Selling clothing from an online store can be lucrative, but it also comes with a few fulfillment challenges unique to clothing. Any apparel—whether shirts, pants, skirts, or even socks—is susceptible to certain quirks in fulfillment service that result when dealing with a high stock-keeping unit (SKU) volume, seasonal spikes and dips, and even returns. As a result, it can be beneficial to try outsourcing your apparel order fulfillment to an outside warehousing and shipping center.
Why Outsource to Apparel Fulfillment Companies?
Here are a few key points to keep in mind when considering outsourcing your clothing fulfillment to another company.
Absorbing Seasonal Spikes
As fashion and weather change over the year, any apparel product is going to see periods of high and low demand. These spikes can be tricky to handle when trying to perform clothing fulfillment on your own since they constantly eat into overhead costs.
This doesn’t necessarily happen when outsourcing order fulfillment. Instead, most clothing fulfillment companies offer flexibility where you pay only for what you use or need. In addition, these third-party providers also have enough manpower to respond to sudden spikes in demand so you can stay on top of your orders.
Managing your own apparel fulfillment center means that rent and labor become potentially large, fixed costs to your business. When outsourcing order fulfillment, these costs become variable instead. Remember: third-party fulfillment companies have many more clients than just you and your clothing. This allows normally large, fixed overhead costs to become variable and flexible instead. You can scale your operations easily and only pay for the orders you send and the space you use—nothing more and nothing less.
FedEx and UPS Discounts
As an extra perk and definite cost-saver, fulfillment companies often get reduced rates from UPS, FedEx, and other shipping providers, meaning your apparel can get sent out for less through outsourcing.
Handling High SKU Counts
Apparel and clothing businesses naturally involve a large amount of inventory, much of which can look similar. This is why advanced inventory control and management is crucial to any successful apparel fulfillment operation. Third-party fulfillment companies can provide you with their own warehouse management and inventory management software that permits real-time, eagle-eyed monitoring of inventory so you can keep track of all your apparel with minimal effort.
Apparel Returns Management
Online orders have a naturally higher return rate than in-store purchases, and clothing is no exception. Any apparel fulfillment service needs to take this into account and have a way to process returns quickly and easily. This involves not only making sure inventory is updated, but that the clothing item in question is repaired, recycled, returned to the shelf, or otherwise treated to recapture as much value as possible.
What to Know When Outsourcing Apparel/Clothing Functions
Apparel and clothing fulfillment has a few unique aspects that mean not every third party fulfillment provider is a good candidate for outsourcing. When looking at your options, keep the following in mind.
As mentioned above, apparel fulfillment frequently experiences rather high SKU counts. As a result, inventory management systems are key to outsource success. A good way to gauge the effectiveness of a candidate’s system is to see whether they use RF scanning. This is a form of barcoding that can quickly bring up and transmit product information and status to the inventory and warehouse management system. Ideally, scans should be used as part of product receiving, putting away, auditing, manifesting, and inventory control.
Apparel and Accessories Packaging Solutions
Clothing needs to arrive clean, folded, and without wrinkles or creases. This means that the utmost care needs to be used during storage, packaging, and shipping to keep apparel items clean every step of the way. When outsourcing your fulfillment practices, it’s important to look for facilities that have strict cleanliness policies and procedures. It can help to look for fulfillment providers that also work in food or medical-grade products, since these categories also have very strict cleanliness needs.
Ability to Quickly Adapt to Change
Clothing is a very fast business that experiences numerous changes every year as product lines and styles change in response to trends and seasons. Being able to quickly switch out the old and incorporate the new is key to maintaining smooth fulfillment operations and avoid rocky transition delays. Look for outsourcing candidates that demonstrate agility and flexibility in their processes and can handle large shifts in practice.
Minimization of Replenishment Errors and Concerns
As mentioned, apparel fulfillment tends to have higher return rates than other types of products, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to still reduce errors or issues that can leave a customer unsatisfied. The fast pace of clothing fulfillment and the similar appearance of different SKU items makes it easy for some products to get stored in the wrong location or get picked for the wrong type of order. Make sure your outsourcing candidate’s apparel fulfillment center has good quality controls and verifications in place as well as methods to identify the cause of errors and correct them when they occur.
Apparel Fulfillment Guarantee
All established apparel fulfillment service providers got that way by guaranteeing their work. When you outsource fulfillment to a third-party provider, you are getting a professional promise that your products are going to reach your customers in as efficient and timely a manner as possible. APS Fulfillment is no exception in this regard. Contact us by phone at 954-582-7450 or by email at [email protected] for more ways our services can support and grow your business.