The fulfilment process encompasses much more than simply shipping orders to customers, writes Kamran Iqbal, Commerce Strategist at PFS. Warehouse management, overseeing inventory capabilities, building positive relationships with reliable carriers, customer service teams, personalisation services, real-time data tracking and understanding compliance updates – these are just some of the ingredients needed to ensure a seamless fulfilment operation that prioritises customer experience. Scalability is a key consideration for retailers.
As such, choosing the right business process outsourcing (BPO) is essential for any e-commerce business. As you might expect, globally recognised Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA), is one of the most popular options out there. With an active Amazon seller account, you can add FBA to get your fulfilment services up and running. Selecting products using Amazon’s built-in catalogue, you can use their inventory management tool to market accordingly, then get packing your items safely before appointing one of Amazon’s carriers to ship items to their intended destinations. Customer service agents are also on-hand 24/7.
But are you really getting value for money when you partner with Amazon FBA? Does well-known necessarily mean money well-spent? Brands who care about customer loyalty and upholding their brand values and vision need to dig a little deeper before committing.
Measure for measure
Amazon’s busy supply chains can sometimes be the victim of inventory mismanagement or mishandling as a result. FBA system lags have resulted in negative feedback from sellers directly as delays have seen a drop in their ratings and even worse, cancelled orders. During the early days of the pandemic, Amazon introduced a policy where only inventory that had been classified as “necessities” would be shipped, causing frustration amongst many long-term sellers and putting off potential new partners. Likewise, issues during peak seasons such as last-minute changes to inventory policies, despite having an established API system in place, have made many question the value of Amazon FBA.yh
Products getting lost, or extra inventory showing up after shipments are completed, doesn’t restore seller confidence in the apparent transparency and reliability on stock that Amazon claims to have. Even more upsetting, if items are lost in the Amazon supply chain, a claim must be filed with Amazon for reimbursement. However, Amazon makes a valuation of the lost merchandise as opposed to paying the exact amount originally paid for it – not an ideal setup for retailers.
Advocating the great strength of omnichannel retail and optimising inventory management is key for any appointed BPO. By diversifying fulfilment points, comparing shopping selections, and ensuring stable Distributed Order Management (DOM) technology can route orders to alternative fulfilment facilities, retailers can keep orders moving and maintain customer loyalty.
Being preventative and reactive is the winning combination and will set you up for success. By implementing a full-featured order management system (OMS), customer delivery preferences, shipping time and costs, as well as sustainability initiatives, can be brought to fruition as part of a wider system of inventory management – something which can really be explored by BPOs, other than Amazon.
Battle of the brands
Partnering with Amazon can show that you have the demand and capital to be a key player in e-commerce. Like so many brands, however, your identity can quickly be swallowed up and, to all intents and purposes, eradicated, as shipments are sent impersonally, with the contents inside being wrapped with Amazon logos and no branding or personal touches that set the e-commerce order apart. Scalability is a key consideration for retailers and brands and with customers continuing to revel in a “gifted” experience, that ability to offer the personal touch can make all the difference.
With personalisation services on hand as part of the BPO experience, providers fully deliver on brand ethos and tie the customer to that purchasing journey. Value-added services (VAS) put the brand first, not the BPO; clearly identifying the brand being purchased from directly and eliminating any confusion around the purchase. Working with branded packaging eliminates any vanity – and ensures there are no questions lost in translation further down the line.
Making a success of your fulfilment operation doesn’t end when the package reaches its destination. Being on-hand to answer questions before, during and after items have made it to the customer is essential, especially when things go wrong, or a customer is less than happy with their experience.
Less time spent holding on the phone and instead engaging with social media forums or chat windows is evidently preferable for customers. Amazon FBA has fallen down time and time again here as customers report slow response times and lack of personalised or tailored customer service responses.
The BPO difference
Setting your brand apart, by ensuring multilingual agents are on hand, can make the difference between an abandoned cart and a lifelong customer. A qualified BPO can offer a variety of channels (live chat, email, phone, video, chatbots, social listening and social media monitoring, etc.) to meet customers where they are at any stage of the transaction. Agents can respond to customer service issues quickly and satisfactorily, stopping issues escalating before customers take to forums and other mediums.
Ultimately, it comes down to brand identity. If aligning yourself with a recognised global network is the key determining factor, then Amazon may still come out on top. Companies may believe that partnering with a provider with Amazon’s scale may create legitimacy within their own brand.
But should it be down to the fulfilment provider to establish this legitimacy in the first place?
Scalability is a key consideration for retailers and brands moving from the likes of Amazon to an independent BPO – supporting operations year-round, not just at times of fluctuating demand, such as peak, is essential. Dealing with unexpected surges is crucial – you don’t want your BPO to be surprised. If they are, they cannot call themselves scalable. If recognition is vital to deliver the overall brand ethos, then employing the services of a BPO who has the infrastructure in place to meet these expectations may just push them to the top.