E-commerce: The Direct to Consumer Shipment Problem

If you’re not already doing direct to consumer (drop ship) orders they are very likely in your future.  While those big, high dollar pallet shipments are never going away, your retail trading partners are certainly scrambling to become more nimble and grow revenues by offering it to consumers.

If you are already participating in this trend, you are very aware of the challenges and problems this can cause for a supplier.  

It all starts with the use of the retailer’s portal to download the order by your order processing team.  Or, if you are semi-fortunate, SPS Commerce, CommerceHub, HighJump or some other 3rd party company is downloading that order for you and putting it into your order management system (QuickBooks, Sage, NetSuite, etc.).  The reason I refer to this as “semi” fortunate is that they are charging you for every order downloaded.

Next comes the order processing tasks.  This includes things like creating the Packing List, determining the number of boxes and weights, entering the shipping information into the FedEx, UPS, or USPS portal or another 3rd party shipping software, generating shipping labels, printing everything, and having the warehouse pick, pack and ship.

And then there’s order tracking that includes entering the tracking number in your order management system, entering the tracking number in the retailer’s portal, updating inventory and carefully filing the order –  just in case – something goes wrong and you have to troubleshoot it later.

I’m sure you agree that’s a lot of time and effort for what can be a one-item, relatively small basket size order. 

IF ANY OF THIS SOUNDS FAMILIAR, consider the following example:


But that’s only half of it.  Now, what about the load on your pickers and packers in the warehouse?  They aren’t picking cartons and putting them on pallets anymore.  They have to pick and pack individual items for shipping one at a time.  Another huge amount of time and effort for a relatively small basket size order.   

To this end, OPAL also provides further savings in the pick, pack and ship process.  It’s surprising but many business owners can’t actually identify the utilization of their pickers and packers and this labor can be another $4+ in the cost to complete that drop ship order that has already absorbed the EDI cost and order processing labor cost.

To get a handle on this you need – at a minimum – the tools to know today’s order volume, determine the warehouse Location based on item availability and shipping location, determine the number of packers needed based on today’s order volume, determine the number of pickers needed based on today’s order volume, predict tomorrow’s order volume and staffing needed, and automatically generate Shipping Labels, Packing Slips, etc. without manual intervention. 

And wouldn’t it be awesome to track picker and packer productivity, the cost of pick and pack and ship, and increase the number of shipments you can complete each day?  Absolutely!

As I said earlier, IF ANY OF THIS SOUNDS FAMILIAR, then you should really take a look at OPAL, an order processing and logistics software solution designed to handle this workload autonomously and provide you with the rapid return on your investment your business needs.

The Perils of Overselling or Underselling

We all know that having an accurate count of stock is critical.  But how accurate is the individual SKU count that we report to our Retailers? 

This is a critical question.  If you have 10 of a specific SKU in stock and are reporting ALL 10 SKUs to ALL RETAILERS – it can be pretty risky.  It may be OK if you have only one or two retailers, but what if you have five (5), ten (10) or more retailers selling the same item?  If all of your retailers sell all ten 10 SKUs it can lead to serious OVERSELLING, as well as subsequent chargebacks and impacts on your Dealer Scorecard.

Inversely, UNDERSELLING is just as bad but for different reasons.  You may do your best to allocate and report SKU quantities to your retailers based on past sales performance but may still find yourself in a position where one retailer can sell more than expected or another retailer isn’t able to sell as much as expected.  This UNDERSELLING represents a significant lost revenue opportunity.

Unless you have the capability to monitor how each of your retailers is performing on a constant basis and the ability to dynamically adjust SKU reporting up or down as needed, you are very likely to get caught in one of these situations.  You can certainly try to control this manually, but unfortunately when you’re working with a large number of retailers it requires a great deal of data, is time consuming and can be error prone. 

The ideal situation is to know the order volume by retailer and adjust inventory reporting for each SKU based on each retailer’s real-time performance.  For example, if you have 20 SKUs in stock and Retailer ABC is given an inventory feed of 10 in stock and Retailer DEF is given an inventory feed of 10 in stock, it would be really advantageous to adjust this if Retailer ABC only sells 5 of the 10 SKUs allocated and Retailer DEF can sell much more. 

This is just some of the capabilities that OPAL provides within one platform and without the need for numerous integrated systems.  OPAL is a self-driving Order Processing and Warehouse Productivity Software Solution that enables your business to easily and quickly cut order processing costs to less than $1, increase the order handling capacity of your warehouse by 50% - 100% and achieve profitability expectations that you thought were unattainable.  

Even More Things to Think About When Tracking Warehouse Stock

We all understand that efficiency in a warehouse operation relies almost entirely upon the time and motion of its personnel – the fewer steps while performing activities the better labor utilization you have, the more shipments you can make, and the less cost incurred.

There are several key components to warehouse management: Tracking Stock, Efficient Storage, Pick, Pack and Ship and Decision Support.  In this article I will focus on Tracking Stock – enabling managers to know the amount of stock available and when restocking is required. 

Included in this are things like efficiency, accuracy and labor utilization.  But this also impacts things like the avoidance of overselling, underselling and retailer chargebacks.  Let’s look at each piece that needs to be considered. 

Inventory Management is obvious and certainly critical.  You have to manage and track item inventory.  But this may also be tied to Bills of Material for “Kit” items or even inventory of individual parts where necessary.  You also need the ability to track Containers to determine status, project how it will impact warehouse load, determine back order dates, avoid demurrages and forecast item lead times.  All of this needs to be seamlessly included in Inventory Management.

To avoid finding yourself in an overselling, underselling and / or chargeback position, you also need the ability to feed accurate item quantities for sale to multiple retailers, e-tailers and / or e-commerce sites based on Item availability, number of trading partners, sales trends, profit and charge backs.

Also included in Inventory Management are things like SKU returns and tracking.  SKU returns refers to handling the return of any item, for any reason, back to you for disposition.  You need to be able to accept a return and track both the cause and reason of the return.  To accompany this, you need to be able to return items that can go back into inventory by identifying if it is fixable, track those fixed items and update inventory appropriately.

And don’t forget about SKU liquidation.  To maintain efficiency and avoid unnecessary cost you need to keep track of non-moving, out of style or end of shelf-life items and alert the need for liquidation.

Lastly, you need to consider inventory allocation.  In stock item inventory needs to be allocated to sales orders based upon order priority, shipping method and order size, as well as visibility of kit items that can be pre-packed prior to shipment based on sales history. 

These are just some of the capabilities that OPAL provides within one platform and without the need for numerous integrated systems.  OPAL is a self-driving Order Processing and Warehouse Productivity Software Solution that enables your business to easily and quickly cut order processing costs to less than $1, increase the order handling capacity of your warehouse by 50% - 100% and achieve profitability expectations that you thought were unattainable.  

The Impact of Drop Shipping on Warehouse Management and Cost

We’ve often spoken of the order processing cost associated with drop shipping and OPAL’s ability to do things that reduce that cost to less than $1 per order.

But what about the cost of picking, packing and shipping by warehouse personnel?  90% of our customers did not know the utilization of their pickers and packers and we all know it’s difficult to manage what don’t measure.  The warehouse component alone can add $4+ to the cost of an order. 

So, obviously, this too is a significant cost component when it comes to drop shipping – or order fulfillment in general for that matter.  To get a handle on this you, at the very least, you need to:  

·         Know today’s order volume

·         Determine the Warehouse Location based on item availability and shipping location

·         Determine the number of Packers needed based on today’s order volume

·         Determine the number of Pickers needed based on today’s order volume

·         Predict tomorrow’s order volume and staffing needed 

But then, to really maximize productivity you also need to provide them with the tools and processes needed to expedite warehouse processing:

·         Print different Picklists for Drop ship vs LTL to facilitate the picking process if both are needed.

·         Print different Picklists based on SKU Prints to facilitate the picking process so they can pick with the least travel time.

·         Print Picklists for Bills of Material so they can stage kits and have them ready for packing.

·         Suggest a brown box picklist every morning so they can have all the boxes staged and ready before beginning the packing process.

·         Suggest to Packers what size box(s) to use for the order to avoid wasted space and excess shipping cost.

·         Scan Sales Orders for order packing accuracy to ensure that the correct items are packed for the order.

·         Automatically generate Shipping Labels, Packing Slips, UCC128 Labels or Bills of Lading / Commercial Invoices without manual intervention. 

These are just some of the capabilities that OPAL provides within one platform and without the need for numerous integrated systems.  OPAL is a self-driving Order Processing and Warehouse Productivity Software Solution that enables your business to easily and quickly cut order processing costs to less than $1, increase the order handling capacity of your warehouse by 50% - 100% and achieve profitability expectations that you thought were unattainable.      

Is Your Order Process “Automated” or “Autonomous”?

Now, really think about the difference for a minute.  My guess is that most everyone would say that they are “Automated”.  There’s probably an EDI service that downloads Purchase Orders from the retailer into an Accounting System or ERP System, and it probably also sends back documents to the retailer like Acknowledgement, Confirmation, ASN and invoice.  There’s also probably shipping software that creates shipping labels and feeds back the tracking number.  So, there are at least three (3) different pieces of software in the process with at least a few manual touches or interventions needed to keep everything on track.  AND the number of hours your team can work is usually limited, as well.

Now, what’s different about “Autonomous”?  Well, the definition of autonomous is: “Performed by a device capable of operating without direct human control”.  Here’s how that relates to order processing: 

·         Receiving orders from your customer retailers and e-tailers in real-time

·         Managing all of their EDI transactions (i.e. 846, 850, 855, 856, 860, 997, etc.) with that retailer / e-tailer without a 3rd party company to retrieve, translate, send the data

·         Creating Sales Orders or Invoices in your ERP / Accounting System

·         Creating the custom branded 3rd party Packing Slips required by each retailer / e-tailer

·         Creating Carrier Shipping Labels, BOL and/or UCC128 Labels based on the PO received

·         Sending the Picklist to the warehouse, as well as all required shipping documentation, for pick, pack and ship operations

·         Tracking the shipment through that Carrier and communicating delivery status

·         Processing orders 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, even when no one is in the office

·         Achieving all of this WITHOUT EDI Document Cost

·         Achieving all of this with one, low cost software platform that maximizes your existing investment in an ERP or Accounting System. 

AUTONOMOUS order processing also enables an order to be processed through all of these steps in as little as 6 seconds. 

Here’s another aspect to consider when balancing “Automated” versus “Autonomous”.  Do you have an order processing team that works 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the cost of one part-time Customer Service Representative?  Probably not, but this is what an Autonomous Order Processing Solution gives you.  And, you do not need to have a one size fits all solution. It’s configured to your processing work flow.

OPAL (www.meetopal.com) is that AUTONOMOUS ORDER PROCESSING SOLUTION.

Who Needs EDI Anymore?

EDI continues to be a significant part of a supplier’s life.  It’s mandated by many of your retailers or e-tailers, whether it be for drop shipping product directly to consumers or doing warehouse fulfillment.  However, over the last 20 years a major shift has opened up new opportunities in the industry due to the proliferation of the Internet.  Business processes have changed because of the Internet and the speed of data transmission has increased by a 100 fold.  The only thing that has not changed is EDI.   

While it was awesome technology in its day, it’s expensive, requires manual intervention and monitoring – but most of all, it does not communicate information instantly.  Unfortunately, real-time communication is becoming more and more important to retailers and e-tailers for things like Order Acknowledgement and knowing your current Inventory Balances as they try to be more responsive and profitable when dealing with their consumers.

So, if that’s the case, then why do you still need EDI through an EDI company?   The simple answer is that it is has been in place for decades and retailers / e-tailers can still easily point you to it as a way of doing business with them.  Unfortunately, the speed and compliance they will require falls entirely upon your shoulders.

What’s interesting is that a growing number of these retailers / e-tailers have been developing alternative ways of sending and receiving the same information that does NOT require the use of EDI through an EDI company: Application Program Interfaces (API).  APIs are a messaging format that allows data to be transmitted from one system to another in nanoseconds WITHOUT those expensive EDI Document fees.

The reason for this is that retailers and e-tailers today are becoming far too dynamic to rely on an outdated tool to be the backbone of their business operation.  Its simple evolution, the Typewriter was replaced by the Telegram, the Telegram was replaced by Fax, and the Fax was replaced by EDI.  EDI is now being replaced by API, but you, as a supplier, have to be prepared to use it.

The good news is that there are tools available that take advantage of this new technology, eliminate pretty much all of your costs associated with communicating with your retailers and e-tailers and also even reduce the overhead and cost of order processing, adding profit to each order and removing the bottlenecks that keep you from growing your business with more customers and more orders.   

Check out OPAL (www.meetopal.com).  The only truly autonomous (think Robotic) order processing fulfillment software solution that takes advantage of API technology, processes a drop ship order in less than 8 seconds, compliantly maintains all communication with your customers, does this all without any EDI cost and even simplifies the processing of large LTL, Truckload or Container orders.  All of which makes each order much more profitable to deliver.


More Profit, More Orders and No EDI Cost

More profit per drop ship order, increasing the number of orders without adding staff to process them and doing it without paying for EDI documents.  What’s not to like?  Assume that you could:

1.       Handle 95%+ of your drop ship orders entirely autonomously (think ROBOT) without the need for order processing personnel and allow them to focus on that 3% - 5% that actually require human intelligence and intervention.  Given the number of minutes that they can spend on every drop ship order that typically equates to $3+ added to the profit margin on 95%+ of your incoming orders.  That’s a pretty substantial percentage on orders of less than $100. 

2.       Process incoming orders 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, autonomously, without adding staff.  This gives you the ability to increase order volume and grow your business exponentially without adding order processing staff and additional labor cost. 

3.       Remove EDI Document costs associated with 3rd party EDI companies and instead communicate with your retailers and e-tailers directly – AND WITHOUT GOING TO A PORTAL. Once again eliminating cost from processing your orders – both EDI and labor.  

OPAL (www.meetopal.com) provides the only INTELLIGENT and AUTONOMOUS (once again, think ROBOT) drop ship processing software solution that handles the vast majority of your drop ship orders in 8 seconds or less, in full compliance with your retailer and e-tailer requirements and without the need of a 3rd party company to communicate with them.  It even simplifies and speeds much of the Bulk Shipment order process, as well. 

Let’s face it, no business is identical.  Small or large, one size and process does not “fit all” businesses – OPAL is scalable and is configured to each business’ processes. It simply plugs into and works in conjunction with your Accounting System or ERP System, removing the need to make manual order processing related entries so that invoicing and inventory allocations are made instantly.  

In less than 8 seconds OPAL receives orders from retailers and e-tailers, manages all EDI document communication with them, processes and invoices orders through your ERP or Accounting System, creates picklists for the warehouse and creates packing slips and custom branded 3rd party shipping labels per any retailer’s or e-tailer’s requirement.  Once shipped, it sends back tracking information and invoices to the retailer or e-tailer, as well as tracking packages and sending inventory updates.  OPAL also lets you know when that small percentage of order exceptions occurs so that they can be addressed promptly.

3 HUGE Drop Shipping Problems to Fix

Anyone that drop ships product directly to consumers is painfully aware of these issues:

  1. The order processing labor cost to process small orders and the impact it has on the order’s profit.
  2. Growing your drop ship business doesn’t solve the problem – you end up needing to add more staff to keep up with the workload.
  3. Your retailers and e-tailers either require you to manually use their portal OR a 3rd party company to communicate with them (POs, Acknowledgements, ASNs, Invoices, etc.) which just cuts further into each order’s profit.       

Many suppliers that I talk to believe they’re automated – or at least as much as they can be – but they still suffer with these problems.  They have a 3rd party EDI Company connected to their customer, they can get POs dropped into their Accounting or ERP system and they have 3rd party software for tracking numbers and shipping.  It’s true – that is AUTOMATED but it’s not AUTONOMOUS (think ROBOT).  Order processing people are still spending time managing the order process from receipt to shipping and responding to problems along the way.

So what’s the solution?  What if you could do this?

  1.   Handle 95% of your drop ship orders entirely autonomously without the need for order processing personnel and allow them to focus on that 3% - 5% that actually require human intelligence and intervention.  Given the 8-12 minutes that they can spend on every drop ship order that typically equates to $3+ added in to the profit on 95% of your incoming orders.  That’s a pretty substantial percentage on orders of less than $100.
  2.  Process incoming orders 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, autonomously, without adding staff.  This gives you the ability to increase order volume and grow your business exponentially without adding order processing staff.
  3. Remove the costs associated with 3rd party EDI companies and instead communicate with your retailers and e-tailers directly – AND WITHOUT GOING TO A PORTAL.       

OPAL (www.meetopal.com) provides the only INTELLIGENT and AUTONOMOUS (once again, think ROBOT) drop ship processing software solution that handles the vast majority of your drop ship orders in 8 seconds or less, in full compliance with your retailer and e-tailer requirements and without the need of a 3rd party to communicate with them.  It even simplifies and speeds much of the Bulk Shipment order process, as well.

OPAL is scalable and is configured to each business’ processes – small or large, one size and process does not have to “fit all” businesses.

OPAL receives orders from retailers and e-tailers, manages all document communication with them, processes and invoices orders through your ERP or Accounting System, creates picklists for the warehouse and creates packing slips and custom branded 3rd party shipping labels per any retailer’s or e-tailer’s requirements.  Once shipped, it sends back tracking information and invoices to the retailer or e-tailer, as well as tracking packages and sending inventory updates.  OPAL also lets you know when one of those 3% - 5% of order exceptions occur so that it can be addressed promptly.

Growing Your On-Line Retailer Sales with Better Product Content

Product Content – the information you provide on-line at retailer websites describing your product – is the secret ingredient when selling through e-Commerce Channels.  The depth of detail and the content design used to showcase your product on Wayfair.com, Overstock.com, Hayneedle.com, Amazon.com, Walmart.com, etc., etc. determines if consumers are going to FIND your product and if they’re going to BUY it.  Consumers are taking charge of their own shopping journey and it’s becoming clear that you have to deliver a superior digital product experience to get their attention.     

According to Salsify, here’s how product content drives your e-commerce success: 

1.       It’s how your consumer finds you – 81% of shoppers conduct online research before they make a purchase.

2.       Product content is SEO gold, both with search engines and with retailers – Brands that submit content to Google can boost sales by as much as 25% for retailers advertising their products.

3.       It’s what drives sales73% of consumers cite detailed product content as their number one criteria for clicking the “Buy" button.

4.       And, it’s not optional – Your shoppers are digital, and all retailer and product related marketing activities require a baseline of accurate, approved, rich product content. 

Content and technology experts can also be helpful to create and store product content, especially when online sales are important to your brand strategy or you sell on multiple online marketplaces.  For further information on this topic click:  11 Rules to Deliver Product Content that Sells to view Salsify’s (www.salsify.com) e-Book. 

 

Fortunately, the next hurdle will be scaling your business to efficiently and cost effectively process the increased influx of orders that great content management will generate for you.

Yes, there are challenges, especially in the e-commerce world where you’re shipping directly to consumers (Drop Shipping).  However, OPAL (www.meetopal.com) removes them and even greatly reduces the workload for Bulk Shipments (LTL, Truckload and Container) as well.  

For example, A LABOR INTENSIVE DROP SHIP ORDER WILL BE PROCESSED IN 8 SECONDS OR LESS.  This means you can receive orders from your customer retailers and e-tailers, manage all of their EDI transactions, process and invoice orders through your ERP and accounting system, create picklists, create packing slips and create custom branded 3rd party shipping labels and get them to the warehouse for pick, pack and ship – 24 hours per day, seven days per week – even when there’s no one in the office.  And, you are also able to do all of that WITH ZERO EDI DOCUMENT COST!

 

5 Things your EDI Company Will Never Tell You

Do you really need a 3rd party EDI Company or VAN (Value Added Network) to send and receive data such as POs, Acknowledgements, Ship Notices, Invoices, etc. to your retailers?  With a very small number of exceptions, the answer is NO.  Fortunately for these companies, suppliers are often painfully unaware of the alternatives available.  In fact, there are 5 things a company making their living by being an EDI “middleman” will never tell you: 

1.       You don’t need them to work with all retailers. There are a few exceptions, but many retailers work with technologies that allow for direct connection and communication with them – eliminating those data transfer and transmission charges. 

2.       It does not cost an EDI company any money to send and receive your data over the Internet.  As an example, consider how much it costs to stream data on one of your mobile devices.  Not all that much, right?  However, if you were to stream a movie on your mobile device at the cost of EDI transmission it would be about $240,000. 

3.       EDI companies provide the slowest way to exchange information.  Essentially it is a batch process, meaning that transactions are sent in bulk to retailers, instead of when a transaction actually occurs.  As retailer expectations become higher and higher, some EDI companies are having difficulty meeting retailer timeframe compliance requirements. 

4.       Current EDI technology has been around since the 1980s and is not keeping up with market driven needs such as real-time communication.  To do this an Application Program Interface (API) is needed that enables no cost, real-time communication of transactions to occur. 

5.       The use of traditional EDI services is largely a “black hole” restricting your ability to see and manage what’s going on inside and can impact your competitiveness. 

To complicate matters, a retailer’s help line may very well point you to a specific EDI company that they work with when you are setting up with them, even though they have other alternative(s) available.  It’s just a simple way to get you connected and it doesn’t cost them anything.  As we said previously, suppliers are often painfully unaware of what alternatives are available. 

The majority of retailers do have alternative connections available such as API, FTP or AS2 which allows you to communicate with them directly.  These are the methods that OPAL employs whenever a retailer allows it, and OPAL does not charge for this data translation and transmission  – after all it is the Internet. 

Adapting to your specific business processes (not a one size fits all solution), as well as simplifying communication with your retailers, OPAL is the only autonomous drop ship and order fulfillment software solution in the market today.  Check it out at www.meetopal.com.