Figuring out fulfilment remains the key to grasping the ecommerce opportunity

Figuring out fulfilment

The high street may be fully reopened in Britain once more, but the momentum behind eCommerce shows no sign of abating. Over the past 18 months, we have witnessed an online shopping revolution. Existing patrons have greatly increased their reliance on eCommerce; new audiences have started shopping online for the first time – and they’ve been delighted by the ease and convenience offered. There will be no going back. At least 55% of the population are regular online shoppers. Right now even the UK’s leading high street brands are refocusing on their online presence. 

It’s an exciting moment for budding entrepreneurs, independent retailers, and consumer-facing brands of all shapes and sizes. Digital software has made it possible for literally anyone to set up their own ecommerce business and start selling far and wide.

We are seeing a new generation of retail innovators carve out niches and earn themselves a handy living. More businesses are connecting directly with their audiences to sell them everything from subscription toiletries to prescription glasses. 

But let’s not get carried away in the eCommerce hype. Away from the shiny digital storefronts, significant barriers to growth remain. While anyone can become an eCommerce seller, the business of actually fulfilling the orders is currently causing problems for retailers across the UK. 

Conventional fulfilment is inaccessible

While more and more businesses are selling online – from hobbyists and part-timers to sole traders and micro-businesses – the traditional fulfilment industry still prioritises major retail brands, largely because it doesn’t know how to do anything else. These fulfilment providers want to serve big companies that sell simple, easy-to-categorise products. If an eCommerce business doesn’t fit this mould, it’s not even worth making enquiries in this direction – a huge barrier to the development of young, high-potential British eCommerce businesses. 

The alternative is for these businesses to take on the fulfilment challenge themselves. Unfortunately, what they typically discover is that it’s a full-time job and a massive distraction from their core focus of trying to sustain, market and grow their business.

Shifting consumer demands

Further, every consumer-facing business is today competing in a digital-first retail landscape in which charging for delivery is getting harder to justify. Consumers expect delivery to be free, returns to be free (and easy), and they’re less and less willing to wait more than 48 hours for their orders.

They also expect consistency, particularly when it comes to subscriptions for everyday essential items. Orders need to show up on time, every single month or, in just a few clicks, subscribers will cancel and take their custom elsewhere.

Add to that the growing calls for more sustainable packaging and it’s understandable why eCommerce providers are feeling so overwhelmed by the demands of day-to-day fulfilment. Even if an eCommerce provider has outsourced its fulfilment to a third party, they’ll be the one that gets it in the neck if their customers are unhappy with the fulfilment provider’s eco-credentials.

The need for human-centric fulfilment

The traditional fulfilment industry cannot hope to meet the needs of today’s eCommerce customer, and as businesses attempt to sell via more online channels into more markets, its shortcomings are becoming more and more exposed. It’s the limiting factor that explains why 90% of new eCommerce businesses fail in their first year. 

So it’s time for retail entrepreneurs and ambitious eCommerce business owners to turn to the emerging tech-powered fulfilment industry, where a number of companies are springing up with propositions purpose-built for smaller sellers, fast-growth eCommerce businesses and emerging D2C brands. Many of these providers are more affordable and willing to accept lower baseline order volumes, meaning that eCommerce providers can outsource their fulfilment far earlier in their growth journey. Some have even reimagined the warehousing process, using technology not to replace human workers, but to empower them, making them more efficient, better able to support customers and clients, and happier in their jobs.

For all of the diversity and opportunity to be found within the burgeoning eCommerce market, when it comes to fulfilling the goods there really aren’t too many options available. For retailers, the choice is clear: attempt to handle fulfilment in-house and risk getting swamped within an ongoing logistical nightmare, attempt (and most likely fail) to secure the services of an old-school provider, or do a bit of extra homework and seek out one of the new breed of fulfilment partners. 

It’s never been easier to set up an eCommerce business, but the eCommerce businesses that ultimately succeed will be the ones that solve their fulfilment conundrums at an early stage before it becomes an all-consuming distraction from the opportunity at hand.

Credit: Martin Bysh, co-Founder at Huboo