Guest Blogger: Robert Gilbreath is the Vice President of Marketing and Partnerships at Austin-based ecommerce shipping software provider ShipStation.
After about 20 years in the ecommerce industry, I’ve encountered my fair share of logistical nightmares. And while learning from your own mistakes is certainly valuable, learning from the mistakes of others is so much less stressful.
Today I’m excited to share some insight on ecommerce fulfillment and logistics. Hopefully this article can help you circumvent some of the hurdles I’ve run into over the past two decades.
“Customer experience” is a philosophy with some momentum. How can ShipStation’s back office branding capabilities help improve the overall customer experience?
Many online retailers think the only places they can showcase their brand are their website, emails, social media, and marketing messages. But ShipStation provides merchants with three other branding opportunities: the order tracking page, shipping label, and packing slip.
Sending your customer to a carrier’s tracking page interrupts the post-purchase conversation and takes your brand out of the spotlight. But a branded tracking page keeps your company front and center and promotes your brand -- not the carrier’s.
The shipping label is another place to flaunt your brand. It’s the last thing a shopper looks at before they open their package. Ensure it’s your logo she sees.
Finally, the packing slip. When you have the ability to choose how every element appears, you can make sure the shopping experience ends on a high note.
What are the key elements to deliver a true unified commerce experience?
First and foremost, brands must understand that unified commerce is not simply executing omnichannel retail. Yes, unified commerce involves selling on multiple channels. But where it diverges from omnichannel is in the software.
Unified commerce means using a single platform to manage every aspect of selling. It means throwing away multiple disparate systems and having one individual database, containing real-time, accurate information that is easily and remotely accessible by every suitable team member.
What unified commerce empowers brands to do is give shoppers more flexibility in how and where they shop. Web purchases can be returned in the store. Out-of-stock items in a brick-and-mortar location can be ordered online by a sales associate. To embrace unified commerce is to embrace precision and consistency.
A shopper’s interactions with your brand shouldn’t vary by channel. She should always see the same inventory information, item details, and product recommendations. Most importantly, those recommendations must be personalized, relevant, and demonstrate your brand’s commitment to the customer experience. And this simply isn’t possible when a brand operates in silos.
As ecommerce merchants become more global, what are the key aspects for them to keep in mind when going international?
The first thing is to confirm there’s even a market for your product(s) overseas. Once you know that, make sure you can ship your products to the country you’re considering selling in. Every country has rules about what kinds of items they’ll allow retailers to import -- and some are stricter than others.
Find out which shipping carriers deliver to the country and what their shipping restrictions are. Are there certain products they simply won’t deliver? What are the maximum package weights and dimensions they’ll ship? Additionally, research what services each carrier offers and what they charge for them.
You also need to review the taxes and fees for each country and calculate how those charges affect your overall costs. It doesn’t make sense to sell to a country where the duties you have to pay are just as much as (if not more than) the revenue you’ll get from the sale.
Back office opportunities are often overlooked at the expense of marketing or site design priorities. Can you share examples of low hanging fruit that is often wrongly overlooked?
No matter the industry, an organization is always on the lookout for ways to improve the company brand, to ensure its audience has a positive opinion about what the business is and what it does. But without the back office team members, there is no brand because there is no company.
Every business needs accountants and an IT division and office administrators and an HR department. The problem is that too many companies focus all of their time, budget, and resources into perfecting the customer experience and ignore the importance of the employee experience -- particularly when those employees aren’t client-facing.
Your employees need exactly three things from you: a comfortable workplace where they feel motivated, the tools and technology to complete their tasks, and a commitment to their well-being. Give them an office that isn’t rows of identical cubicles in a windowless building. Give them up-to-date software and hardware that doesn’t make them want to bang their head on their desks. Give them incentives to be healthier and happier.
Just as it’s more costly to acquire a client than to retain one, it’s much more expensive to replace an employee than to retain one. So show you’re invested in your workforce, and they’ll be more invested in the company.
Does ShipStation software have warehouse management capabilities in addition to its core capabilities?
Yes. Within the available Inventory Management tools is the Inventory Warehouse feature. Once a user sets an inventory warehouse as an inventory source for a Ship From Location in the platform, the ShipStation software will allocate available stock and deduct units from the appropriate location when an order is shipped.
Users also have the option to configure their digital Inventory Warehouse to mirror their physical warehouse layout. They can specify the aisle, shelf, or even bin where a product is located. The user can then choose to include this information on packing slips and/or pick lists.
What are the benefits of choosing a fulfillment and logistics software that is integrated with multiple carriers?
Having to log into multiple platforms in order to access each carrier account may only add a couple minutes here and there throughout the day. Where the real disruption occurs is when a merchant has to switch between the carriers’ sites and their own software to get the information they need to fulfill orders. And then it takes more time to transfer data between the platforms when an order is received or shipped.
But the biggest headache that comes from this scenario is cleaning up the messes that occur due to human error. Managing information across that many interfaces is a recipe for incorrect items being shipped or delayed orders. And when a customer receives the wrong item or gets their order late, it can turn them off from your brand forever. When you can access every tool and bit of data you need to fulfill an order in a single platform, you can kiss those frustrations goodbye.