Breaking Away

Marketplaces like EBay or Amazon offer a solution to the most fundamental problem of new online businesses – how to put their products and services in front of potential customers at minimal cost. Just like real marketplaces, however, these online channels offer limited opportunities to develop a customer base that is loyal to you rather than to the venue.

Faced with increasing fees and eager for new growth, many marketplace sellers would like to open up new channels for their products, but find creating an entire online presence either dauntingly complex or unaffordable. But there are steps you can take today to lay the groundwork for breaking away from the marketplace and start creating direct connections between you and your customers.

Pay attention to your product packaging and final presentation to the customer after the sale is complete. If you sell a service, make sure you send a warm, professional welcome message reminding the buyer of the smart decision they just made and how to maximize its value. If you sell a shipped product, remember that receiving and opening that package may be your best (and last) opportunity to make a great impression.

If you outsource your shipping or use a drop shipper, ensure that you can include a packing slip that prominently displays your logo or name. Don’t settle for a generic packing slip with cryptic barcodes plastered all over it – your packing slip should confirm the details of the purchase, list any separately shipped items, return policies, your web site address, and provide a place for gift messages or other customizations.

Put marketing materials or memorable inclusions in your packages. Most outsourcers will drop inserts or catalogs into your outgoing shipments for a reduced price – this is a great way to get a mailer, promotional coupon or offer into your customers’ hands without additional shipping costs. One retailer  drops a small stuffed dinosaur into every package. The item costs him very little, but serves as great packing material and definitely makes his deliveries memorable!

If you ship USPS Priority Mail and meet their volume qualifications, you can even get free boxes from the USPS for your shipments with your custom design or text printed on the outside of the box. This is an incredible deal for those who can take advantage of it and even if you can’t do it on your own, you may be able to find a third party fulfillment shop that would be glad to “sponsor” you with the USPS.

Understand that every communication with your customers is an opportunity to establish and strengthen their perception of you as a brand and a trusted source. Whatever direction you take your business, taking every opportunity available to connect with your customers as a brand identity rather than an anonymous “seller” in a marketplace will give you a head start on breaking away from the pack.

Receiving: Pay Now or Pay Later

How do you choose an order fulfillment company when they all seem so similar? The most telling insight into the soul of a fulfillment house may be how they handle receiving.

A successful fulfillment center – whether in-house our outsourced – begins with good data. And that good data must be captured at the onset of the process, in receiving.

Receiving is where accuracy begins. It’s where you get a chance to verify that your supplier shipped the same number of units you purchased. It’s where damaged items are discovered and incorrect colors and sizes are found. It’s where quality assurance happens.

When playing the pricing game, some outsourced fulfillment services offer “Free Receiving,” while others charge for receiving. What’s the better value?

Ask the fulfillment company what they include in receiving? Do they insist on a high level of accuracy or do they simply verify the number of pallets received? What happens if you find out down the road that there was an error in receiving or the supplier sent the wrong quantity?  Who is responsible for making that right?   And how do you handle the orders that were affected by shipping incorrect inventory or backorders?

If free simply buys you a pallet count and taking the supplier’s word for it, then you’ll need the Q/A steps described above done at a later date.

Receiving is a garbage in – garbage out proposition. If the wrong items find their way to inventory, they’ll then find their way to your customer. And that’s where the real cost begins – errors and unhappy customers. Either way, you decide when you want to pay.