Canadian retailers need to differentiate themselves from the world’s largest e-commerce business in terms of service and delivery times, says Robert Gilbreath, vice-president of marketing and partnerships with e-commerce software provider ShipStation.
"When an entrepreneur is launching their new e-store,” Gilbreath says, “they want to make sure that they can get out all the orders on time because of the high level of expectation that consumers have these days."
Large or small, retailers do not get a second chance with online shoppers, he notes. "Amazon and other big retailers have set this bar really high. This is the new level of expectation."
Question your technology
Competing in the e-commerce market can only be achieved with the most effective technology, he says. But before working with an e-commerce partner, retailers should be asking important questions.
"Is the technology seamless, do they allow you to be efficient, are the processes outside of the technology messy or are they organized?" Finally, can the online platform be easily scaled up when orders take off. "How long does it take to get 10 orders out? Do the simple math on that to see what it’s going to take if it blows up in a good way and they get 100 orders, 1,000 orders or 10,000 orders."
Gilbreath, who — like ShipStation’s chief executive officer — has a background in retailing, knows how much of a challenge it can be for small businesses to operate in the same environment as Amazon. "We are not just shipping folks. We are folks that have been there, selling stuff out of our garages to ending up at some of the biggest retailers in America."
Think about logistics from the start
Most entrepreneurs start with a cool product or idea. Few spend more than a few moments thinking about backend logistics. "When you go from a cool hip thing that flashes through social media to turning into a real business, having the right technology partners in place allows you to grow up, if you will, without actually having to grow up. You can expand the product line, have the time to come up with new products, do more marketing, the things that make you successful."
Making the jump from a mom-and-pop operation to a well-oiled machine requires you to delegate some responsibilities, he says. The entrepreneur who has had his hands on every aspect of the business suddenly has to let go of key functions of an expanding company. "You didn’t get into this world to be the shipping guru. Shipping is usually the place where if you have the right processes you can hand that off to get your time back."
Gilbreath says successful online retailers put themselves in their customers’ shoes — or more accurately, the electronic devices they use to place orders. "We think about it from the checkout experience to what is the consumer experience through the whole process."
For the customer, fulfillment is all that matters
"Shoppers today don’t care if you are fulfilling out of a garage behind your house or a big warehouse, using robots or using your Mom. They don’t care, they just want their item."
Looking out a few years, he foresees an "ever increasing expectation of service. Consumers are expecting things much more quickly, they are expecting much more choice in where, how and when they get their packages, whether it is a pickup locker location, whether it is being able to change routing of a package in transit."