Supply and demand is always, at some portion of its lifespan, something of a gamble in terms of inventory. Properly adjusting and frontloading finished products and their components helps with supply chain efficiency, but are you currently leaving too much up to chance and guesswork? If you don't have a transparent and healthy relationship with your fulfillment center, you may be surprised at how many leaps of faith your company is actually making.
How Much Do You Know About Each Other?
At a bare minimum, you should know exactly how your items are collected, stored, retrieved and shipped from your fulfillment center. Knowing the shape of the racks, the feasibility of pick-and-pack scenarios and important operational data like overall fill rates will help your internal decision-makers decide how best to assemble orders. Conversely, your fulfillment center should be kept advised of potential fluctuations like attractive clearance sales, slowdown periods and new shipping options or markets in order to serve your needs.
Are You Multitasking Properly?
While the term 'inventory' is used primarily for finished, customer-ready products, as Terry Esper has pointed out in an article for Informit, inventory involves raw materials as well. If your fulfillment center handles products for your customers, they can also handle the shipment of operational products— point of sale materials, office supplies, raw production materials, and even cleaning supplies. If your office space is cluttered with storage and a room or closet would be better used for files, consider discussing operational storage and as-needed shipment with your fulfillment center, in addition to direct-to-consumer or direct-to-retail products.
Consistency for a Strong Presence
Innovation drives company expansion in almost every industry sector, but it can be hard to nurture that innovation while bogged down with day-to-day fulfillment tasks.
A fulfillment center gives companies a resource to provide consistent product dependability and appearance— uniform boxes, an emphasis on well-packed shipping materials, tracking and troubleshooting. Without the hassle of an in-house shipping department, a company is free to focus on developing better products or targeting new demographics in their advertising. Additionally, the data stream of actionable information from a fulfillment center— typical shipping times, tracking data and more— gives companies and site designers points of interest and customer confidence to implement.
The Market Leaders Are In On It
Amazon, arguably a leader or at least a prominent provider name for nearly product imaginable, relies on its system of distribution and fulfillment centers to remain king of the mountain. Walmart, Target and other huge names in both brick-and-mortar and e-commerce also depend heavily on this particular brand of supply chain efficiency, which means that fulfillment centers aren't exactly a flash in the pan. Also worth noting is the relationship between fulfillment centers and delivery innovations - it's entirely possible that the potential of drone-delivered books or the reality home-delivered groceries and household products wouldn't even be on the radar without the force of fulfillment competition behind them.
Your Fulfillment Center Knows More Than You Think
Think you know everything about your customers? Chances are your fulfillment center might still have a few informational tidbits up their sleeves.
Unique data such as the number of customer questions and interactions per transaction, or geo-located concentrations of orders can be reviewed and incorporated back into your company's marketing approaches to achieve better ROI; these are data points your fulfillment center is likely to have easy access to. Sit down with your fulfillment center contacts periodically and discuss any interesting findings they may have had— that knowledge could be what gives you the leg up on the competition.
The gears in the business machine— supply chain efficiency, high fill rates, proper stock— are important, but the human element can be instrumental as well. Take advantage of all that your fulfillment center can offer to your company by starting an intra-company dialogue and keeping the line open.