example of an eCommerce store selling a digital product. After my payment method went through, I instantly received my subscription code via email, which I was able to enter into my Xbox immediately.
If you run an eCommerce store selling a digital product, the keys to your success will be quick (and by quick I mean instantaneous) delivery via email, as well as attractive logos and colors throughout any and all emails you send to your customer -- including the delivery email.
Physical Services (Sold Online) Order Fulfillment
A good example of this type of store/product is a restaurant that sells gift cards to their brick and mortar locations on their website, or a piano teacher who accepts payment through their site. Whatever your story, if you are selling a physical service through your online store that must be redeemed in person, your key to success is instantaneous and attractive delivery of product voucher (email works well). Moreover, it needs to be very, very clear to your new customer how they can redeem their digital coupon/voucher in person at your brick and mortar business, massage table, etc.
Also, make sure that their in-person meets or exceeds their expectations when they bought their voucher. For example, a couple of months ago, I bought an online voucher for a water-powered jet pack experience. The pictures and videos seemed amazing, so I bought the vouchers at the incredibly discounted online rate. When I arrived at the resort to redeem the coupons, every second of my experience satisfied my expectations, and I had a ridiculous amount of fun. Be sure that customers are pleasantly surprised when they step into your business to redeem their online voucher purchased through your site.
Physical Product Order Fulfillment
Ok, so you absolutely, positively have to ship a physical product to your customers. In this case, you do not have the luxury of light-speed (and free) email delivery, or the convenience of customers coming to you to fulfill their order.
Now, you are faced with the challenge of shipping your items at a price that doesn't destroy your profit margins, but that also doesn't drive customers away from completing checkout... Excessive shipping costs is the #1 reason for online shopping cart abandonment. Stated plainly, if your online store's shipping costs are too high, your customers will look elsewhere without completing their order.
How do you avoid this? By carefully considering shipping costs/methods.
First off, there are three basic ways of of shipping/delivering your goods to your customers.
- Local pickup/In person delivery -- If you are starting off small, or if your customers are relatively limited to a particular geographic area (like a city), you might want to consider having customers pick up their items at pre-determined locations, or delivering to your customers in person.
- Flat-Rate Shipping -- if you are shipping items that are relatively small but very heavy, flat rate shipping might be a great option for you. USPS offers several different sizes of flat rate envelopes and boxes ranging from $7 - $20+ depending on the size box you need. The small envelope is big enough to ship a box or a couple of t-shirts, whereas the largest box is large enough to ship a full sized laptop with room to spare. Be careful here though -- if you are going to charge a $14 flat rate for shipping, for example, you had better make sure that your items are either way more expensive than that and/or unique enough to entice customers to pay such a high shipping rate. Remember services like Amazon Prime offer FREE 2 Day Shipping on pretty much anything you can imagine. Your challenge as a small online store is to either be so unique that your customers are willing to pay the price, or price your shipping competitively.
- Weight and Sized-Based Shipping -- if your items are not heavy enough to justify flat-rate boxes, you will want to consider standard shipping options through UPS, FedEx, or USPS. Note that these packages are priced by both dimensions and weight, so try to ship your items in the lightest, smallest boxes/envelopes/bags that you can pull off. If your item doesn't need a lot of padding or protection, you might want to consider a thick, plastic bag designed for shipping. If you do need padding, consider a bubble-lined envelope or a box with foam.
If you are shipping a physical product, make sure that your box/whatever your customers physically receive is nice and presentable. The last thing someone wants after dropping $50 at a new online store is to receive poorly packed goods. Consider including a hand-written thank you letter with all of your orders. If you are shipping so many items per day (which, good for you, that is awesome), consider a more generic typed note. Consider including specially colored packing tissue paper (like people use in gift bags) that reflect your brand colors. Consider including laptop stickers with your trendy logo. If customers get a box they are really happy with, or better yet, feel exceeds the quality they paid for, they will order from you again.
Bottom line -- make sure that your customers feel satisfied with whatever they open from you. At the very, very, very, very least, just make sure that items have enough padding and are packed securely so that they are not damaged in transit.
I hope this was helpful! If you would like some answers to more specific questions, feel free to ask them in the comments. Also, check out DroverShop.com to see our products and our shipping solutions.
Patrizio Murdocca is Chief Web Developer at Drover Rideshare, a student at Vanderbilt University, and President of Interfaced Ministries (www.interfacedministries.org).