From snacks to socks and coffee to cosmetics, online subscription services are increasingly popular.
And what’s not to love? For a monthly fee, a parcel of treats appears through your letterbox each month, often tailored to meet your needs.
For the online retailer, it’s a great way to ensure repeat business and regular revenue as well as adding value to the product range. It also creates opportunities to engage with customers and better understand their preferences so that further personalisation can be embedded in their subscription box, reinforcing added value and customer retention.
Alongside those clear commercial advantages, however, the operational challenges are equally clear. Is the service scalable when your happy subscription box customers tell all their friends and rave about it on social media? Do you have the resources to pick, pack and dispatch every order with the care and accuracy your customers expect? Is personalisation really deliverable to ensure your customer continues to feel their box is tailor-made for them?
If your business is still small and is completely focused on a subscription box model, it may be too early for you to consider outsourced fulfilment because your own team knows your products and you have the resources to hand pick the contents of each box in-house. However, even start ups need to plan for growth. Fufilment can quickly become an unmanageable task that leads to stress, mistakes and reduced customer satisfaction if your customer base grows more rapidly than your team or your warehouse and packing facilities.
Consequently, while outsourced fulfilment may not be essential for your business now, the chances are it’s something you will need to consider to enable growth.
The good news is, Q1 is exactly the right time to set the wheels in motion for making that change, which will support your growth potential, free up your time and help you restore your work/life balance. By investing time now in the selection of a third party fulfilment partner and onboarding during a quieter time of year, you can ensure that all fulfilment is running like clockwork before any of your customers so much as whisper the words ‘Christmas shopping.’
One of the main reasons why subscription box providers continue with in-house fulfilment despite the operational challenges is that they believe a quality box of personally-selected products is part of their unique service and the reason customers continue to subscribe. Doubtless quality and personalisation (real or perceived) is at the core of the customer experience but it does not have to be delivered in-house.
When selecting a fulfilment partner, it’s worth not only checking that they have a track record in subscription box fulfilment but also visiting their facilities, so that you can check how they manage their warehouse and see first-hand how picking, packing and dispatch are managed.
When selecting your fulfilment partner, it’s important to find out whether they can manage all your fulfilment requirements across all online sales channels and marketplaces.
Vertical integration of ecommerce technology with the fulfilment process can be just as critical to quality assurance as the physical packing and handling of subscription boxes.
Not only does technology help to provide accurate, real time and traceable data about which items have been sent to which customer (and when), it can also allow personalisation of subscription boxes and enable product selection aligned to customers’ specified preferences.
Technology is the enabler for third party fulfilment of subscription boxes ensuring that all the data required to send the right items to the right person at the right time is embedded in the process. It will also provide a safeguard against any boxes being issued to a customer who has cancelled their subscription.
A fulfilment specialist should be able to cater for any specialist wrapping or packing requirements, even if the subscription box contains perishable food items or delicate items. Indeed, it may be possible to combine a white glove service with a subscription box fulfilment service.
The bottom line is, if it can be done in-house, it can also be done by a third party fulfilment specialist, with the added benefits of scalability and technology.
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