The doorbell rings, an email confirmation is sent, and your customer is thrilled to receive the designer jacket they ordered.
This is just one example of the type of experience you strive to deliver to each customer every day. But to reach that point, you need visibility and control over your apparel ecommerce fulfillment process.
The journey from your warehouse or fulfillment center to your customers includes numerous challenges. Every process must be managed carefully to ensure goods flow to your customers. That means strong performance in receiving and storing inventory, packing and shipping orders, and delivering and managing returns.
You need a fulfillment strategy that considers the unique challenges of this industry. This guide shares the three pillars of a successful strategy, how to optimize your processes and how to avoid common mistakes.
What’s unique about apparel ecommerce fulfillment?
Apparel ecommerce is a unique challenge regarding fulfillment.
Each product often has multiple sizes and colors you need to manage in addition to returns for products that don’t fit or meet customer expectations.
Seasonality and trends also can play a big role in demand, so businesses need to prepare for spikes in activity. For example, swimwear will be more popular in the summer months, while outerwear will be more in demand during the winter.
Apparel ecommerce also has to deal with the challenges of Returns Rate and Refunds Rate. Returns Rate is the percentage of orders that are returned, while Refunds Rate is the percentage of orders that are refunded.
Another unique aspect of apparel online shopping is that customers can’t physically access items to try them on. Many ecommerce stores offer virtual fitting rooms, home try-on or in-store pickup services so customers can experience products before committing.
Without offering some way for customers to visualize their purchases, you can expect a larger number of returns, exchanges and customer frustration. You have to consider all of these factors when developing a successful apparel ecommerce fulfillment strategy.
Why fulfillment is key to apparel ecommerce success
Your apparel and fashion ecommerce fulfillment process is a critical factor in your success because it plays a direct role in shaping your customer experience, satisfaction and loyalty.
Customers expect their orders to be delivered on time and accurately. For apparel, this can include a specific product as well as unique sizes, colors and designs.
Being able to deliver a convenient, reliable fulfillment process can set your business apart, foster customer loyalty and drive long-term success, especially in the context of increasing online competition. However, if your fulfillment process is slow or inaccurate, or if orders are damaged during the fulfillment process, customers are more likely to become frustrated and look for alternative retailers.
Efficient apparel fulfillment services also can help you reduce the cost of goods sold, since it minimizes the amount of time products spend in transit and in warehouses. For example, an effective fulfillment strategy can leverage automation to streamline the pick, pack and ship process, minimizing costs as well as the time products spend in the warehouse.
7 ways to optimize your apparel ecommerce fulfillment process
Customer satisfaction is essential for any business, but it’s especially important in the apparel and fashion industry.
Because customers can’t try on products before they purchase them, they’re more likely to return items that don’t fit or that they aren’t happy with. The rise of services like Amazon Prime also has led customers to expect delivery within a few days at the most.
With this in mind, it’s essential that you have an effective fulfillment strategy to ensure customer satisfaction and drive growth.
Here are seven tips to help you optimize your fulfillment process.
Get to know your customer base
Understanding your customer base and online sales history is crucial for choosing the right products to stock and fulfill.
Ask yourself questions like, “What types of products do they like?,” “What sizes do they need?” and “What colors are popular?” The answers to these questions will give you insight into your customers’ preferences, which will help you make informed decisions about what products to offer.
Analyze your product mix
Knowing your product mix is important for choosing the right fulfillment solution.
Consider factors such as product popularity, special handling requirements and profitability when analyzing your mix. This information will help you determine which products are most important to fulfill and which fulfillment methods will be most efficient.
Partner with the right fulfillment company
The right fulfillment partner can make or break your fulfillment strategy.
Look for a company with experience in fulfilling apparel orders, as this will ensure that your orders are fulfilled accurately and on time. It’s important to choose a partner that has the resources and expertise to handle your fulfillment needs.
Streamlining your processes will help you fulfill orders faster and more efficiently. This includes everything from order management to returns management.
Consider using an order management system (OMS) to help streamline your processes and provide visibility into your inventory.
Automation can help you fulfill orders faster and more accurately.
Automating order management, inventory management and shipping processes can dramatically improve efficiency. Automation also can help you manage returns more effectively and reduce the number of errors in the fulfillment process.
Offer flexible shipping options
Your shipping policy should be flexible enough to accommodate customers’ needs.
Consider offering multiple shipping options, such as standard, express and international shipping. This will give customers the ability to choose the shipping method that best fits their needs, which can increase customer satisfaction.
Regularly monitor and adjust your strategy
Regular monitoring and adjustments to your fulfillment strategy are important to ensure its efficiency and effectiveness over time.
Keep track of key metrics — such as order fulfillment times, returns rates and customer satisfaction levels — and make adjustments as necessary. This will help you continually improve your fulfillment process and provide the best possible experience for your customers.
5 tips for avoiding apparel ecommerce fulfillment mistakes
Apparel ecommerce fulfillment is challenging to get right, and errors are bound to occur.
But how you prepare makes a big difference.
Here are five tips to help you reduce and prevent common mistakes.
Use a specialized fulfillment service
Use a fulfillment service that specializes in handling apparel items. This includes being familiar with the different types of fabrics, sizing and care instructions.
It’s important to work with a fulfillment service that knows how to properly pack and ship clothing items so products are delivered in the best condition possible.
Don’t skimp on packaging
Don’t skimp on packaging — use high-quality materials that will protect items during shipping.
The last thing you want is for a customer to receive a damaged or wrinkled product. Consider using protective packaging materials — such as recycled filling, bubble wrap or air pillows — to keep items secure during transit.
Clearly communicate shipping and return policies
Clearly communicate your shipping and return policies to customers.
Make sure all policies are clearly outlined on your sales channels so customers know what to expect. This is especially important when selling seasonal or time-sensitive items and when offering customized product options.
Regularly review your process
Monitor the fulfillment process constantly to ensure that orders are being fulfilled correctly and on time. Consider implementing a system for tracking orders and shipments so you can easily identify and resolve any issues that arise.
Have a plan for returns
Returns are inevitable, so you need to prepare for them. That includes outlining the requirements for returning items, such as the timeframe and condition of the item, as well as any costs associated with returning and restocking products. You also should have a reverse logistics plan in place for customers to return items to your business.
How to choose the right apparel ecommerce fulfillment partner
Even the largest, most experienced online retailers have challenges with fulfillment.
Supply chain issues, extreme weather, and material and labor shortages are just a few examples of factors outside the control of fashion retailers. For fashion and apparel sales, these challenges are met with other unique problems, such as the need to stock multiple sizes and styles, increased seasonality, and managing higher quantities of returns and exchanges than many other retailers.
To help you prepare for and address these challenges, it’s important to find the right fulfillment support partners. This includes third-party logistics providers (3PL) as well as partners that can provide you with the tools and resources you need to manage your apparel ecommerce fulfillment process.
It’s important to find a fulfillment partner that has experience in the fashion and apparel industry and understands the unique challenges of selling clothing and accessories online. This partner also should have experience working with businesses of your size and be able to provide references and case studies that demonstrate its expertise.
Look for important considerations, such as the types of services available, service area, technology and costs. You need resources and support for vital processes — such as inventory and order management, shipping and returns — and you need strategic partnerships that ensure coverage in key apparel markets.
Depending on where your business is based and where you sell products, you may need to expand your apparel and fashion ecommerce fulfillment strategy to include multiple fulfillment partners.
Fortunately, with Linnworks, you only need one platform to take control of your ecommerce operations. With integrated inventory, order management and listings software built for growing retailers, you can say goodbye to manual processes and hello to smart order management.
Whether you’re outgrowing your original warehouse, looking to expand to new sales channels or preparing for your next phase of growth, an effective fulfillment strategy is essential for growth.
Learn more about how your fulfillment strategy helps you manage your growth. Check out these 10 tips for shipping internationally.