Management & Finance

Building an Ecommerce Business, Part 7: Shipping and Fulfillment

A merchant who sells physical products has to figure out how to efficiently get those items into the hands of customers. It can become complicated as the business scales and receives international orders.

This is episode seven in my series on building an ecommerce business from the ground up. The previous installments are:

For this article, I spoke with Cody DeArmond, director of sales and account management at ShipStation, the software provider. We discussed how shipping software could help a business to streamline its processes and generally make life easier.

What follows is my entire audio conversation with DeArmond and a transcript, edited for length and clarity.

Eric Bandholz: Tell us about yourself and ShipStation.

Cody DeArmond: I head up the sales team and account management at ShipStation. We help a lot of entrepreneurs, although I know shipping software doesn’t seem that exciting. I think my parents think that I’m a truck driver. But I enjoy the job because I get a front row seat to many entrepreneurs every day. We make it easy for people who sell stuff online to get those orders out the door.

Bandholz: Beardbrand, my company, has been working with ShipStation since early 2013. For folks that aren’t familiar, what does your software do?

DeArmond: We take all of a merchant’s online orders — from the merchant’s website and marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, and Walmart — and bring those into one place. Instead of jumping around to all these different platforms to fulfill orders, a merchant’s staff can use ShipStation to see all the orders that need to go out the door. They hit “select all” and click “print.” All of the labels come out, and the tracking information goes where it needs to. So ShipStation replaces the process of copying and pasting addresses and makes it automatic.

Bandholz: I used to be the guy at Beardbrand fulfilling orders, putting the labels on and dropping them off. It wasn’t very scalable. What should a merchant look for in shipping software?

DeArmond: The question that I ask merchants and entrepreneurs is, “What do you do over and over every day?” Anything that you do repetitively we should be able to automate.

Don’t just settle with what you started with. Ultimately you want fulfillment software that can process a hundred or a thousand orders on your busiest day in the same way that you would one order when you’re getting started.

Bandholz: What is the expectation now from customers on delivery, on how fast orders should arrive?

DeArmond: A lot of that expectation is steered by the big guys such as Amazon and Walmart. It’s definitely shortened that delivery window for all merchants, which makes it that much more important to be automated.

Bandholz: Which carrier do most merchant prefer, USPS, UPS, or FedEx?

DeArmond: We see a mix. Think of us as a power strip for plugging in all the carriers. USPS is the most common out of the gate. A startup can get an account with USPS right away. Then, as the company grows, it can add FedEx or UPS or both. Many merchants have accounts with both.

You shouldn’t have to jump back and forth to make those comparisons. We do that. Other places do it as well. Essentially the more delivery options you add, the more rates you can see. What we recommend and what we most commonly see is some combination of USPS and other providers.

Bandholz: What about shipping internationally?

DeArmond: With the right system in place, it pretty much works the same. You have customs forms, which seems like a black hole to people who have not done it before. We have it set up so that the forms are either electronically transmitted, so you don’t have to do anything, or they’ll just come out with your shipping label.

Bandholz: What’s a typical transit time for international shipments?

DeArmond: It can be pretty much whatever you want. Do you want it there as inexpensively as possible, or do you want to get it there quickly? I typically advise merchants that if they are just trying to get it out the door for cheap, we can do it. But realistically, depending on where it’s going, don’t be surprised if it takes three or four weeks to get there.

Bandholz: What if you’re selling products that won’t ship through USPS, UPS, or FedEx?

DeArmond: Many merchants that sell big items have automation in place to segment those out and handle them separately. There’s not a single provider as the leader in that space, at least not that we work with. But there are more options for shipping large items than what people might think.

See the next installment, “Part 8: Customer Service.”

Eric Bandholz

Eric Bandholz

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