One of the biggest headaches in business comes with ‘scale’. The ability of you, or your systems, to cope with increased sales volumes, along with cash flow, is one of the most crucial considerations for business owners.
There are two main issues when it comes to scale. There are the sudden spikes in sales which may be as a result of having your products featured on national TV or radio. Often these can be predicted if you have an active PR campaign, but for many companies of this size, PR is lower down the list of priorities. For those that can’t predict large swings in demand your ability to cope with them is absolutely vital – not least because often this will be the first time many of these customers would have interacted with you.
After the first unexpected peak there is the tendency to view the event as a one-off. It is important, however, to learn from this and put procedures in place to allow you to more effectively handle them in the future. Not only is it likely that you will retain some customers and provide a step-change in sales volumes, but you are also more likely to have similar spikes in sales in the future. At what stage do you start thinking that restructuring your fulfilment processes is a good idea?
It is vitally important that you do not leave it too late. It is better to solve these issues before the next unexpected peak – or at least before your expected ‘busy times’ such as Christmas.
Great businesses automate as much as possible. They look at each process their staff, suppliers and customers make and try and make them as seamless as possible. Services such as ifttt.com automate the actions of many people’s online lives. 2014 has seen the rise of ‘life hacks‘ – small actions that make life a great deal easier. This ethos of pre-emptive ‘problem solving’ is absolutely key in the current business environment. Any advantage you have over your customer can prove the difference between attracting, retaining and losing customers – and no more so then when it comes to sending customers their orders quickly, efficiently and cheaply.
And this is where we come to courier integrations. Thinking of the ‘If This Then That’ website above, courier integrations are one form of automation. This is how they work:
- Customer A visits your website
- They see products they like are in stock
- They get an accurate delivery price (and shipping times) represented in their shopping cart
- They accept the price of the products, delivery and are happy with the speed of shipping
- They complete the transaction
- In real-time the order is processed by your payments gateway
- In real-time available stock levels are amended
- In real-time orders are sent to the warehouse
- Then the orders are accurately picked and packed
- They are allocated the relevant courier shipping partner (courier, Royal Mail, etc.)
- They are then correctly labelled and despatched
From the point the customer confirms their order to the wheels put in motion to despatch their order will take less than a second. The final stages are likely to just take minutes – all without anyone within your organisation having to lift a finger. You generate the sales, we’ll fulfil them.
This process is suitable for companies with a moderate number of sales up to those with significantly more. Each company will have their own ‘tipping point’ and it is important to explore all the costs/benefits. But doing things the manual way that takes up too much of your company’s resources cannot be beneficial in the long run. Growing companies just have to automate to help them maintain and enhance that expansion.
There are some issues you will need to consider
Matching up the couriers you can integrate with is also key. Having a variety of options: from economy to premium and from domestic to international will allow you to cater for all types of customer.
It is also important to consider what level of ‘checks and balances’ you would require. The Cloud Fulfilment system allows you to manually approve orders before they are sent to the warehouse to be fulfilled. Those that are new to automated fulfilment may like to apply this ‘manual break’ to the system – at least in the beginning.
Consider your options for returns. Some industries, such as fashion, will have a higher general returns rate than, say food, and choosing a system that have features the ability to manage returns is important. It is also vital that you make your returns policies and procedures clear for customers.
Automated courier integrations are vital if you would like to add scalability to your ecommerce store. Overly relying on manual processes will only serve to hold back your organisation and restrain profits.
There are solutions available which offer courier integrations, it is important, however, to take a thorough look at the features and benefits and ensure they are suitable to your needs.