Five Pointers on Fulfillment
by Sue Leonard
Order fulfillment is a challenge for many independent publishers, especially companies that don’t work with distributors, which usually include it among the services they offer. Defined as a sequence of steps that include invoicing and payment processing, adjusting sales and inventory records, and picking, packing, and shipping an order, fulfillment services for start-ups and others doing their own distribution are also available from companies like mine.
If you’re considering fulfillment options, the basic question to start with is: Should I handle this function myself, or outsource it? The information that follows should help you decide and then help you get the best from the option you have chosen.
If You Handle Fulfillment Yourself
*Be smart about shipping and handling fees. I have noticed that many small publishers add just a small amount of money to actual postage costs to set shipping and handling fees for their products. This is a mistake, because these fees need to cover not only postage and delivery but also a variety of other expenses that the time-consuming fulfillment process entails, such as packing materials, overhead, and labor for invoicing, payment processing, pick and pack, and customer service, plus a profit margin.
Next time you get a catalog, take a look at its shipping and handling fees. You will see that customers are used to paying shipping and handling fees that include more than just postage.
In other words, let your customer bear at least a portion of the fulfillment costs. Your overall profit margin will benefit.
*Assess your abilities. Keep in mind you won’t just need to ship the product; you will also need to keep track of the financial aspects of your business.
Do you have the time and resources to invoice your orders, process your customers’ credit cards, and deposit payments in a timely fashion?
Are you willing and able to handle order intake by Internet, phone, mail, and fax?
Can you handle pro forma invoices from trade accounts?
Are you knowledgeable about how to get your product to your customer the quickest and most economical way?
Do you have a system for tracking your sales and inventory on a monthly basis, if not more often?
If You Are Thinking of Outsourcing Fulfillment
*First, do your research. Search for “order fulfillment for independent publishers” via your favorite search engine, and then get price quotes from a number of order fulfillment companies.
*Examine fee structures. Many fulfillment companies charge a hefty monthly minimum fee if your volume of orders falls below a specified level. Find a company whose fee structure will let you determine your bottom line at the outset, and one that is flexible about tailoring its services to your needs.
*Check on what the customer sees. As you may have noticed, when packages arrive at your door with stamps, a postage meter strip, or Post Office payment sticker, they boldly display the cost of postage. The order fulfillment company you choose should utilize software that does not display postage or delivery costs; instead, it should use a barcode or keyline so you can set shipping and handling fees that will cover fulfillment costs without trumpeting them.
Sue Leonard is owner of Cornerstone Fulfillment Service, LLC, which specializes in e-commerce for self-published books, videos, DVDs, CDs, and journals. To learn more, call 802/297-3771; email ContactUs@CornerstoneFulfillmentService.com; or visit cornerstonefulfillmentservice.