Space and Time

Amazing scenarios exist in understanding the universe. Equally amazing though is how order fulfillment applies these two factors of existence. Not nearly as spectacular, fulfillment of orders is directly connected to both space and time. Space to store products or materials; and human power to time it so to have product packages at the dock for carrier pick up.

Over the years some basics have been addressed in fulfillment service to make the most ‘scientific’ decisions to produce both one more cubic foot and tracking fast and slow moving inventory. Simply, increasing space and reducing time. And while the subject of outsourcing has had different views as to outsource or not, we will always suggest to new e-commerce and e-tailers to do it in house as you start out. Handling fulfillment will immediately prove either to outsource or continue with fulfillment in house.

We maintain there are difficulties with maintaining both marketing and operations, but knowing something about the back end will be of value when investigating a possible fulfillment service who you may have to depend on. What these companies have is experience and a continuum of working with all related matters including carriers who actually make the deliveries and their specific services and fees. Most fulfillment vendors know these services and fees by routine comparisons and what works best for certain weights and sizes.

Karol Media started in the basement selling educational video cassettes until activity increased to the extent leased space was required. Depending too on whether wholesale orders are the norm for product can dictate outsourcing to reduce overhead costs and no lease commitments. All in all, it really is a personal decision for many as ‘can-do space and time’ enters decision making. In the meantime, one article of interest written by James Salvatori for Practical E-Commerce that makes a valid stance to handle fulfillment to complete the customer cycle under one roof.

Flash Sale Fulfillment is Part and Parcel for Success

Flash sales are not new. And there are e-retailers who are masters at this method of moving inventory out by making a sale time limit. What fulfillment companies may call for themselves: ‘crunch time.’ So be it; everybody can make money with the fundamentals executed properly.

For sure, fulfillment is part in parcel with the strategy—customers expect their order in a timely fashion. And the brand needs to be well represented particularly when repeat customers are expected. There are many good products yet as The Today Show stipulates with smaller brands, work with a fulfillment house if you do not routinely fill orders from your own warehouse location.

Scale is important to consider. While there are a host of capable large fulfillment companies, not all flash sales are huge. What’s huge can be qualified to some degree, but start at 10,000 orders and up. Then, what is the order type: single SKU? Pre-packed for shipping? Then start at 20,000 orders. While most flash sales don’t necessarily mean pick and pack, we doubt anyone would object to a customer’s purchase of more than one. Now toggle that possibility with the offer and review any historic data or speak to an agency.

Generally speaking not all fulfillment companies are poised for large projects. But regardless of the size of project, those that handle these bulk order drops do so between 11:00am and 5:00pm so the packages are in the carrier stream the same day of the sale. In order to do that, they need the space, staff and logistic know how. If a fulfillment company has not handled a flash sale before, be cautious. If you anticipate less than 1,000 orders, your choice of vendor can be broader.

If you are new to it, you can read more on it. And for a look see, one e-retailer, fullbeauty, uses flash sales strategically and have a strong loyal customer list for the effort.

Dialectica

Beckon the logic when envisioning success in e-commerce. As most know, the entire cycle of events that leads to a satisfied, and returning, customer requires more than imagination; it requires a process that increases customers and orders while reducing expenses. Not everyone gets it though, so focused on the product as if it was to be submitted for an award. E-Commerce is not an art exhibition.

Keeping a dialectic approach with your marketplace is the ONLY way to success. Sure, Sony made the Walkman which was not only the product, but the marketplace at the same time. They did in fact create a market with their product; but we’re talking about you, your budget and your understanding of the internet.

Enthusiasm regarding the logical conclusion of a merchant-customer relationship can keep one focused on less if any trial and error. That is: follow the experts and only conclude there’s a problem with your sales strategy by budgeting fairly before adapting. It’s not a question of a job description preference; it’s about making money. Knowing a market is knowing people—so then, you now know why not everyone has a Ford Taurus. No Bull.

In conclusion, when no one is buying, you haven’t found the right people yet. And when you do find the right people, the logical thing to do is to ‘ask’ what else would these findees buy? If you argue they are wrong, you have not embraced Dialectica. It’s not about touchy-feely, it’s about logic. Now think about the logic of an impulse buy. You’re getting closer….you got it; what they simply must have.

Here are two e-tailers who understand their people who BUY.

How Many Shipping Points Are Necessary?

Every so often a discussion ensues with decision-makers regarding the number of locations necessary for cost effective fulfillment and customer satisfaction. In the simplest of explanations, only one location is required but considerations for multiple national and international locations can be in order. As fulfillment is customer driven, clients can pass along zone-based carrier cost savings the closer the customer is to the shipping point. Zone based carrier costs are factored here for parcels.

The number of orders, if not the weight, is of course factored as well. If an e-retailer has one SKU that weighs 60lbs and ships 500 orders a month, it’s worth the research on carrier charges with one east coast location and one western location. This simple example of split inventory reflects that which is easier to manage. On the other hand, if there are 2,000 SKU’s involved and most orders weigh less than a pound, not unlikely then one should investigate USPS non-zone services from one location.

Geography has changed enough from carrier service considerations too. Additionally, decisions regarding fulfillment should include the fact that ground services are newly and nearly always one to two days from either coast to customer except to the other, or to sparsely populated areas. There, price can factor insomuch as to offer complimentary one or two day service (not necessarily handling or ground service cost). However, again, if you have fewer SKU’s and relatively high volume, two locations are worth investigation. There are no magic formulas, but there are those fulfillment houses who work together as a result of the geographic, zone based logistic. Or, a client can choose two or three fulfillment houses in this scenario. And a simple national division is made based on location zip codes and some math to determine from where shipments are made.

Karol works with clients who have multiple fulfillment vendors for regional considerations (closer to manufactures as well as shipment destinations) and those who need inventories in one place without high customer demands for quick delivery. It depends. But for sure, population density relative to product is to be looked at closely too. And if you’re selling high mountain supplies and equipment, you probably know your shipping location needs to be in high mountain areas or surrounds—not Surf City NJ.

Time is a Measurement Too

Looking at web marketing today, the opportunities are in fact endless because it is affordable. In a real sense then, only time is the limitation. When considerations for ‘holistic’ marketing are reviewed, we can witness a range of communications that sell by virtue of available information. That is, in some way, that which leads to a sale is not necessarily paid advertising. Nothing new really, but publicity is as good today with 15 words as it was with 1500 in double spaced publicity releases.

What am I saying? Only that the wherewithal to reach a relevant and better market-readership is measured by time, not necessarily numbers (‘followers’ may be the better term, in spite of any connotation). Sure there are exponential results from some activities to reduce time. But not all of us value time the same way either. There are serial entrepreneurs who are in perpetual motion and see time as the means to develop more business. Perhaps off course, this too means more time to do what may be a personal type joy.

In the communications ‘universe’ today, we see images and read bits of text as fast as it can be photographed or typed. Many times, there is not the editing processes for the sake of better copy or even relative journalism for that matter. Which brings me back to the point—more refined personalized and humanized posts or copy; and of course more time in order to distribute that which sells something—an opinion or an idea and the match with respective products.

Parting thoughts: No doubt 24 hours can be better utilized by some than others. Yet some ‘time drifters’ are the innovators for the next greatest means of communication. These enviable individuals let time do some of the work as older ways extinguish themselves as if by some evolutionary forces. The weight of how it’s done today, competitively, will somehow bring it down with something lighter in conception yet concrete.

And with new methods of communication looming, likely you will be driving illegally if you’re engaged in it—at the time.

Considerations for Confirming a Fulfillment Vendor

Small Businesses: Understand Warehousing Fulfillment Before You Sign That Contract

In a rush to push their product to market or to secure the lowest warehousing cost, many small businesses jump into a contract with a warehousing and fulfillment company without fully understanding what they are signing up for. Unfortunately, many times, the small business will realize their mistake after large amounts of money are already spent or they are trapped in a long-term contract. With a little knowledge on how fulfillment companies work, a small business can be much more prepared to choose a provider that will not only do the job, but also make the business run efficiently.

There’s More to Finding a Fulfillment Company than Low Pricing

In many small business owners’ minds, cost is a number one concern when choosing a warehouse provider. Oftentimes, they’ll simply choose the provider with the lowest costs, believing this is the best course of action for their business. While cost is important, a provider that offers a low cost may also offer poor service, fewer shipping options or more fees than higher priced competitors.

Some of the lower priced fulfillment companies intentionally deceive potential clients by luring them in with low pricing. These introductory offers often change to a much higher price after a specified amount of time, or unexpected fees are added to the price later. Some examples of added fees are packaging fees, start up fees for small business fulfillment, customer service fees, hidden shipping fees or other service fees.

Some companies offer lower costs with the signing of a multi-year contract. While you may be saving money, in the long run you may find yourself trapped in an agreement with a company your business quickly outgrows.

When trying to find the best price, it is important to remember there is no standard pricing in the warehousing industry. So, it is imperative that you ask each potential warehouse for a list of all their fees. This list should include storage fees, palette fees and minimum fees. Before you sign, also ask the company to mock up some projected shipping charges so you get an idea of what you may be spending.

Other Important Traits to Look for In a Fulfillment Warehouse

In order to successfully outsource fulfillment, small businesses must understand the warehousing process so that they can adequately manage and hold the fulfillment firm accountable. There are a few particular points that you should consider:

  • Many companies specialize in storing and shipping certain types of products. Others specialize in dealing with ecommerce orders while or do better working with business to business orders. Look for warehouses that deal with your kind of product and business type for the best service.
  • Check out the company’s technology capabilities. If your business is run online, it is important that the warehouse have 3PL software, real time inventory reports and can provide customer’s shipping tracking information. Ask your potential fulfillment provider to give you a demonstration of their technology services.
  • Some warehousing companies own their own shipping fleet, while others do not. This can make a difference in your shipping costs, so be sure to find out this crucial detail before signing your contract.
  • A high-quality shipping company will take responsibility when shipping errors occur. Check with your prospects to learn their policies on shipping mistakes.
  • Reputation is a key factor when deciding if a company is high-quality. Ask for customer referrals and talk with as many employees as possible.
  • The best third party fulfillment centers will have credentials, awards and certifications. Look for these on the company’s website or ask them for a list of their credentials.
  • Proper insurance coverage is important if your product is particularly expensive. Find a company that has adequate insurance coverage and then ask if the company would be willing to add your business as an additional insured party under their policy.
  • Ask for a copy of the company’s processes and procedures document. If the company does not have processes and procedures guidelines for their company, this is a sign that the company is not a professional, high-quality operation.

Understanding Fulfillment Aids in Effectively Managing a Provider

Most importantly, make sure that you understand how the fulfillment process works before jumping into any outsourced relationship. Many providers would like you to think that by outsourcing, you simply won’t have to worry at all about fulfillment. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the only way to effectively manage and hold your outsourced provider accountable is to fully understand how fulfillment and warehousing work. Furthermore, understanding all of the intricacies of logistics will give you a greater appreciation for how much it truly costs in order to find a high quality partner. With these cost and operation facts in mind, a small business will be much more prepared to choose a warehousing fulfillment company that meets their needs without any regrets later on.

Sage Internet Marketing Interview

Karol Media: Tell me how you saw blogs in the marketing mix and how you have seen the field evolve?

Stershic:   I launched the Quality Service Marketing Blog in February 2005 in lieu of having a professional website and as a platform to extend my brand.  In my experience in services marketing, employees ARE the brand and their engagement is critical to engaging customers; i.e., if your employees don’t feel valued, neither will your customers.  So my blog’s primary focus is on employee-customer care through internal marketing — what it is, why it’s important, what it involves, how to strengthen it, what to do, what not do, etc.

Over the years, my content strategy has evolved to reflect my growth as a thought leader on engaging employees and customers with internal marketing.  I write about internal marketing/branding, internal communications, employee engagement, customer service, leadership, and marketing for service providers and nonprofit organizations.  Blogging allows me to cultivate and share best practices collected from people I’ve met online and in-person.  It’s also enabled me to develop and preview content for my books on internal marketing.

Karol:   First off Sybil, you created your blog in 2005 and your only physical web presence was this blog until a few years ago!  Fascinating.  8 years of blogging.

Stershic:  I didn’t realize at the time how critical blogging (and other forms of social media) would become as part of the marketing mix. As a solo-preneur, I rely on networking and word-of-mouth as my primary marketing tools. The blogosophere provides an expansive network through which I’ve “met” many helpful and inspiring bloggers, and it’s enabled faster sharing of word-of-mouth.  I used to get a kick out of prospects telling me they found me through my website when the only online presence I had was my blog!  Again, yes, it was only a few years ago that I launched a business website, and I recently consolidated them into one site: http://www.qualityservicemarketing.com.

Social media has grown tremendously since I began blogging eight years ago. The number and frequency of blog comments have declined due to the advent of additional social media engagement through LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, etc.   It’s become overwhelming and contributes to a lot of noise and clutter.  Smart marketers are learning that social media needs to be strategic — just because a new technology is out there, doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for every business and every brand.  When I first dipped my toes into the Twitter pool, I followed the advice of sharing “what’s got my attention” that others might benefit from (e.g., important insights, new findings on employee-customer care, interesting webinars/blog posts/white papers, etc.) rather than sharing everything-and-anything that crossed my path.

Social media outlets offer an important set of communication tools in the marketing/branding mix that requires strategic thought and investment.  It’s a new spin on traditional concepts: content management is basically marketing messaging; reputation management is part of branding; and word-of-mouth has been expanded to include word-of-mouse.

Karol:  So, you say, as an “essence” of your Quality Service Marketing specialty, that: “if your employees don’t feel valued, neither will your customers.”   How often, even in this day and age, is this internal focus overlooked in Business?

Stershic:  Talk about the ultimate question!

The good news is the relationship between employee care and customer care is publicly acknowledged; the bad news is very few organizations are intentional in how they manage this relationship.  The reasons for this disconnect range from “benign neglect” (i.e., it’s just one of many “to do” items on an already long list) to considering employees as commodities. Scott Adams recognizes the latter thinking in his book, “The Dilbert Principle,” when he lists “Our employees are our greatest asset” as number one in the top ten management lies.

Besides giving lip service to employee value, many managers don’t realize that internal marketing is an ongoing effort. Communicating the company’s mission, strategy and goals; where employees fit within the “big picture” of the organization; and what is expected of employees in helping the company achieve its goals, etc. — this crucial information needs to be shared continuously.  Market and competitive forces require adjustments in company strategy and resources, and managers don’t necessarily take the time to communicate what’s happening in the company. They don’t know what’s expected of them in sharing such information; they lack the communication skills, and/or complain they don’t have the time. Equally frustrating, managers may not bother to solicit employee feedback. When employees are kept out of the communications loop, and when they feel no one cares about their input and ideas, they start to disengage.

There’s no real magic to employee and customer engagement — it’s common sense. However, common sense doesn’t always translate into common practice.

Karol: How often in your experience does genuine quality internal marketing translate into a robust successful company?

I’d love to say “Always!” but that’s not realistic. There are numerous elements besides internal marketing that contribute to a successful enterprise.  These include strong product utility and value, well-trained and qualified employees, effective strategy and execution, excellent customer service, and market responsiveness, to name a few. For example, if a company offers a product with little perceived value, or if new competitors are doing a superior job, the company won’t be in business for long. The marketplace can also change rapidly, putting pressure even on those firms with a good business model and strong employee-customer engagement. Sadly, there are companies with a negative workplace culture that seem to survive high employee turnover and do well in spite of themselves. But is that a place where you would want to work?

_________________________________________________________________

Sybil F. Stershic is president of Quality Service Marketing, (www.qualityservicemarketing.com,) a marketing and organizational advisor with more than 30 years of experience helping service providers strengthen employee and customer relationships. A leading authority on engaging employees through internal marketing, she is the author of “Share of Mind, Share of Heart: Marketing Tools of Engagement for Nonprofits” a 2013 Small Business Book Award Winner in Marketing, “Taking Care of the People Who Matter Most:  A Guide to Employee-Customer Care”, and the Quality Service Marketing blog.

Sybil’s clients span a variety of service industries including advertising, communications, financial services, food service, government, healthcare, higher education, professional associations, and social service organizations. She also teaches marketing workshops nationwide.

Active in leadership and professional development, Sybil is a former Chairman of the American Marketing Association (AMA). In addition to her continued involvement with AMA, she serves on the Advisory Council of Global Facilitators Serving Communities and is a member of BoardSource and the International Association of Facilitators.

Karol provides storage, packaging, distribution fulfillment business solutions to e-commerce, other business, non-profits, and associations for over 36 years. karolfulfillmentservices.com Email: sales@karolmedia.com

Copyright, 2013,  Karol Media. Note: This article cannot be reproduced or published without the written permission of Karol Media.  Any requests are to be made to sales@karolmedia.com.  Karol Media retains the copyright to every re-publication.

The Human Touch in e-Commerce

We know the driving force behind electronic retailing is commerce from consumer.  To that end, a concise understanding of Responsive Web Design can be had by reading a number of posts in Business 2 Community written by Jacey Gulden of SyneCore Technologies.  Helpful  these are in my view for a wide range of web and front-end affiliated professionals and merchants and e-retailers alike.

Interestingly, I receive a number of online trade publications and I found it beneficial to find and read e-commerce information in Business 2 Community.  It didn’t click at first but I appreciate the whole online business picture more for it—merchants as well as chambers, restaurants, churches or other non-profits serve a community one way or another.

Though the term human media was brought to my attention by way of CopyBlogger to emphasize benefits of Google Hangouts, the fact is there are still plenty of people –in- person transactions.  And the term human media can be applied to web sites too as Ms. Gulden’s posts reveal in equivalent fashion:   “Design for humans, not devices.”

The connection between Responsive Web Design (RWB) probably is more closely tied to internet retailing when products are shipped.  (Though today some sites solicit sales for pickups in local bricks and mortar fronts.)  The ‘point’ of Ms. Gulden’s posts about RWD for me at least, was the same as any people-in- person transaction—friendly, no store navigation-aggravation and one-two-three purchases.  Clean layout.  Minimum of work, if any, for user-consumer to find something worth finding to buy if they didn’t know what is was already.

Since I’m not in the front end of internet merchandizing, I can only then relay what I believe to be of value with RWD and sales.  And as everyone knows, we all did not enter e-commerce at the same time, front-end or back-end.  We do share the internet and utilize it as best we can to sell services and products to include all sorts of functions surrounding the broadest definition of e-commerce.  I think we are all bridge builders when all is said and done so a customer can ‘get over it.’  To that end, we have our own to build and I get to say I’m in the fulfillment business—and everyone else involved actually is too.

Sometimes e-Commerce is Just Plain Amazing…

We have seen tremendous growth in online sales and with those who embrace the technology, much happens.  I myself no longer see where I’ve been as much as I see where others are going.  And they don’t see themselves as winners but rather livers.  That’s right, enterprise can embrace the best of life.

From one of my contacts, I learned about Sweet Riot.  Yet there are others that impress me too.  Love n’ Fresh Flowers is awesome in my view.  And not all are in the market for a shopping cart.  That is, they bring their products to market on the internet and when applicable, use a shopping cart.  Regardless, these entrepreneurs and artisans have valuable offers or information and use the signage they grew up with.  While I don’t wish myself any younger, I just am glad people my junior see what an enterprising spirit can accomplish—and not just for themselves.

Looking ahead and not looking back is what makes good things available to us.  Bucket List Publications is just about living by travel and adventure without all of the dollars you would think necessary.  Comma Workshop is about living a passion.  Kikkerland is about frivolity with purpose—and I believe necessary at times.  Kids Fly Too could not have been a success as bricks and mortar; but the internet and respective marketing to this new ‘mall’ makes it possible.  Yet still, it’s the enterprising spirit that drives it all.  And not necessarily money though that’s what pays what must be.

It’s Friday April 26 two thousand and something and I am looking forward to some weekend rest.  The forecast here in North East Pennsylvania is perfection.  Though I look forward to the sunshine, I’m sure to doze off while knowing, thankfully, I’ll have work to do come Monday.  Things are looking brighter now, and Spring is the best time of the year.  So, good fortunes to all who ply their trade.  It’s work but somehow it need not feel like it.