What’s Your Strategy for Multichannel eCommerce Fulfillment?

by Matt Osit March 8, 2016
March 8, 2016

For brands with both B2B and B2C online channels, fulfillment is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to eCommerce strategy. The needs and expectations of customers across each of these channels is not always the same, making fulfillment a constant challenge.

What’s Different Across eCommerce Channels?

When it comes to fulfillment, the biggest differences between B2B and B2C are often related to the cost and speed of shipping. In B2C, free shipping is a huge draw. eCommerce strategy firm Accorin has found in its own testing that free shipping promotions typically have higher conversion rates and average cart sizes than offers that do not include free shipping.

Industry studies also back this up. Deloitte’s 2015 Annual Holiday Survey found that 72% of shoppers intended to take advantage of online free shipping offers, while 55% anticipated taking advantage of free returns. Free shipping also far outweighed shipping speed as a motivating factor, with 87% of survey respondents stating that free shipping was a more important selection factor than fast shipping.

It’s also important to note that more than 81% of consumer respondents expected shipping to be both free and fast––they were not willing to pay extra for faster modes of shipping.

In B2B, things are different. Accorin found that free shipping is less of a motivating factor for B2B firms. Most B2B organizations have negotiated shipping rates and are savvy to the fact that nothing is ever really “free.” They realize that free shipping is actually included in the product price. They would rather get the best price possible on the items they are purchasing, and use their own shipping terms to keep costs competitive.

B2B customers are looking primarily for reliability in shipping. Their orders may be placed as part of a manufacturing or production process, with orders that can be anticipated well in advance. In addition, longer transit times may also allow the B2B customer to save money on warehouse space.

In essence, you are dealing with very different customers with separate expectations. Consumers want orders fast and they want them free. For B2B customers, reliability and accuracy are key, and they understand that they may have to pay for logistics performance and plan ahead to keep costs down.

What This Means for Your eCommerce Fulfillment Strategy

1. Be flexible.

Your approach to fulfillment will need to be flexible, since what works for one channel may not work for another. Fulfillment outsourcing, also known as third party logistics (3PL) is one option to consider as you are growing your B2C channel.

For companies with a well-established B2B business, this strategy can allow you to continue providing the options your B2B customers expect and value through your current fulfillment strategy, while at the same time providing the options consumers trust and prefer as you grow your B2C channel.

As the B2C channel matures, bringing fulfillment back in-house may make sense as long as you are able to continue providing service that is as good or better than what your 3PL provider can offer.

2. Provide information.

B2C customers want products fast and free. If you are able to provide these options, make sure your eCommerce site prominently displays this information.

B2B customers want information and reliability, so shipping and delivery details should also be prominently displayed. In addition, a separate page where B2B customers can gain insight into reliability for the shipping options they use is also a good idea.

3. Go with the flow(s).

If you’re dedicated to managing all your eCommerce fulfillment needs in-house, then it makes sense to enable multiple flows of traffic within your warehouse. After all, the workflow to pick small orders such as those typically submitted by consumers, and larger orders from B2B customers, will require different approaches.

Whether you’re manually picking and packing or have a more automated process, you’ll need to design a workflow that can accommodate all your processes. One solution is segregating your B2B and B2C orders by time of day or warehouse location.

4. Anticipate change.

Change is a constant. Today’s B2B expectations are changing quickly. While reliability may be a bigger issue for B2B buyers now, the push towards “free and fast” in their consumer lives are already raising the bar in B2B.

In B2C, meanwhile, the shift will be from fast to faster. Companies need to anticipate today how they will fulfill future orders as customers’ demands change and begin building a fulfillment strategy that will enable them to meet these demands not just now, but two, five or ten years down the road.

Getting the most from your eCommerce fulfillment strategy, especially across multiple channels, is challenging, but also incredibly rewarding for the companies that get it right. What strategies is your company using to fulfill eCommerce orders across multiple lines of business? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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