Many of our enterprise retail customers are challenged with how to optimize leveraging both their brick and mortar stores and warehouse locations for fulfilling product to consumers. By being able to leverage multi-site shipping with UPS®, FedEx®, DHL®, or regional carriers across multiple sites, retailers are in an optimal position to meet varied objectives: satisfy the highest tiers in their carrier contracts to justify the largest discounts, and serve up the lowest costs for shipping and delivering product to consumers in the shortest possible time.
However, in order to attain this reality, retailers need to deploy a shipping platform that supports multi-point rating, multi-carrier label printing and manifesting, and makes it easy to execute shipments so that warehouse staff and/or store associates don’t have to make a lot of decisions. It’s also critical that the operations manager can flexibly modify business rules to dynamically change carrier and service selection in real time, without having to involve IT resources in the process.
When planning for multi-site shipping, there are three main items to consider: location, available carriers and application flexibility.
When determining the right multi-site shipping strategy, it’s important to consider the location of your warehouses, stores, and drop shippers to help you determine what is feasible and most efficient to fulfill customer orders. By mapping out your locations and highest inventory SKUs, you can set metrics around customer delivery that can get close to single day ground shipping options – if you have enough locations. It’s also possible to determine some locations where a shorter shipment service option is available via ground shipments and others where it may be necessary to expedite shipments using premium or air services. Use of analytics tools against past shipping invoice data can be very helpful in determining how to most effectively use the right locations.
Some carriers are global – shipping from any location or to any location on the planet, but often charge the most for their services. Regional carriers might be more flexible and can be used to cut costs or reduce transit times. It is important to determine by each location which carriers are available to pick up from that location (considered the “first mile”) and deliver to a customer (known as the “last mile”). From there it is a simple exercise to determine, based on weight breaks or other criteria, which carrier or service is available for use. Adding that carrier and business rule to optimize carrier and service selection is easy if your shipping platform supports multi-carrier rate shopping and has a sophisticated business rules engine. However, whichever solution you choose, it’s also important to determine how much it would cost if in the future you want to integrate and add additional carriers and services should a new provider or offering become available.
Finally, optimally implementing a multi-site shipping solution or adopting a new application that simplifies shipping should present minimal disruption to your existing processes. Consider how difficult the workflow is from an ecommerce site through to the fulfillment location — and subsequently in the packing and labeling process – and then tracking the shipment once it leaves the fulfillment location on its way to the end customer. Try to simplify the process for various users of the application. Also consider what resources you may have available in the location: for instance, will you have scales available to read shipment weight? Will you be able to compute weight from item level information? Will the associate have to guess the weight – which then will be corrected by the carriers themselves? Will you have a thermal printer attached to the shipping workstation or a laser printer? Consider all of the steps associated with procuring and maintaining the necessary hardware, software and connectivity options for all potential shipping locations.
Executing on an optimal multi-site shipping solution requires thought and planning. But by carefully considering location, available carriers and services, and application flexibility, you can be on the right path to optimizing your shipping processes and delighting your customers at every turn.
For more information, visit Enroute Solutions from Pitney Bowes.
Keith McCall is Vice President and General Manager of Enroute, Pitney Bowes Inc. Keith has spent the last 25 years building products for Lotus, IBM, and Microsoft. He founded Azaleos (acquired Nov 2012 by Avanade) as one of the first hybrid SaaS -mail management companies. He also founded Enroute Systems Corporation (acquired January 2016 by Pitney Bowes Inc) helping retailers turn shipping into a strategic weapon.