If your company is looking to expand sales channels to embrace omni-channel fulfillment, there are things you should understand before you get started. These include specific system and process requirements to properly expand from business-to-business (B2B) to business-to-consumer (B2C), and vice versa. In this article, we will look at the key requirements for each fulfilment channel to help you ensure you are set up with the unique capabilities that each requires.
Going from B2B to omni-channel fulfillment
If your company was primarily focused on B2B before the pandemic, chances are that eCommerce has become a more integral part of your business. After all, eCommerce business in the U.S. grew 44% in 2020 due to the pandemic and is expected to stay at higher levels. The following are just some of the key considerations your company will need to address when incorporating B2C into your fulfillment operations.
- B2C systems are different than B2B. With B2C/eCommerce fulfillment, orders are processed through a selling platform like Shopify, BigCommerce or Magento. From there, integration between such a system and your warehouse management system (WMS), or that of your 3PL provider, is needed so that the WMS can create an order, modify inventory, print labels, and drive efficient picking, packing and shipping. In addition, the WMS needs to integrate with a parcel system to manage the processing of the order for shipment with the correct carrier, as well as the service type and rates as designated by the order.
- Speed is a vital B2C concern. While speed is, of course, a consideration with B2B fulfillment, there’s typically a predictable cadence. You and your retail partners agree on delivery times and you make sure that your orders are fulfilled on time, in full. B2C is far less predictable. Orders can come in at a snail’s pace one day and then fast and furious the next (e.g., due to promotions or social media activity). You need a B2C fulfillment operation that can scale to handle your order volumes with equal ease so that customer delivery expectations can be met. You’ll need to determine the daily capacity to meet same day vs next day turnaround time.
- Product packaging/appearance is customizable. When you ship to a retailer, that retailer puts your products on the shelves for customers to see and purchase. In the B2C world, there is no step between the warehouse and the customer. The product packaging, safety and presentation that drive the customer experience are dependent on what happens within the warehouse. Some products will require different materials to ensure safety and/or to embellish the presentation. Everybody involved needs to be clear on what a ‘perfect order’ is, and warehouse associates must have the training to execute each order flawlessly.
Going from B2C to omni-channel fulfillment
If your company’s products have gone from exclusively online to brick and mortar, there are several key differences that distinguish B2B fulfillment from B2C. The following are a few of the key considerations.
- Vendor compliance. When you work with a retailer, you – or your fulfillment partner – must follow the retailer’s routing guide, which outlines very specific order requirements. These include shipment preparation and delivery appointment scheduling guidelines that ensure your products are provided to the retailer exactly as it wants them. Importantly, every retailer’s routing guide is different, which will require you to deliver products in different configurations to different retailers. Failure to follow these requirements to the letter will result in expensive chargebacks which have become more stringent and more prevalent in recent years. Many 3PLs have been doing retail compliance for years and can ensure you meet the requirements and ramp up quickly.
- Systems integration expertise can pay dividends. Systems integration issues can really derail start-up operations with a new retail customer. This is one of the reasons companies choose to partner with 3PL providers that have an in-house IT team. When such providers are also retail logistics experts, it’s likely that they have already integrated with the retailer and can avoid the coordination of outsourced IT vendors. This can reduce the timeframe for system integration from months to weeks.
- Value-added services can be important. Another reason companies choose to work with 3PL providers for B2B and omni-channel fulfillment is the array of value-added services that many 3PLs offer, in addition to standard warehousing and distribution. These services can include kitting and assembly, display building, inventory postponement, product repackaging, and labeling and ticketing services.
Partnering with a 3PL to bring it all together
Going from one type of fulfillment channel to omni-channel fulfillment can be an immense undertaking if you’re going it alone. It can require substantial infrastructure investments that can be daunting in term of both time and financial commitment.
You can make these investments yourself, or you can entrust your operations to a 3PL that already has the systems, space, equipment, and associates in place. Advantages of doing so include the following.
- Scalability. Many 3PLs have shared warehousing models in which multiple clients share the same warehouse space, use the same systems, and lean on the same pool of associates to handle product. The ‘tenant’ companies simply pay for what they use and share overhead costs with the 3PL’s other customers.
- System Driven Processes. Not all WMS are created equal. Look for a WMS to handle omni-channel fulfillment from one set of inventory. With separate B2B and B2C inventories, you’ll need extra space, equipment and labor, and it can be tough to get an accurate read on what’s available to sell.
- 3PLs have warehouse labor expertise. Quality warehouse associates are harder to come by today than at any time in recent memory. Unless the hiring and retention of these associates is a core focus of your business, you may be better off handing operations over to a 3PL fulfillment specialist. 3PLs with multiple warehouses in close proximity also have the distinct advantage of pulling associates from one operation to fill in gaps at another during high-volume periods.
Weber Logistics is a West Coast-based 3PL that specializes in omni-channel fulfillment. From regular appointments with major retailers and grocery chains to high-volume pick and pack operations, we have the infrastructure in place to support your company’s B2B and B2C needs. Our operations are supported by dedicated, in-house IT staff that are well-versed in all major retailer routing guides and eCommerce platforms, and can set up integrations with ease. To learn more about the benefits of working with a 3PL for omni-channel fulfillment, contact Weber today.