Building an Ecommerce Business, Part 7: Transport and Fulfillment

A merchant who sells physical products must work out the way to effectively get those items into the hands of consumers. It can become complex as the company scales and receives international orders.

This is episode seven in my series on building an ecommerce company from the bottom up. The preceding installments are:

For this guide, I talked with Cody DeArmond, director of sales and account management at ShipStation, the software supplier. We discussed how shipping applications could enable a company to streamline its procedures and generally make life easier.

What follows is my complete audio conversation with DeArmond along with a transcript, edited for clarity and length.

Eric Bandholz: Tell us about yourself and ShipStation.

Cody DeArmond: I head up the sales staff and account management at ShipStation. We help a whole lot of entrepreneurs, although I understand shipping software does not seem that exciting. I believe my parents believe that I am a truck driver. However, I like the job because I get a front row seat to a lot of entrepreneurs daily. We make it easy for individuals that sell stuff online to find those orders outside the door.

Bandholz: Beardbrand, my firm, has been operating with ShipStation since early 2013. For folks that are not familiar, what exactly does your software do?

DeArmond: We take all of a merchant’s online orders — in the merchant’s site and marketplaces such as Amazon, eBay, and Walmart — and bring those into one spot. Rather than jumping around to all these different platforms to meet requests, a merchant’s staff can use ShipStation to see all of the orders that will need to go out the door. They hit”select all” and click”print” All the labels come out, and the monitoring information goes where it should. So ShipStation replaces the practice of copying and pasting addresses and makes it automatic.

Bandholz: I was the man at Beardbrand fulfilling orders, putting the labels on and dropping them off. It was not very scalable. What should a merchant search for in shipping applications?

DeArmond: The question I ask merchants and entrepreneurs is,”What do you do over and over daily?” Whatever you do repetitively we need to have the ability to automate.

Do not just settle with what you started with. Ultimately you need fulfillment software that can process a hundred or even a thousand orders in your daily in precisely the identical manner that you would one order when you are getting started.

Bandholz: what’s the expectation now from clients on delivery, how quickly orders should arrive?

DeArmond: a good deal of this anticipation is steered from the big guys like Amazon and Walmart. It is definitely shortened that delivery window for many merchants, making it much more important to be automatic.

Bandholz: Which provider do many merchant favor, USPS, UPS, or FedEx?

DeArmond: We see a mixture. Consider us as a power strip for plugging in all of the carriers. USPS is the most common from the gate. A startup can find an account with USPS immediately. Then, as the business grows, it may add FedEx or UPS or both. Many merchants have accounts with both.

You shouldn’t need to jump back and forth to make those comparisons. We do that. Other places do it also. Basically the more shipping options you include, the greater rates you can see. What we recommend and that which we most commonly see is a combination of USPS and other suppliers.

Bandholz: What about shipping internationally?

DeArmond: With the ideal system in place, it pretty much works the same. You have customs forms, which appears to be a black hole to folks not having done it before. We’ve got it set up so that the types are electronically transmitted, so you don’t have to do anything, or else they’ll only come out with your shipping label.

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Bandholz: What is a normal transit time for international shipments?

DeArmond: It can be pretty much anything you want. Would you like it there as quickly as possible, or do you wish to get it quickly? I typically advise merchants that if they are only trying to get it out the door for cheap, we could do it. But realistically, based on where it is going, do not be surprised if it takes three or four weeks to get there.

Bandholz: What if you are selling products that will not ship through USPS, UPS, or FedEx?

DeArmond: Many merchants which sell big items have automation in place to section those out and manage them separately. There is not a single supplier as the leader in that area, at least not that we work with. However there are more options for shipping large items than what people may believe.

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