On any given month in the US, there are around 1,600 searches for the term “Shopify Fulfillment.” There’s also search volume for “Magento fulfillment,” “Big Commerce fulfillment” and other terms related to integration of fulfillment services with eCommerce platforms.
These people are looking for a solution. But, in reality, it doesn’t matter what platform you are on. The types of data required by any fulfillment provider are the same, and most providers can quickly and seamlessly exchange data with any eCommerce platform.
The concern should not be around data exchange but data completeness and integrity. The attributes of the product information needed by your fulfillment partner are not necessarily the same as the product information on your website. In other words, there’s a marketing version of a SKU and a warehouse version of the same SKU. Understanding that difference is essential to effective integration with eCommerce platforms.
Let’s take a queen-sized bedsheet as an example. The dimensions listed on the website might be 60” by 80”, but if those are the dimensions listed on the item master given to your fulfillment provider, there will be confusion. The provider, of course, wants the packaged dimensions – let’s say 12” by 6” – to help plan storage, develop picking strategies, auto-select the correct box for shipping and make other efficiency-driving decisions.
That’s just one example. The precision required for B2C pick and pack fulfillment is significant. It’s important for fulfillment providers to work with contacts on your side who understand the need for granular data related to storage and shipping. Finding these contacts is easier these days, but not long ago eCommerce was driven solely by marketers and merchandisers who had less of an understanding of a fulfillment company’s data requirements.
To avoid delays, you should prepare to work with a fulfillment provider by thinking through every aspect of how you want to sell, present, store, package and ship a product. Most providers can supply you with a questionnaire to aid in this process. Providers will be interested in information like:
- Dimensions for every package type
- How items are to be received and stored
- Labeling requirements (including retailer specific)
- Special packaging requirements
- Average inventory
- Number of SKUs
- Turn rate by SKU
- Average lines per order
- Seasonal volume swings
This kind of information will help create a highly efficient fulfillment operation. But it’s the data updates that your systems receive from the fulfillment provider that allow you to keep your online store up to date – information like the volume of inventory available for each SKU and delivery tracking data for orders that have shipped. That’s where integration with eCommerce platforms is critical.
Key questions to vet fulfillment providers
When vetting fulfillment providers, the key question to ask is not whether they have experience integrating with your eCommerce platform. Most top fulfillment providers can handle this data mapping and exchange process quickly and efficiently. Probe instead into the following areas:
How quickly will you get updates on order and inventory status? This data is essential for the consumer to know if the item is available or, if it’s on backorder, when it will be available. At KANE, we report data in near real time. We record all activity – for instance, when a product hits a scanner within the distribution center – and data is updated and automatically sent every 15 minutes.
Can you leverage data across channels? Just because there is no inventory in the fulfillment warehouse doesn’t mean the item is not available. Can the provider also report store-level inventory?
How does the provider support delivery tracking? Your provider should be integrated with all major parcel carriers. From there it should be a simple process to generate bar code tracking information, upload the information to the parcel carrier and then send the package ID with a tracking number back up to the eCommerce site.
What is the disaster recovery plan? If system downtime prevents data from flowing between you and your fulfillment partner, you could potentially lose millions of dollars. Make sure your provider has a robust disaster recovery plan and that you fully understand the failover strategy.
Fulfillment success: integration with eCommerce platforms is the easy part
For the record, Kane Logistics has active integrations with Shopify and many other eCommerce platforms to handle a growing volume of B2C fulfillment business. This integration is the easy part of eCommerce fulfillment. The tougher challenge is getting absolute clarity, from the start, on product data and the feeds that are required from the provider’s system to update the eCommerce website. The right logistics partner should inspire confidence that the data you and your online customer is seeing is precisely correct and reflects the very latest activity in the distribution center.
To learn more about how Kane Logistics can support your omni-channel fulfillment needs, talk to a KANE fulfillment expert.