How To Get Your Goods to Your Customers
You’ve gotten the notification from your website that the product sold, the money is in your Paypal account, so it must be OK to kick back and relax.
After spending days, weeks, and months making, marketing and selling your products you’re finally done, right?
Nope, sorry – your work is just beginning. Your work is actually always there, it’s just a new phase that’s beginning.
Now you’ve got to get your product to the customer.
Digital product people have it easy – they just send out the download link. But if you’re dealing in physical products, you have to get it in the hands of your customer.
If you really are just selling digital, don’t skip over this section – I bet you can take some tips from the physical products world and apply them to the virtual.
For the first 3 years of my pet products business, I took care of every step of fulfillment. I’d print receipts and shipping labels, go the warehouse and pack each item up after inspecting it thoroughly. (I wanted to be sure I was shipping a perfect product, without any defects)
I’d then slap a label on it and drop it at the dock for UPS to pick up. Going through all these steps were important to me so I could experience the whole process and learn everything I could. But, it was time consuming and not a whole lot of fun. Part of my drive in the beginning was to be sure that my customers got the best service and product possible.
In phase two of my business I outsourced the entire process to a fulfillment warehouse that took care of everything for me. This was an enormous relief, and opened a lot of time to work on business growth, rather than business maintenance.
Remember, that up to the order, your customer has likely only experienced your brand via your site. (This obviously is different if you’re selling in person, etc, but for this post, I’ll assume that most readers are selling online)
Once your customer receives their order, they will also be experiencing your brand, so be sure to take advantage, and make a great impression! There’s a lot of details between getting an order and your customer getting their product, but here’s the overview of what you need to consider:
- Where to keep your goods.
- Who packs and ships the package.
- What your customer will think.
Where do you keep your products? If you’re starting small, or your products are small, you probably can get by with keeping your products in your garage, spare room, or even under your bed. I’m a big fan of spending as little as possible, so if you can avoid extra storage costs at first, try to make it work. Of course, if this won’t work for you, then next step is finding a larger space. Some options to consider:
Renting a garage or storage space
This may be the next cheapest option, but be aware of the hidden costs/hassles. If the location is not near your home or work, then you will be traveling there a lot. Possibly everyday to prepare shipments.
Things to consider: Is the space clean, dry and safe? Can you get insurance that will cover any loss from that space? Are you able to work in the space to prepare shipments? Will UPS or other shippers pick up from that location or will you need to carry the packages to a UPS dropoff somewhere else?
Warehouse with Fulfillment
While you might be able to find a warehouse that will let you come in and prep shipments on your own, the chances are greater that they’ll want to store and ship for you. Learn from my experiences: just let them do it. Unless you started your company because of your passion for packing boxes, the best option is to get someone else to do it.
Once your order comes in – via phone, email, or from your webstore – you’ll have to get the financial info into your accounting system, and the shipping info into the warehouse shipping system. Don’t worry – it’s not that hard.
Most of us will be using web stores that make it easy to get all this data to flow from one system to another. The basic idea is that you need to be sure that you received payment, that the order is accounted for (to keep track of the sale), and that the order is shipped.
If you use a commerce platform like Shopify, you’ll find that there’s a lot of apps that plug in to make all of this super easy. You can import orders into your accounting system, and even print receipts and shipping labels right from the apps. Bare minimum of what you need? 2 copies of the receipt (one for your records and one for the customer), and a shipping label.
Packaging may seem like a no-brainer, but here’s a real chance to shine. There’s a reason unboxing photos and videos are so popular online. People like the experience of receiving something and relish the process of opening, unwrapping and getting to the product that they ordered.
Every step counts. Take advantage of these opportunities to make your customers love you!
The cheapest, easiest, ugliest option? Reuse a box from the liqueur store and pad your product with crumpled newspaper. Do not do this.
At least get a properly fitting, nice looking box from Uline.com or a similar place. You could “customize” it with a logo sticker that you print out on your home printer. Or draw a nice picture – anything to customize the box and make your customers happy to get it.
No time for all this? Get your boxes printed with anything you want at a local box vendor. Minimums will be high, but the quality of the experience for your customer will be worth it.
Shipping may be the most unglamorous part of your business, but it will likely be the second highest expense and at least third most time consuming part of your days.
Preparing a real strategy for your storage and fulfillment can have a significant impact on your brand and your bottom line. Do not tread lightly with your planning!
I’m about to move to my 5th warehouse/fulfillment center in 7 years. The multiple moves are from a combination of growth, quality of service and costs. I’ve realized at this point that the service is a tool that is in flux and not a permanent commitment. Each time I moved services, I learned more and am finally now getting to a point where I’m aware of everything I need.
That being said, if you’re just starting out, I’d recommend that you evaluate your options, and just pick one and get started.You can learn as you go, and in the meantime, you’re not going to spend your days with packing tape and bubble wrap.
Where are you in the process? Do you currently ship your own goods? What challenges are you facing?
(If you are looking for a new warehouse to ship your goods, I’d like to warn you about Shipwire.com. I’ve used them in the past and had a terrible experience with them. I do not recommend their services.)