Category: fulfillment

Home / Category: fulfillment

winning-ecommerce-success

Whether you’re a brick and mortar retail veteran, or an aspiring entrepreneur looking to make your mark, it’s hard to ignore e-commerce as a sales channel for capitalizing on new market opportunities.  According to a Statista study, “revenue from e-commerce in the United States amounted to 431.6 billion U.S dollars in 2020,” and “estimates that by 2025, revenue will increase to 563.4 billion dollars,” representing a 31% growth trajectory. 

Very exciting indeed, but if the world of online selling interests you, how do you get started?  What should you do first?  This article guides you to reviewing 4 of the most important steps in driving to a successful e-commerce business.

1. Choose the Right Product

It all starts with answering the question “what are you going to sell?”  It sounds simple enough, but figuring out what you are going to sell, and whom you are going to sell to, can very well be the hardest part of getting your e-commerce business off the ground.  Entrepreneurs often focus on their passion, and it certainly is important to be excited and believe in what you sell online.  That said, make sure to validate the market for your potential products before investing your time and money, otherwise you might be disappointed in the results.  Common ways of validating include surveys, competitive reviews, and social research.  

You will also want to determine the best means of obtaining, stocking, and fulfilling your products.  What business model will you use?  Will you distribute products from another brand, or manufacture your own?  Will you stock inventory or dropship direct to your customers?  How many options and variants will you offer?  The recommendation on the latter is to keep options minimal as you get started.  This helps keep your costs down and simplifies the decision making process for your customers, which in turn reduces friction en route to a sale.

Additional articles to help guide you into making the correct product decisions for your business include:

12 Trending Products to Sell in 2021(and Ideas for How to Market Them)

Find a Product to Sell: 12 Strategies for Finding Your First Profitable Product

From Dropshipping to DTC, Here are the Most Popular Business Models for Ecommerce


2. Locate Your Customers and Determine How Best to Market to Them

Now that you know what you want to sell and have validated the opportunity, it’s time to think about how you will market your products to your new customers.  It’s often good to start by defining a customer persona which helps you understand who your customers are, including age, sex, occupation, interests, demographics, and why they would buy from you.  Gather meaningful information to define your target audience, and then hone in on where your target audience hangs out, along with how best to reach them.

Once you find them, manage communication with your prospects by first segmenting them into 3 main stages of engagement: Top-of-the-funnel (ToFu), Middle-of-the-funnel (MoFu), and Bottom-of-the-funnel (BoFu).  ToFu is where prospects express interest, however they are not ready to engage you and your product just yet.  MoFu are those prospects that have engaged you, but are not yet ready to purchase.  BoFu is where prospects are ready to take the plunge, and place their first order with you.  Understanding which stage your prospects are in is critical to ensuring that you communicate with them properly and lead them from ToFu through BoFu.

The following resources can help you target your customers and increase revenue:

How to Define Your Target Market

What’s the Right Content for Each Stage of the Marketing Funnel?

4 Ways to Find Your First 50 eCommerce Customers


3. Remove Friction from the Checkout Process

You’ve been successful driving traffic to your e-commerce store, and BoFu prospects are ready to become customers.  With typical shopping cart abandonment rates between 60% and 80%, you will want to now focus your attention on eliminating as much friction as possible, so your hopefully soon-to-be-customers have a clear and easy path to checking out and placing their orders.

To keep fiction minimal, it is recommend you focus on:

Increasing site speed – statistics show that pages that take longer than 3 seconds will likely lead to abandonment.   Learn more about improving your e-commerce site performance and speed.

Optimize your store for mobile – With 31% of e-commerce sales occurring via mobile devices, ensure your store is optimized accordingly.  3 out of 4 online shoppers indicate they start their online purchase via a mobile device, as it saves time.

Make product selection easy – ensure products are well organized and easy to find.  Offering too many options may cause confusion and make the buying decision more complicated, ultimately leading to abandonment.

Offer payment options that align with customer preference – consumers have clear preferences on payment methods.  Limiting how customers can pay could become an obstacle for converting sales.  

Enable Guest Checkout – allowing guest checkout will lessen friction and lead to more conversions, however you will not have captured key customer information which could limit your post-sales marketing opportunities.  Nonetheless, less friction leads to increasing sales.  Encourage account registration and repeat customer loyalty via incentives, coupons, and exclusive benefits for signing up (e.g. free shipping).

To learn more about reducing checkout friction: 

5 Tips to Reduce Friction on Your E-Commerce Website


4. Automate Your Operations

Now that your e-commerce sales are rolling in, it’s game on!  The final mile of ensuring a positive customer experience is delivering your products to your customers accurately and on-time.  It’s important to put systems in place that automate synchronization between your e-commerce stores and your back office systems in order to track sales, inventory and fulfillments in a near real-time capacity.  For example, if an order is placed on your e-commerce platform (e.g. Shopify) and it’s not entered or synchronized into your back office system (e.g. QuickBooks Online) for an hour (or longer), this could cause your e-commerce inventory to become stale and put you at risk of selling items that are no longer in stock. 

Equally important is leveraging a tool that provides visibility into your fulfillments.  After all the time and investment made into getting your customers to buy, ensuring on-time delivery is essential for all business models, and particularly critical for managing dropship relationships.  All it takes is one negative fulfillment experience to drive your customers away from your store and right into the hands of your competitors.

Now is the perfect time to launch your online store and invest some time into ensuring you position your business for success!  Following the steps outlined in this article and maintaining good business sense, will help you to get across that finish line!


Click Here to learn how weintegrate helps provide fulfillment oversight and automated integration between Shopify and QuickBooks Online.

Learn More how to use weintegrate FREE for 3 Months!

E-commerce sales continue to report year-over-year growth.  As stated in a recent Forbes article, “This will be the year when online shopping explodes.”  The same article references Deloitte’s 2020 holiday e-commerce forecast where “Deloitte predicts e-commerce holiday retail sales to grow between 25% to 35% from November through January, reaching $182 billion to $196 billion in total.

If you’ve already launched your e-commerce store(s), then you’re fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, particularly if your product line caters to holiday gifting categories.  But to achieve e-commerce success takes much more than being in the right moment… This is only the beginning.

So ask yourself…are you ready?  Have you kicked the tires of your e-commerce operations?  What would actually happen if you scored a growth surge this holiday season?  Are you prepared to handle the additional work that comes with additional orders?   Without the proper systems, process, and organization in place, time consuming work often leads to mistakes, out of stocks, late shipments, and ultimately dissatisfied customers.

But not to worry.  Here are a few simple tips that can help you prepare for the upcoming holiday surge, ongoing customer satisfaction, and operational sustainability.

1. Confirm Your E-Commerce Supply Chain Strength

Regardless of whether you are a dropshipper, distributor of finished goods, or manufacturer, you maintain an e-commerce supply chain made up of vendors that impact your ability to deliver quality products to your customers.  Remember that when you have issues with inventory, your customers will care little as to who’s at fault.  As your #1 priority, you will want to confirm your vendors’ ability to meet your holiday targets without fail.  Pick up the phone, share your forecasts with them (consider inflating them by 20%), and ask for capacity guarantees. 

Additionally, it’s the perfect time to set a schedule with your vendors and ask of any known obstacles they see on the horizon or that they may have already encountered.  Get to know your vendors at a personal and friendly level.  You are not the only one vying for their commitments, and sometimes those friendly relationships may help prioritize your business needs. 

And lastly, create a backup plan.  What will you do should your supply chain break?  Hopefully you won’t have any issues, but do you have a plan?  Can your plan include having a backup vendor, or perhaps splitting your current needs across multiple vendors to balance the load?  Do what you can to prevent your business from being held hostage to this key element of success.

2. Automate Your E-Commerce Operations

According to Intuit, “over 80% of product-based SMBs [small and medium sized businesses] that sell through multiple channels still reconcile inventory using pen and paper or spreadsheets.”  This is crazy!  Why haven’t more SMBs made some form of investment into back-office automation?  While it sounds intimidating and expensive, it’s not.  There are affordable options in the market that start as low as $19 per month. A few of the top problems that e-commerce businesses face related to manual data entry, and can be resolved with automated integration include:  

  1. Errors caused by manually entering e-commerce orders into your back-office system
  2. Tedious and Time consuming administrative tasks that impede the ability to focus on more valued and strategic business needs, such as how to reduce cart abandonment
  3. Timeliness of order and inventory updates to back-office and shipping systems, which in turn leads to incorrect stock levels, as well as shipments going to customers later than promised

The following are key business issues you will want to address by implementing an integration solution:

  1. Does the solution offer near real-time sync of orders from your e-commerce platform(s) to your back-office system? This will help ensure that your inventory levels are as current as your sales, keeping you on top of your customer orders as they are placed
  2. Establish an integrated shipping system process that feeds from the same automation and empowers you to get your merchandise out the door in the most timely, efficient, and accurate means possible
  3. Have control over shipping SLAs (service level agreements), and receive notifications of orders that are at risk of falling outside these guidelines, so you can take the appropriate actions to resolve

Click here to learn more about our beta opportunity


3. Organize Your E-Commerce Operations Area 

When it comes to establishing a proper e-commerce operations process, it’s all about efficiency and accuracy.  It’s about having the proper checks and balances in place that eliminate mistakes and minimize the time spent on a particular task (so you can get to the next task, and so on and so on).  

A fairly common issue with SMBs is having a disorganized and cluttered work area, which lends itself to bottlenecks in the process.  It sounds simple enough to avoid, right?  In fact, yes it is.  A few ideas that have been proven to help include:

  1. Organize your inventory bins for efficiency.  It’s common for businesses to organize inventory in such a way that keeps the same or similar products near each other.  What would be a more proper approach, is to understand which of your items sell the most – not in dollar value but in actual physical units.  The products that sell the most (referred to as ‘turns’), represent the products that you will be fulfilling the most.  The ideal means of organizing your inventory bins is to locate those products that turn the most to be closest to your fulfillment zone, and work your way back through your turns rate in descending sequence, locating products that sell the least to be the furthest away from your fulfillment zone.  Click here to learn more about lean warehousing efficiency practices known as 5S.
  2. Squeeze as many little extra actions out of the process as is possible.  Every small little action you perform or step you take adds up into a whole chunk of waste and opportunity for error.  Therefore it is recommended to take a look at your entire operations area and see that you are well prepared to reduce these efforts.  Some examples include: a) label your inventory bins clearly, using large dark font; b) implement a barcode scanning system if possible; c) obtain enough supplies to get you through the holiday season in advance, including printer ink, paper, labels, shipping cartons, packing tape and inserts
  3. Establish zones and maintain clutter free work areas.  Maintaining clean work areas make it easier to get through daily tasks, inclusive of finding objects when you need them.  Establish specific well organized zones that create a linear physical path from start to finish, such as your storage zone to your fulfillment zone to your shipping zone.  Ideally a shipping zone is best located closest to where your carrier and parcel pickups occur, and then work backwards into your work area.

By implementing a proper marketing strategy, you may be well poised to feel a positive bump in revenue this holiday season, however keeping your customers coming back for more, will greatly depend on your ability to satisfy them better than your competitors.  Eliminate waste with integration and operational efficiency, allowing your business to establish a strong foundation for growing beyond the holiday bump up, for years to come.

With the current economic environment and continuing high unemployment, more people than ever are opening an online business.  To share some insight as to how Covid-19 has transformed the e-commerce market, here is a great Forbes article from Louis Columbus (view article)

Whether you’re a first time e-com-preneur, a brick and mortar store owner contemplating the move online to offset slowing store traffic, or a seasoned e-commerce veteran, this could be the perfect time to take advantage of expanding your online footprint.  It’s important though to make sure you take time to research what you will sell, how you will compete, put the right plans in place, and not rush out of pure excitement.  

The following tips on research and planning will help to start you down this new journey on the road to success:

1. What do you want to sell?

The first order of business is determining what you will sell.  What makes sense and what will people buy?  Countless articles of advice will tell you to find something that interests you, and there is certainly truth to this, and for good reason.  You have to believe in what you are selling and be excited to wake up everyday to grow your sales.  On the other hand, it’s important to select products that people want, and depending on your goals of entrepreneurship this may overshadow your own personal interests and desires.  There was a very successful business owner who once said that he loves sliding down a pole like you find in a firehouse, but instead of being a fireman (with all do respect to the very hard working, lifesaving heroes that risk their life every day), he would rather build a successful company and then buy a fireman pole for his mansion and slide down it any time he wants. 

Here are a few guidelines you can follow in determining what to sell online:

  1. It’s ok to include your personal interests, but don’t let this be the dominant factor.  If you’re looking to build a lifestyle for you and your family, while you certainly want to be interested and passionate about what you sell, focus on what the market is looking for and solve a problem.  Reserve the “fun stuff” for the results of the lifestyle you build
  2. Research, research, and research some more.  But don’t get so bogged down in research that you never get started (don’t get cooked in the squat).  Go through product reviews and see what customer feedback and gaps exist in the market, what improvements can be made and where the opportunities are for offering a rock solid alternative.  
  3. While there is nothing wrong with capitalizing on trends if you can time it right, try to avoid starting a business based on them.  If it makes sense though, then go for it.  Just proceed with caution on your investment, efforts and launch, as trends do come and go (by definition of a trend).  The last thing you want is to miss the best part of the trend cycle and get stuck with excess inventory while trying to grow a business (that’s working capital that could have gone into a more lucrative opportunity)
  4. Like all great businesses, think narrow and don’t start off too broad.  Find just that one great product or service, and deliver it better than anyone else. Then upon success, you can expand from there with related goods and services while you continue to establish your brand and your store.

For some help on what type of business might make sense to start, here are ideas from Shopify https://www.shopify.com/blog/online-business-ideas

2. Conduct market research

Before you make a huge investment into your new business venture and products you want to sell, you should do what you can to first test the market.  One of the most costly lessons is to be excited about a product, spend all your precious time and money on your new idea, promote your launch, and then after launch first find out that no one is interested in what you have to sell. 

There are several options you can take advantage of to validate your ideas before making any sizable investment.  Be creative and explore opportunities to gauge customer interest in advance.  Obtain customer feedback and ask the tough questions for answers you may not want to hear.  It’s ok though, because it is better to get the direct feedback now from those that would potentially buy your product than after you waste your oh so valuable capital.  The better aligned you are with satisfying a market need, the faster you will be on your way to achieving success!

A few ways you can obtain customer feedback and test your ideas include:

  1. Take pre-orders from customers.  This allows you to set up your store without having to invest in inventory.  Position your store to take pre-orders of what you might sell along with the appropriate lead times.  This is a great way to offer a group of product options to customers and see what’s of interest as well as which products may prove to be most popular based on actual demand.  If customers are willing to pre-order and wait for you to create or obtain the merchandise, you potentially have something great!
  2. Leverage Drop shipping.  Instead of investing into your own inventory, perhaps you might find it better to partner with a drop ship provider.  The advantage here is you may find a significantly lower upfront investment, the responsibility of shipping is on your drop ship partner, and you can test products easily.  Just be careful with the drop ship partner you select.  If there are quality issues or delays in shipping to your customers, this will have a negative impact on your brand, not theirs. For additional tips on drop shipping, here is a great article from Shopify (view article)
  3. Start a Crowdfunding Campaign. This will require a little investment of money and a fair amount of your time, however the tradeoff helps you validate customer interest before going full force into your product and store launch.  Particularly if it’s a product you will manufacture, you can share your plans with customers before you build it, perhaps with as little as a prototype.   Pitch your idea to a community of millions of individuals enthusiastic in helping to support the next great product.  Success will include not only validating your idea, but also an avenue for obtaining pre-orders and raising equity free working capital to help fund your plans to manufacture, launch and grow.  Equally as positive, if you do not obtain success in this community, it will allow you to rethink your plans before wasting time and money, thus saving you from potential failure.  For additional help on crowdsourcing click here

3. Write a business plan and understand your finances

The saying if you fail to plan then you plan to fail is never more true when it comes to starting a business.  While often it may appear that online business success happens by accident, rest assured this is not the case.  Understanding details about what you will sell, how you will sell it, who you are competing with, what your cash flow and profitability will look like, how you will market and what teams you need, are all part of this essential step for success.  If you’re like many entrepreneurs, you may never look at your plan once you launch your business venture, however taking the time to think through how to grow your business and the impact on your cash flow will help bring clarity when you execute (we recommend however you do your best to follow your plan and compare actuals to forecasts).  In addition, your plan gives you a model to refer back to, use as a barometer, and adjust as necessary to help you improve how you run your ecommerce store.

Cash is king and understanding the flow of cash helps protect it, and your business.  Over time you need to know how your investments will pay off in customer acquisition, revenue, cost of revenue, expenses and profit.  While it is great to have an optimistic plan that outlines the potential of your business, it is critical to have clarity of a financial operating plan that is conservative and honest.  One technique you can incorporate when bootstrapping, is to inflate expenses and take a conservative position on revenue.  By confirming a “worst case” scenario as to how your cash flow will perform, you will have visibility into what is necessary to survive and grow without running into a cash deficit.

In your plan, understand what teams you need and when.  While this may require a fair amount of intelligent “best guessing” if this is your first venture, it is still an important exercise.  Your team can generally have a significant impact on your financial plans, and will have a tremendous impact on how well you execute.  Fortunately certain disciplines can be outsourced, however be mindful if you go this route to only outsource disciplines that are not part of your core brand.  If you partner with firms for some work, it can be a great way to conserve costs and leverage specific domain expertise, but make sure to manage the relationship as well as the results as if the partnering firm was on your payroll.

4. Market like you mean it

For your online venture, marketing very well may be where the rubber hits the road to success (or failure).  This discipline should not be taken lightly and can often play a key role in your market differentiation as well as your ability to succeed.  How do you distinguish your business and get the word out in a vast sea of competing stores?  It can be done, but do you know what to do and how to execute?  Is this an area of focus you are best equipped to own, or based on your budget and cash flow might it make sense to partner with a firm that has experience growing online sales?  Which marketing initiatives will have the biggest impact on your success?  Do you need creative help or do you need assistance with execution of a marketing plan and staying on top of return on ad spend (ROAS)?  Are you best to sponsor ads or leverage social media?

Here are a few sources you can review to help with proven marketing techniques necessary to grow your online store

  1. 34 Ways to Promote Your Online Shop Like a Pro
  2. 7 Things You Should Do To Market Your Online Store in the Real World
  3. Ecommerce Marketing Essentials: 17 Actionable Tactics to Drive More Sales

5. Get ready to launch (and launch)!

As we wrap up, here are some final and crucial tips to adopt as you get ready to launch your business and start making money!

  1. Establish a well organized area for which to run your online business.  If you are going online as an extension to your physical store, make sure to carve out an area dedicated to your online business.  If you’re a first time entrepreneur kicking off this venture from your home, it’s equally important to establish a business zone where you can store your inventory, and efficiently pick, pack and ship.
  2. Get traction fast by leveraging your personal and social networks.  Ask your friends and acquaintances to support your new venture by spreading the word and idealing buying your product.  Don’t be shy.  Stand at the top of the highest mountain and let everyone know you’re open for business!  This can be a great way to start building that oh so important initial momentum.
  3. Consider offering discounts and promotions, as well as test marketing well targeted ads.  Well positioned promotions can be a successful approach to jumpstarting your sales.
  4. Monitor your marketing results and adjust.  Keep a dashboard in excel, track every single dollar you spend on marketing, and compare your marketing initiatives daily to determine which are working and which are not.  Pull the plug on the duds quickly and reinvest into marketing that is yielding the best results as well as try new ideas.
  5. Obtain software to help you run your business. This includes your online store platform, accounting application, email marketing, and automated integration tools to help streamline your operation.

We hope these tips and guidelines help give you more insight into getting your online business started on the right path to success.  Remember, you will need to work hard, but also do your best to incorporate the right decisions and work smart to establish a business that is scalable.  Have fun growing your store, and may it be the first of several profitable ventures you pursue!

You did everything right to maximize your holiday e-commerce sales!  You improved customer experience with enhanced product content and videos.  You implemented a frictionless checkout process, and you zoned in on your target market by optimizing search and nurturing your email lists with unique and engaging content.  You added social channels and a chat client to your website.  You worked tirelessly through the night to leave no stone of opportunity unturned.

And guess what?  Your hard work paid off!  Sales from your store have been pouring in!  Whether you are exceeding your target revenue or falling a little short, odds are you and your team are now working your butts off trying to ship everything you sold to your customers on time.  

With these 5 simple tips, give yourself the gift of operational efficiency and be able to enjoy a little time with the people you care about the most:

1. Keep Your Warehouse Clean and Organized

The most efficiently run warehouses are those that adopt 5S operating practices.  5S stands for Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain, representing the components of a powerful lean warehouse methodology that maximizes the best of operations and minimizes cost.

Even if you have a small warehouse or you stock products in your basement, adopting 5S principles on a smaller scale will have a positive impact on your bottom line.  You should make sure that every tool and supply, including pens, tape, boxes, carts and dollies all have locations that are labeled and easy to find when you need them.  Starting a new day fresh within your clean and clutter free warehouse is an essential start to a productive day.

2. Maintain Well Organized Inventory

Ensure that your faster moving items are easily accessible and stored closer to your fulfillment zone.  Move slower turning items further toward the back and out of the way.  One of the biggest drains on warehouse expense is labor.  Reducing the time it takes to pick inventory adds up, and will unquestionably contribute to increased profits (especially if you’re the founder and doing the picking).

When organizing products in your warehouse it is ok to split variant and related items into different parts of your warehouse.  For example you may sell a decorative pillow in 3 colors, but only 1 of the colors is a hot selling item.  Put your top selling color of the pillow closer to your fulfillment area and move the other 2 colors into a less active zone.

3. Focus on Order Fulfillment Accuracy

To err is human.  We all make mistakes.  You just don’t want to make them during your busiest time of year.  Invest into establishing an environment that stacks the odds in your favor of having every single order you ship go out the door 100% error free. 

Consider labeling items with large identifying codes that are easy to see and read.  Incorporate the use of colored labels if applicable.  Leverage the use of pick tickets and packing slips along with numbered picking bins.  This empowers you to batch pick (picking the same item across multiple orders simultaneously), remain well organized, and ensure that the right items are placed in the right carton for the right customer.

As you add increase inventory levels in your warehouse, the greater the opportunity for creating clutter if not managed properly. This in turn could lead to picking errors, as well as slow you down if random boxes are in your way.  Make sure to put all inventory where it belongs and adopt practices that will make it easy to maintain accurate and efficient fulfillment.

4. Ship On Time (there is no excuse to be late)

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes.  Once you buy a product from a website, you count the days until your product arrives (especially if it’s something you are excited about)!  It becomes frustrating to customers when products ship late or are shipped using the wrong service level.

Stay organized and establish a schedule that focuses on priority shipments first (e.g. next day, 2nd day air, etc).  Consider incorporating a customer start ship date (the first day you should ship) and a cancel date (the last day you should ship).  Also abide by fulfillment promises you make online to your customers (e.g. this product will ship within 2 business days).  Make sure you live and breath by these shipping windows with a concentrated effort on shipping as close to the start date as possible, and never past the cancel date.

It may also be worth a quick call to your local FedEx and UPS representatives so you can coordinate a pickup schedule that more effectively coincides with your daily fulfillment cutoff.  You want to have all cartons ready for shipping prior to your carriers arriving.

5. Establish a Returns Processing Practice

As your business grows in sales, so will the number of returns.  You don’t want this to happen, but it’s part of the game the same way when you play Monopoly you don’t want to “go to jail”.  It’s going to happen at some point…you can count on it!

Have an effective system in place that includes establishing a physical zone for processing returns separate from where you stock your inventory.  When customers return products, their condition will vary.  All products need to be inspected and determined if a) they can go immediately back into inventory; b) they must first be fixed and reworked; or c) they must be discarded and written off.

Don’t allow returns to linger either.  Process them upon receipt.  They will cause unnecessary clutter, and the faster you get the good products back into inventory, the better chance you have of selling them and increasing your holiday sales numbers.

Incorporating these 5 basic principles will improve your profits by allowing you to accomplish more with less, reduce stress by knowing you have well organized systems in place that make it easier for you to manage your operations, and will grant you the gift of a well run backend operation.

Enjoy this most precious gift, and may 2018 be your most successful, profitable, and rewarding holiday season yet!