Anyone in the clothing retail business will tell you that you have a few options when it comes to apparel fulfillment service. For instance, you can choose to work with a company that handles nothing but fulfillment (outsource), you can see what your current screenprinter offers, or some companies even attempt to keep things in-house. How do you know which option is best for you? Well, it really depends on the nature of your business and the number of products you produce and sell. If you do decide to use your current printer or outsource these services, it’s important to know that you’re working with someone who knows what they are doing. In fact, it’s highly recommended that you use an experienced fulfillment provider for several reasons.
Fulfillment Center vs. Warehouse
Of course, before you can find an expert fulfillment provider, you should know the difference between a fulfillment center and a warehouse. If you’re looking to store high volumes of inventory somewhere only, then a warehouse is what you need. Alternatively, if you need short-term storage, receiving, and shipping, then you actually should check out a distribution center. A fulfillment center, however, and its services include all of the above things with a few extras like returns, exchanges, packing, custom shipping, personalization, and more.
Available Inventory Storage
With that said, one crucial thing you need to consider is whether or not your fulfillment provider or center has enough storage for your inventory. Obviously, an experienced provider will ensure that this is never something you need to worry about. Nevertheless, when it comes to apparel, inventory tends to grow at an exponential rate. As a result, there always needs to be more than enough room for all your merchandise. Moreover, your apparel/inventory needs to be properly organized and stored, so that it can be easily accounted for and shipped.
Along those same lines, the place where your inventory is being stored needs to be secure. A seasoned professional has already taken all the necessary measures to ensure that their fulfillment warehouse is secure. Furthermore, an established provider is more likely to have procedures and policies in place to make sure the warehouse is clean, safe, and well-managed. Ultimately, these things will allow your product to be stored safe and sound.
High SKU Counts
Likewise, you need a fulfillment provider that knows how to handle high volumes of SKUs. These days, most apparel businesses operate online. Consequently, when you find a large number of SKUs, many of are similar-looking. With high volumes of almost identical SKUs, there’s definitely room for error. Thus, having a fulfillment center that can successfully manage multiple clients with ample inventory absolutely matters. In fact, your company of choice should have procedures, processes, and technology to ensure that everything runs smoothly. Even if you don’t have a wealth of inventory, working with a center that can make storing, finding, and shipping your apparel easier is never a bad thing.
Proper Receiving Procedures
If you expect to have high SKU volume, you want a fulfillment provider capable of receiving large quantities. In other words, your center should have a receiving department that handles inventory and orders like a well-oiled machine. This will prevent incorrect shipping orders and other possible mishaps. Moreover, a competent receiving department with proper procedures in place will also ensure your product is in good condition and labeled correctly.
Another key component of selling apparel online is return management. The reality is not every warehouse or fulfillment center can handle returns. But then, an experienced provider will either tell you upfront how or if they can take receiving returns. What’s more, a provider with a few years under his or her belt will have learned the tricks of the trade when it comes to managing returns. This means they can address the unique challenges that often come with apparel. Having your returns properly handled or managed not only will help to reduce distribution costs, but it will also improve your customers’ experience with your brand.
The exchange process is generally a caveat of return management. However, if you’re working with a company that can’t handle returns, expecting them to have a comprehensive exchange process might be asking too much. Thus, this is just another reason why you need a provider that can do and has done it all. Everyone wants both the return and exchange process to go smoothly because it saves time and money. Plus, if a customer or client has a bad experience with your fulfillment center, that ultimately reflects badly on your company.
One of the great things about working with a fulfillment center is that they can handle shipping. As a result, both you and your customers are happier because there are several options to choose from, and items can be received faster. Many providers work with USPS, UPS, and FedEx to ensure that your goods are delivered, trackable, and handled with care. Of course, if you haven’t been outsourcing your shipping, you may want to consider it, so that you can free up some time.
Even in terms of general management, a provider that knows what they are doing will make a whole lot of difference. Moreover, an established provider or center will have skilled team members to oversee day-to-day operations, which is what you want. Knowing that the fulfillment side of things is in good hands allows you to focus on other aspects of the business. If you’ve been burning the candle at both ends, trying to do it all, you may want to consider outsourcing apparel fulfillment. Similarly, if you’ve been working with a fulfillment company already, but aren’t happy with the results you’re seeing, then it might just be time to start looking for an expert provider instead.
In addition to a skilled team, you’ll often find that a knowledgeable fulfillment center also has the necessary technology to handle high volume SKUs and more. Just like any other industry, technology is changing the way we do things. Nowadays, inventory equipment includes GPS, RFID (radio frequency identification) tags, and Bluetooth. Most warehouses have software for just about everything. Better still, others utilize robot pickers to improve efficiency. Of course, your provider doesn’t need to have drones and robots just yet. As long as there’s sufficient technology to ensure that your inventory processing is streamlined, that’s all you need.
Size and Location
Another important thing you should consider when looking for a fulfillment center is their ability to handle large orders, especially during peak seasons. Furthermore, the location of your expert fulfillment provider also matters. If your target market is located in a specific region or area of the country, then it makes sense that you’d want a provider that can quickly deliver to your customers. That said, if you have customers across the globe, you may want to consider a fulfillment center that has multiple hubs or warehouses worldwide.
Your fulfillment center should also be able to correctly handle valued-added services (VAD). In the wonderful world of apparel, VAD often looks like a t-shirt and hat being sold together. However, usually, these items aren’t made or manufactured together. This is where a seasoned fulfillment provider comes in handy. They can point you in the direction of a custom packing partner, or your provider may even offer similar services. The nice thing here is that you have options and flexibility.
Lastly, the overall presentation of your merchandise matters almost as much as the quality of your product. Thus, a skilled provider will have packing procedures in place, and will gladly go over how they will pack your apparel. Obviously, your merchandise should be stored, packaged, and shipped according to your standards. This also means that your provider and team should be more than capable of folding and re-packaging your apparel in a manner that’s consistent with your brand standards. To ensure that your center or provider is up to the challenge, you should provide an outline and demonstration, so that everyone is on the same page.
These are just a few reasons why you need an experienced provider. As you can see, there’s a lot of work behind the scenes that goes into selling and shipping apparel. Ultimately, outsourcing your fulfillment services will save you time and money, while providing you with the chance to focus on other aspects of your business. Moreover, working with someone that knows how to handle all of your fulfillment needs means you don’t have to give this portion of the business a second thought. Why not do yourself a favor and make your job easier with expert fulfillment services?