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Online demand is soaring but too many retailers are missing out on great opportunities due to one simple reason: fulfilment. In an eCommerce retail model, the quality of the fulfilment process – from the timeliness of delivery to the look and feel of the packaging – defines a customer’s experience (CX). And that process has to be consistently perfect whether you’re shipping one product, or one thousand. 

We asked the James and James team how online retailers can keep the CX intact while they’re successfully scaling their businesses.

Get the first impression right 

The impact of fulfilment on customer experience is often underestimated. Spending a fortune on carefully curated websites and great delivery promises is a wasted investment if the product turns up late, damaged or swathed in acres of unnecessary packaging. 

Sure having a pretty website is key to enticing someone to buy – but unpacking the product is the customer’s first real ‘hands-on’ experience of your brand, and that impression will last.

Ensuring the right product arrives when promised is just the start – although many retailers are still not getting that right. The way the product is presented, from the neatly folded packing slip to the personalised message to the carefully considered low-impact packaging, should be a reflection of your brand that reinforces the customer experience. 

Presentation is just one part of the experience. Communication is another. Can your customer track the product from the moment they press buy, around the warehouse, onto a courier’s van and into their hands? Is there a simple returns process, where customers can use a returns portal, select a reason for return and track the product back? And is that customer experience the same every day – whether you’re selling 1,000 items or 20,000; to the UK or across the world?

Get yourself ready for unexpected peaks 

Direct to Consumer (D2C) fulfilment is challenging – especially if you’re looking to compete with the big names in the business who offer next-day delivery and a range of courier options. Scaling up to cover peak sales such as Black Friday and Christmas can be a major headache. The issue is not just recruiting the staff but also ensuring consistent quality control – from picking accuracy to packaging.

And that is for expected peak sales – you also need to be ready to scale in response to an unexpected plug from an Insta-influencer or a mention in a magazine. This might be a business-changing opportunity to capture new customers, a time when every aspect of that first customer impression should be perfect. But how can that opportunity be grasped without a robust, scalable, and repeatable fulfilment model?

Great fulfilment skills can make or break an online business. This is an absolutely critical component of the customer experience – and, as such, it’s something you need to put some serious thought into.

Tap into fulfilment expertise

It’s unlikely that you started your business because you were excited about the order fulfilment process, right?

Outsourced fulfilment offers economies of scale and ensures you can respond to any spikes in demand without affecting the quality of customer experience. But this is not just about efficiently getting a product into a box and onto a van. A tailored service will ensure your brand is on every box; while the product tracking service is also customised to your brand to create a true extension of the customer experience. 

If you’re going to achieve that essential match of fulfilment experience to the core brand value, there are a few additional things to consider: 

  1. Be realistic about the delivery promise – don’t pledge something you can’t commit to without compromising the customer experience 
  2. Have a clear understanding of the cost model – what does it cost to ship to the UK and internationally? What is the variance between next day and longer shipping times – and how much do courier prices vary? 
  3. Match delivery options to the required level of customer experience – is free shipping essential to reinforce the brand’s luxury feel, or do you need to set a minimum spend threshold to make free shipping viable? 
  4. Make your delivery policies flexible – a £250 pair of trainers may justify expensive packaging and free shipping but a £40 pair may come in a boring box with standard shipping costs.  

In an eCommerce dominated retail market, fulfilment is now both art and science: it needs to look great and generate profit. 

Fulfilment is about so much more than the cost of getting a product from the warehouse to your customer. It is an extension of the customer experience and one that will define the customer’s perception of your brand. But it is also about efficient retail operations and proactive management of both inbound stock and outbound product to maximise revenue.

Embedding the perfect fulfilment model within the customer experience is essential.

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