3 Tips for efficient ecommerce subscription fulfilment

July 22, 2014

Ecommerce’s popularity and market share continues to grow, and consumers all over the world have gained an unprecedented degree of comfort with online and mobile shopping. As they become more willing to explore alternative online retail options, consumers are turning to ecommerce subscription services (and related automatic renewing services) in greater numbers than ever before.

It is easy to see why – the convenience is huge. Every month, perhaps every week your staples turn up at your door. For me it’s a bag of Columbian coffee, a bottle of milk a loaf of bread and a half dozen eggs. In an earlier generation the grocer’s boy would have delivered the same riding a bicycle. Another service sends me a different bottle of wine every month. Perhaps the grocer’s boy wouldn’t have been trusted with that.

And of course, just about anything that is convenient for shoppers translates into increased sales for the merchants (online or otherwise) who support it. If properly managed, ecommerce subscriptions can be more efficient and less costly from an order fulfilment perspective because they are regular, repeating events. A good fulfilment partner should be able to arrange discounted service for regular, reliable ecommerce subscriptions in high enough volume. It costs them less, so you both make more money.

The following are a few ways to make ecommerce subscriptions even more effective for you both.

Automated order management for ecommerce subscriptions

The way you handle your subscriptions can make a huge difference. Quite a few online retailers still use manual order management for ecommerce subscriptions, and that is a shame considering that they are among the most efficient orders to automate, and the ones that will lose you customers the fastest if they are forgotten or delayed.

Most ecommerce platforms and shopping carts already support automated order management and ecommerce subscriptions. Recurring orders can be generated and customers notified completely automatically, or pending operator approval if you’re a bit of a technophobe. Most let you configure the delivery interval pretty freely, have discounting options, and support a degree of customer subscription and billing management, taking even more of the administrative burden away.

Pre packing and labelling for ecommerce subscription orders

One of the ecommerce subscription model’s greatest strengths is its predictability. In terms of fulfilment, predictable orders are more efficient and less expensive.

If you (or your fulfilment house) knows that you’ll be shipping 1000 recurring orders of product A each month, and where they will need to be shipped to, you have a lot of new options. You can use spare moments to get ahead on your packing and labelling, or on a larger scale assign it to an underutilised time or even schedule more people specifically to get it all done ahead of time. No matter which option you choose, you’ll likely be able to get the ecommerce subscription orders done with less expense and faster than an equal volume of unscheduled, random orders.
Of course, this will work better for some types of ecommerce subscription than others. If the product mix varies unpredictably with each order cycle pre-packaging would be quite a bad idea, but this is rare amongst ecommerce subscription models. Even offering a different assortment of goods every month can benefit from pre-packaging and pre-labelling, so long as the decision of what products to send is made some time in advance, and does not them vary.

Cost effective shipping options for ecommerce subscription orders

Beyond pick and pack, the ecommerce subscription model supports several efficiencies in shipping, especially if your fulfilment partner knows how to deal with them. Since these orders generally have at least a week of lead time, fulfilment can start early to take advantage of any slack periods the carrier may have, or be timed for maximum efficiency in terms of other factors. It also gives you the option of using slower, less expensive shipping options like consolidation.

On that note, if you do select a slow shipping method, consider the impact of your cancellation policies. For example, it is possible an order will already have been handed to the carrier when the customer cancels.

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