The warehousing and fulfillment industry has been rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some online retailers began taking 1.5 days longer than usual to fulfill orders and efficiency went down.
We are now all learning how to manage business in a different world. If you’re unsure how to handle ecommerce storage and fulfillment in the current situation, this article is for you. It sums up the steps you can take to keep up with demand while operating as safely as possible for employees and clients both.
Related: Impact of COVID-19 on ecommerce
It’s really important to comply with the COVID-19 safety guidelines if you want to keep your operations without downtime. Having safety procedures in place ensures you’re doing the right thing and it will enable your business to keep running smoothly. Because let’s be honest – you can’t get the work done if your employees are sick.
For example, you should provide personal protective equipment – disinfecting products, gloves, masks and hand sanitizer – to your staff. Equip bathrooms and working areas with sanitizer. Establish social distancing measures such as separate working stations and obligatory self-reporting when anyone feels symptoms of the virus.
Instruct your team in the best hygiene practices and encourage following them to help stem the spread of the virus. For information on how to clean the workplace during COVID-19, you can check this guide from WHO. Last but not least, make arrangements with extra part-timers on demand if employees need to stay home due to illness or quarantine. I’ve also been using a virtual office recently for a business in Scotland, the web site is Glasgow Virtual Offices and they have been amazing and there are lots of benefits (mainly privacy), so look into that.
With so many safety requirements to make your customers feel safe shopping from you, it can get extra hard – regular disinfection, staff rotation when someone gets sick, increased demand…Doing fulfillment in house might not be that feasible anymore.
To take the pressure off of yourself, work with a fulfillment partner that takes care of it all. They don’t just help you fulfill your orders but can also help you in case a particular geographical location gets closed down due to the virus because they fall into the essential services category.
It is also wise to hide your personal postal address if you are working from home, and a great way to do that is with a virtual office. We signed up for one in the UK (at https://www.birminghamvirtualoffice.co.uk) for another business there, and it has worked brilliantly, so find a local virtual office service and get that set up if you work from home.
Related: How to evaluate a potential fulfillment partner
Here are a few things to keep in mind when looking for a third party fulfillment company to work with:
Before, it was normal for an ecommerce company to have one, maybe two fulfillment options. The idea was to have as few warehouses as possible to keep things easily under control.
However, the coronavirus pandemic has completely changed the game. Online shopping will continue going up in the U.S. – 58% of people surveyed by John Hopkins University said they’ll be shopping more online even after the pandemic is over. More demand and a single sick employee can shut down your only fulfillment center overnight. You have to have options.
A third-party provider that offers multiple fulfillment centers across the country is a good start. This will allow you to continue operations even if there are lockdowns in some places. You also will benefit from distributed inventory (inventory is split across distribution centers). Since it’s closer to the customer, shipping costs go down and delivery times are shorter.
You can have more than one 3PL but it’s really important to be honest about your needs and expectations during the negotiations so the contract works for both sides.
Prepare in case of a disruption to your supply chain at one of your 3PLs. You should have access to all the information you need to react quickly. For example, if you know what sites and suppliers are at risk, you’ll be able to source capacity and inventory from an alternative site.
Related: Inventory management and shipping strategies for direct-to-consumer brands
Also, discuss with your 3PL if they have alternative sites in case of a temporary shutdown, as well as how quickly they would be able to start shipping from the alternative site. Another option is to use the Shopify Fulfillment Network, which strategically distributes your inventory across multiple locations.
The thing is, the pandemic has catalyzed ecommerce growth like no other event. Small and large shops are moving online, everyone’s racing to not to lose sales.
Because shipping is so important to the customer experience (and therefore your sales) it’s important that you are in a position to scale as needed. Before entering a contract with a fulfillment partner, make sure they have the space to take on extra inventory.
Take a look at the size of their warehouse(s), too: Is it large enough? Is it well organized for efficiency (and possibly social distancing)? And what about their staff – do they employ enough people to be able to answer sudden spikes in demand?
Also, discuss safety protocols to ensure your customers are not at risk receiving their orders and that the fulfillment center is doing everything possible to avoid closure.
Post coronavirus-crisis, ecommerce will reap the rewards from the sudden shift in behavior. As such, there’s really no going back and the decisions you make now regarding fulfillment can make or break your future operations.
Use the tips to improve the way you do fulfillment and shipping in a world after COVID-19 so that you’re able to keep selling effectively.
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