For online merchants, the order fulfillment process is a critical opportunity to build customer loyalty and retention. Meeting - and exceeding - your customers' expectations is always a priority, but fulfilling orders can pose a logistical challenge, especially if you're selling on multiple platforms and doing everything manually.
Doing all of these tiny, time-consuming tasks yourself holds you back from making the bigger decisions that will actually drive sales and grow your business. It's time to find an online shipping solution that consolidates and automates your to-do list for you so you can get back to running your business.
ShipStation, a global leader in eCommerce shipping solutions and order fulfillment, offers a premiere platform designed to make the order fulfillment process more efficient and less costly for merchants. In this edition of our Industry Leader Series interviews, Tophatter speaks with Cody DeArmond from ShipStation. Read on to learn more about the state of eCommerce and how you can use their shipping platform to organize and automate your shipping process, streamline your workflow, and ultimately exceed your customers' expectations when it comes to order fulfillment.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved in eCommerce and ShipStation, specifically.
I started here about six years ago when we were still a relatively small company. ShipStation kept popping up on Best Places to Work lists, so I was intrigued. At first, "shipping software" sounded a little cut and dry, but when I came in and met with the team, it was obvious that they were passionate about solving problems for the everyday people who were following their dreams - people who were working a 9 to 5, putting their kids to bed, and then spending the rest of the evening trying to grow a side business. Every hour we could help automate or streamline a task meant an hour we could give back to them.
When I joined the team, we had four sales reps who had front-row seats to thousands of entrepreneurs, and it drew me in. In the time since, we've been able to grow that team and help tens of thousands of new merchants along the way.
What are some of the biggest ways eCommerce has changed in the past five years?
Merchants are diversifying how they growing their sales. When I started, it was common to see a merchant who was selling on a single marketplace or on their site come to us because they didn't know much about shipping. Now, we more frequently have merchants coming in who already have three or four channels activated. Their pain-point is that it's difficult to manage all of those channels.
Merchants also come to us for expertise. For example, they might want to know more about any up-and-coming channels where they can grow their sales. That's the biggest shift I've seen during my time here - merchants taking a more omni-channel strategy.
What are the most pressing pain-points or needs you've identified when it comes to online merchants who sell on a variety of eCommerce marketplaces?
Some merchants might not be taking a step back and seeing what tools are available. We explain to merchants that adding another channel or doubling the number of channels they have shouldn't double the amount of time they spend fulfilling those orders.
We see a lot of merchants list product on a new platform. That's an extra place they have to log into every day, with a different process than what they're used to - there's a learning curve to that, for them and their staff. It takes valuable time away from the things that are directly going to grow the business.
Our advice to merchants is to try as many channels as they can, if it makes sense for their business, without letting those tasks add too much tedium to the day-to-day operations of running and scaling a business.
How does ShipStation help merchants scale their businesses across multiple channels?
If a merchant has ShipStation in place, they can spin up a new channel without experiencing a significant difference in their day to day. We see most of our merchants treating ShipStation as the home base for their operations. If they want to add a new channel to notice that they sell very well on that channel, having everything integrated and consolidated into one platform allows them to go to the same place every day, where their best practices are already automated and standardized. So even if there's a new channel or sales volume increases, all their processes are in place.
What are some of the biggest tips you have for merchants who sell exclusively through eCommerce marketplaces?
Merchants should get creative around the actual delivery experience. If you do have the leeway to deliver goods yourself, even though it's a marketplace and it's less personal, there are a lot of ways you can set yourself apart from the crowd, whether it's the physical packaging or how quickly you can deliver the package.
Prioritizing the customer experience in this way is, over the long run, going to increase sales. Of course, merchants should always follow marketplace terms of service, but if the channel allows them to include personalized tidbits within the package itself, so the customer has a great unboxing experience, they should get creative. It's these little touches at the tail-end of the customer experience, when you know the customer is going to be most engaged, when you can really build brand loyalty.
Fast shipping versus free shipping - from a consumer's perspective, is one more important than the other? What does the data say about consumer expectations when it comes to shipping?
We actually put in a lot of work to compile something called the Last Touch, Lasting Impact report with a ton of data on the subject for merchants to peruse. To sum it up - it's a business-specific decision to make. There's no blanket statement. But we did survey 1,300 North American consumers and found that they really expect the shipping process to be smooth and quick.
Some interesting things we've found - 1 in 3 customers treat their online shopping as an "at-home dressing room," so to speak. They're not clicking through because they know they're going to complete that purchase - they're clicking through because they want the freedom to try it on and the flexibility to send it back. That's really scary for a lot of the newer merchants that I work with - returns feel like there's a cost. But data shows that merchants who are providing a frictionless returns process will see a 55% to 60% increase in repeat sales from those customers.
While I'd be hesitant to say you have to offer free shipping or expedited shipping, 99% of consumers said that a poor shipping experience meant that weren't coming back. Even if it's the carrier's fault, it's on the merchant to ensure a smooth experience.
How do you see the eCommerce changing in the next three-to-five years, and what do you think will be the catalyst(s) for that change?
We're already noticing the beginning stage of this, which is increased globalization. We see more and more merchants selling outside of their specific country, as well as more and more consumers abroad looking for U.S. goods (and vice versa). For merchants, it can seem like a scary process when it comes to customs, access duties, etc. But now, realistically, with tools like ShipStation, those international deliveries can function really similarly to domestic deliveries. We see a lot of merchants having success by getting over that hurdle where international shipping, instead of being scary, can become something that doesn't cost them that much time and gives them access to new markets.