How Do I Handle Shipping for My Home Business?
I want to start an online gift business, but I don't have the space to store the gifts or the time and help to ship them out. Is there a third-party service or company that could warehouse the items and ship them as the orders come in to my website?Question:
You're not alone. Every e-commerce site from giant Amazon.com to the tiny mom-and-pop operation selling homemade spaghetti sauce eventually faces a similar situation. Luckily, you don't need the huge volume, big bucks or marketing muscle of an Amazon.com to find a solution. There are a number of small third-party companies priced to appeal to e-commerce sites with small budgets and smaller inventories.
Basically, these fulfillment sites offer a range of services, which can include everything from warehousing products, monitoring and restocking inventory, processing and shipping orders (by UPS, Fed Ex and other known companies) and handling refunds. Some will even establish merchant credit card accounts and install shopping-cart functions on your Website. Here are a few sites we found helpful and a few recommended by other mompreneurs:
- ifulfill.com -- If you already have a Website established, ifulfill.com can do as much or as little as you need to make your business hassle-free. They can warehouse and ship products for you, charging $4.00 maximum for the first item shipped and 30 cents for each additional item. They also charge $4.00 for each product line stored in their warehouse (not each item), whether the products are shipped or not. There's a sliding-scale fee -- the more items shipped, the lower your cost. Check out ifulfill.com for more specifics.
- Netship -- This site bills itself as having a "virtual warehouse" that can set up a nationwide distribution network for your e-commerce business. A big plus is that it has 450 centers spread out across the country, minimizing the time it takes for an order to reach its destination. Netship provides warehouse space, labor and expertise, plus an electronic management and tracking system. In order to get the pricing structure, you have to log on with your email address and provide specific information about your business. The site was a bit less user-friendly than ifulfill.com.
Other sites you might want to check into include Copera, United Fulfillment and Sameday.com. I got the impression that these were geared to larger businesses, but they may be developing tools that will be appropriate for small mom-and-pop operations in the near future.
Perhaps there's a mompreneur in your area who is running a small fulfillment/warehousing operation. littledidiknow.com, a moms-only baby gift website we mentioned in an previous article, is investigating the possibility of moms who have a little extra room starting such a home business.
A few words of caution before you sign up for one of these services, from a commentary by an expert on the E-Tailer's Digest:
- Pick a small fulfillment service for a small business. Such a company will feel your business success is as important as his or her success.
- Establish a personal relationship with the owner or manager of your provider and show you care about good service.
- Be willing to pay a price that allows both parties to make a profit, but your fulfillment costs should not exceed 10 percent of your gross sales (excluding shipping).
- Start well before your peak period of sales so you and your provider can iron out all the kinks beforehand -- you don't want to lose business because of delayed or messed-up shipments.