5 Reasons Wholesale DCs Struggle with Fashion Ecommerce Fulfillment

Posted by Teddie Sarmanian on Tue, Jun 04. 2013 @ 09:06 AM

Square peg round holeWholesale distribution centers (DCs) are great at receiving and shipping apparel at the case level quickly and inexpensively.  This expertise does not, however, prepare them for the each picking requirements of eCommerce fashion fulfillment.

Here are 5 reasons why fulfilling eCommerce orders for fashion brands out of a wholesale environment is like putting a square peg in a round hole.

  • Product Put away and Storage. Wholesale DCs were designed to store and ship case level quantities of product, but eCommerce fulfillment requires warehouses to break down the cases of goods. Putting garments away so that they can be easily picked and packed for eCommerce orders is more time consuming, and therefore expensive and difficult, than leaving a case of products on a pallet until a wholesale order for them drops.  
  • Order Presentation. Wholesale distribution centers understand the packaging parameters and labeling requirements of fashion retail and wholesale accounts. While specific and demanding, these standards differ from those required by eCommerce consumers. Providing beautiful order presentation that delights fashion consumers requires a completely different set of packaging materials -- boxes of various sizes, tissue paper, stickers, etc. -- than do wholesale orders.  
  • Order Volatility. Wholesale distribution centers are one step removed from your end customers and are therefore used to working with ship-by dates, longer lead times and consistent shipping schedules. Ecommerce fulfillment operations don't have this buffer -- every order they ship goes to a customer's doorstep.  This direct connection to consumers results in higher order volume volatility.  It can be hard for a wholesale distribution center to respond quickly to the volume fluctuations inherent in dealing with end consumers. 
  • Order Accuracy. Order accuracy is important for both wholesale and eCommerce order fulfillment.  The difference is in the details.  With wholesale fulfillment, there is a step (the store) between the warehouse and the end consumer.  If an error happens, it doesn't affect the end customer directly.  Not so with eCommerce.  Any order fulfillment error results in an unhappy end customer.  Given the high lifetime value of fashion customers, it's imperative that every interaction your brand has with its customers is wonderful (and accurate).
  • The Returns Process. Returns are a big part of eCommerce for fashion brands (20 – 40% of all items get returned).  Unlike wholesale returns, eCommerce returns arrive at the distribution center in small packages containing one or two units.  Every returned garment must be inspected to determine if the seller will accept the returned items based on if it’s been worn, how long ago it was purchased, etc.  If the seller accepts the return, then the fulfillment center must place it back into inventory.  Wholesale DCs are not accustomed to tackling returns that require such a high level of detail, nor are they accustomed to receiving thousands of small packages each day.

Wholesale distribution centers and their processes are not designed for the demands of eCommerce order fulfillment for fashion and apparel brands.  In choosing a partner, it's critical to find someone who understands fashion and apparel consumer expectations and the unique processes of eCommerce order fulfillment.  

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Topics: Ecommerce trends, Third party Fulfillment