What to Look for in a Fulfillment Partner

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Your company is the proud owner of an e-commerce site. It looks great, is easy to navigate and carries an impressive range of merchandise. It's perfect. That is, as long as nobody tries to order anything.

In the past year, the rush has been to get online. Now, the rush is to figure out how to get merchandise from the computer monitor to the customer's hands.

Until technology advancements allow us to e-mail a sweater, the success of an e-commerce business depends on order fulfillment.

Numerous e-commerce businesses outsource some or all of their fulfillment needs. Since fulfillment plays a large role in the livelihood of e-commerce, choosing the right fulfillment partner is a weighty decision. There are four key qualities to evaluate when selecting a fulfillment partner: range of services, reputation, scalability and speed to market.

The best fulfillment companies offer a broad range of services. Since technology changes so quickly, work with a company that has the ability to meet all your needs along the way.

The services to look for include direct marketing, telemarketing, order management, information management, order fulfillment, parcel distribution, returns processing, customer service, merchandise procurement, payment processing and data mining.

Your e-commerce business may not need to outsource all of these tasks from the start, but it is reassuring to know the capabilities are there if needed.

Also, finding one company that can provide numerous services is an easy way to streamline your daily operations. Communication is simplified, orders are easier to track, and correcting problems is less complicated. In the long run, this will save you money and decrease the time it takes to process an order.

A good reputation is key when deciding on a fulfillment partner. A proven track record is a good indication that your business will be handled in a similarly successful fashion.

Before deciding on a fulfillment company, do some research. Searching the Internet for information, asking other businesses for recommendations and checking the references of potential companies are good places to start. Granted, e-fulfillment is a relatively new service.

Checking a provider's reputation, however, is still possible because many companies in e-fulfillment have gained experience in relative industries, like catalog retailing.

With today's technology, it is possible to fulfill orders more quickly than ever. Customers who order online demand rapid delivery. If they have to wait too long for an order, an alternate e-commerce site is just a click away.

On the other hand, prompt delivery is likely to gain you loyal customers. It is imperative that your order fulfillment company keep up with your demand.

Mobility is important as well. The fulfillment company you select should be able to reach the same parts of the world as your business.

Your e-commerce business has enormous growth potential, and so should your fulfillment company. Look for a partner with the resources to support your business. Substantial warehouse space is important, which assures that your business won't quickly outgrow it.

Also, flexibility is necessary for the fluctuations that may occur in everything from inventories to geographic locations. A fulfillment company should be able to tailor its services to your needs.

People are ordering products from e-commerce sites at a steadily increasing rate.

John Buck is president of Fingerhut Business Services Inc., a subsidiary of Fingerhut Companies Inc., Minnetonka, MN. His e-mail address is John.buck@fingerhut.com.

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