Practical Ecommerce

Life after in-house fulfillment

In “My search for a third-party fulfillment company,” I wrote that location, automation, and accommodation were key factors in making my final decision. Once we had penned an agreement that satisfied both parties, we began the on-boarding process.

As with any move, you have to take a step back and prioritize. What do you need? What can you live without? The same applied with my migration to the new fulfillment company’s warehouse. I had several items in the store that I knew I wouldn’t be replenishing. It was important to draw this line of what would and wouldn’t be making the move.

Alongside this process, I performed an SKU audit at the request of the warehouse. Up to this point, SKU nomenclature wasn’t something on which I put a lot of emphasis; a black Stupid Cancer shirt would have been identified as #scblacktee. The variations would follow as #scblacktee-small, and so on.

The idea of changing more than 400 SKUs wasn’t something I was thrilled about. Several of my third party apps had synched to my store, pulling the old SKU information. I wasn’t sure what would happen to our data within these apps if suddenly everything had changed. Ultimately, I decided I could live with the consequences if I were to scale the store in a more efficient way.

Luckily, the disruption was minimal. I proceeded with a 5-digit numeric SKU and my variations would have one letter for sizes versus spelling out the word.

Formalizing my SKUs was one of the most important things I’ve done in the store. For the first time, my products had standardized unique identifiers. This helped in other aspects of the operation, too. When speaking with vendors now, I reference my SKU instead of an informal product name.

Once we had the tech side ironed out, I counted inventory and then counted it again. Boxes were labeled with packing slips and prepped for shipping.

We all have those moments in our careers when we say to ourselves, “I can’t believe I’m doing this right now.” Mine came when I rented a 14-foot box truck in the Times Square neighborhood of New York City. While I like to think I’m a great driver, nothing could prepare me for the streets of Manhattan. With my box truck loaded up, I set off to Karol Fulfillment Services, our new vendor, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

As soon as the inventory was at the warehouse, we flipped the switch. As I mentioned in my last post, we began shipping within 24 hours from my last inventory count to the arrival on the shelves at the warehouse.

One consequence of our self-imposed urgency was that as soon as the warehouse inventory system took over as the master (with Bigcommerce, our ecommerce platform, as the slave) all of the products were zeroed out and removed from public view.

While this certainly was not the moment of victory I had envisioned during my white-knuckle driving to Pennsylvania, it gave us another opportunity to make sure the inventory counts were accurate. The warehouse staff worked tirelessly to count items in the 20 or so large boxes.

An important post-migration step was to run through the customer experience. With the new warehouse came new functionality and features. For example, the warehouse sent an email to the customer, stating that the order had shipped. We decided to turn it off, in favor of the native Bigcommerce version, which contained the same information. On the front end, I had to update my returns and exchanges page with the new return address.

After more than a year with my new fulfillment company, I can say that there is life after in-house fulfillment. While it comes with an added cost, it’s nice to know that we can continue to operate the core functions of the charity, regardless of what happens with the peaks and valleys of the store’s sales volume.

Kenny Kane

Kenny Kane

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  1. Carlos Rivera August 27, 2015 Reply

    Awesome first-person experience of a major business shift! Thank you for sharing for all of us to learn from.

    • Kenny Kane September 11, 2015 Reply

      Thanks for taking the time to read it, Carlos! Wishing you all the best.