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The Biggest eCommerce Fulfillment Issues We Heard at #IRCE18

Derrick Weiss

The biggest, most frequent problems I heard during IRCE were always related to eCommerce fulfillment.

Inventory was on lockdown. Most people can figure that stuff out.

eCommerce platform? No problemo - there are a ton of established players with great solutions.

Marketing was straightforward. So was product.

But fulfillment was the kicker.

After speaking with a few hundred people, there was almost always something in the fulfillment process that went wrong, was a complete or partial manual process, or was causing headaches for customers or employees.

The thing is, it was different for almost every attendee that came to the booth.

Here are the biggest issues we discussed at our booth at IRCE. Comment below if you're facing a similar issue!


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Current fulfillment system is tied to a 'standard'

Also known as 'that's just the way it's done,' this was one of the most common issues discussed.

Example: a shipping management system isn't rate shopping - it's just delivering a single rate, based on criteria you don't know and can't change. This means that every package sent out is costing an extra few dollars.

It doesn't seem like much, but when you ship hundreds or thousands of packages a week, it adds up fast.

And the crazy thing is, with those kinds of savings, a better system pays for itself.

If the financial reason is there - what's stopping savvy operations people from switching to the latest and greatest?

Why is switching eCommerce fulfillment systems so hard?

From what we heard, it comes down to one big reason: Change is scary.

When you change your fulfillment system, there's a lot of potential for things to go wrong. Switching is notoriously difficult - it's time-consuming, implementation can be a bear, and it feels like you're starting from scratch.

And that's just on the back end - what if your customers have delayed orders, don't get tracking info, or the system obfuscates data so you can't properly ship? Nothing good - which is why changing is a slow process.

Let's expand the example above. Say the shipping management system is rate shopping, but it's done one-by-one, and decided manually by an employee.

If that's how your operations functions, you know that there is a way to automate that process. You know it exists, but your current system doesn't allow it, for any one of a number of reasons.

So you get into contact with support and request a new feature, and you'll have it... in six to nine months.

Sound familiar? That's because this problem (or variations of it) was the most common one we heard at IRCE.

Every order is custom

Certain sized boxes, packing instructions, or other special requirements shouldn't require a decision every time.

Every business, every product, and every customer is a special snowflake. That's what we all say, and that's how we act.

The reality is that the majority of your orders are going to have a lot in common.

In fact, you probably know exactly the type of orders that you get that need to be packaged or shipped a certain way.

If you know that, you likely know how the majority of those orders are going to get packaged or shipped.

And if you know that, all you really need is a way to automate that process.

And voilà! You've scaled something that many would tell you is unscalable.

The trick is finding the tools to help you automate this process.


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Automated routing or rules

This one was tricky. It's easier to say that the solution to this problem is a tool that lets you automate your fulfillment decisions than it is to describe the problem, because every IRCE attendee I spoke with had a different variation.

It relates very closely to the previous points, but this one is the actual implementation.

After a lengthy discussion with one attendee, we basically figured out that his employees knew how to pick, pack, and ship every order. They knew what box to use, what packing materials to use, and which carrier to pick for certain items or groups of items.

But the real reason he came to the IRCE was to find a system that could automate the entire fulfillment and shipping process.

If you have complicated orders or packaging that isn't completely standard, then an automated solution might be right for you as well.

Oftentimes, you won't get to a point where you need a custom solution until you've tried everything else. Many attendees that came to us were using two, three, or more systems to manage their entire back end of commerce operations. To us, that's just too much.

This is compounded if you are selling in multiple channels. Imagine selling on Amazon, eBay, Overstock, and Wayfair, in addition to your own eCommerce website.

If each platform has a slightly different fulfillment process, the complexity required to fulfill customer orders is increased significantly.

The big thing is, most of the people I spoke with knew exactly what they wanted. They could describe the problem they were having in great detail. The issue wasn't that they just couldn't figure it out. It was that they couldn't find the right tool to do it.

Here's my big takeaway:

Don't compromise on eCommerce fulfillment.

Don't pick something that isn't right for your business, or won't let you do what you know you need to do.

The minute you choose something that is almost right, or can be addressed further down the line, you're basically saying that it's not important enough to solve now.

Instead, be proactive and get exactly what you need.

Find solutions that fit your business, not the other way around

Software should conform to your business and your operations - not the other way around. Don't 'deal with it', it'll only come back to bite you.

It's easy to find a software or service that accomplishes 80% of what you need, but difficult to find one that reaches 100%.

However, the difference between those is much greater than 20%. That last bit will mean significantly more than it appears to when you're able to scale your operations in a way that outstrips your competition.

The SkuNexus platform can provide a precise amount of customization, totally specific to your fulfillment or warehouse operations, and accessible for savvy developers with full access to the source code behind core features and functions.

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