Since starting Goodordering in 2012, i have learnt a lot about running a predominantly online business. Here i want to share some of my learnings. I've done this in the form of a Q&A.
What is a fulfilment company?
A fulfilment centre or company is a warehouse or company that will send out your ecommerce orders to your customers.
How do they charge? what is their price structure?It can differ from company to company but my fulfilment partner charger a storage fee which is calculated by square metre of space that my stock takes up, plus for each order they send out, they charge say roughly one pound. They also add on the actual cost of postage. They would also charge for returns and manage your returns.
How do you find a fulfilment company to work with?
The first port of call is to contact other brands who use fulfilment centres and ask them whether they would recommend theirs, like most things there is nothing better than referrals. If you don't know anyone to ask, then you will need to do some research, try to visit or talk to several companies until your find the right partner for you. Read below the kinds of questions to ask to find the right partner.
I have an e-commerce business, do i NEED to have a fulfilment company?
No, you don't. In fact if you are just starting out you can save money and learn a lot by doing the order fulfilment yourself. Companies such as Hermes , DPD and even Royal Mail make it easy for you to send out multiple orders yourself. For example using Hermes' drop and go service where you can print out labels at drop off points makes the process really easy.
Do you provide your own packaging?
Yes, i provide my fulfilment company with the packaging elements. Whether it be a note to put inside, the mailer bag, tissue paper or whatever, they should be able to work within your desired design to ensure that your customers get a great unboxing experience.
Do i need to use a special computer system or program?
No. As i use shopify, my fulfilment company log into the back end of the system with their own log in, and process all the orders automatically each day. For keeping track of stock i use a shared Google spreadsheet. Its great!!
What questions should i ask prospective fulfilment companies?
What companies do they currently work with? this is a good question because its good to use a company that have clients of a similar size and vibe to yours. They are more likely to understand your issues. For example if you sell dresses, it might not be a good idea to work with a fulfilment company that normally deal with sending out hammers and screwdrivers. Things like warehouse conditions and unboxing style will be similar and therefore easier to manage.
Where is the warehouse based? This is good to find out, it doesn't really matter hugely, but it might be a consideration if you would like to visit and get to know your fulfilment partner. Mine is about 4 hours drive away, out of london. This works fine for me as our main form of communication is email.
Would i have my own dedicated contact point? This is important as your warehouse / fulfilment centre is a place that you will be in contact almost on a daily basis. The communication between you and your contact there will become crucial. You should feel like you have personal service.