A recent Financial Times article proclaimed Europe to be at the heart of fashion innovation, citing the March takeover of UK-based Net-a-Porter by Italian retailer YOOX as a prime example. Certainly, Europe’s renowned design schools, legacy brands and manufacturing roots are strongly appealing to successful retailers and fashion tech startups alike. It’s all making for an interesting scenario in which many e-commerce entrepreneurs in the fashion space are now basing their operations overseas in order to effectively build business, while looking to launch and ship in the U.S. market.
Case in point: in May, Quiet Logistics proudly announced our partnership with ADAY, an exciting new women’s activewear brand out of London – and the latest in a list of overseas clients whom we have helped launch in the U.S. market. From ADAY to Massimo Dutti to Zara, we’ve gained extensive experience facilitating both domestic and international deliveries on behalf of customers outside the United States.
Because this type of order fulfillment comes with its own set of challenges and solutions, we’ve put together a checklist of 7 critical factors to consider when you’re an international brand seeking your ideal logistics partner:
1) Excellent Customer Service
U.S. consumers have come to expect – even demand – particularly high levels of customer service. Same day shipping and 1-3 day transit times are becoming the norm, and order accuracy is critically important. Be sure to align yourself with a partner whose reputation for order accuracy as well as speed is top-notch.
2) Convenient Location
Given the size of the U.S. market, most international brands look to start with a single geographic location to ship to the entirety of the country. Be strategic in choosing a location that is convenient both to your factories and your end customers. If your merchandise gets freighted via ship, for example, where does it come into port? If arriving by air, what city is the most cost effective? Where are the bulk of your orders coming from, and what’s a central hub from which it can be delivered most efficiently? Picking a logistics partner with the right geography can save you time, money and hassle.
Also consider that many international brands will look to add Canada and Mexico to their operations after the U.S. As you scale up, you’ll likely want to be able to have options for capacity building in terms of size as well as geography, so factor that in as well.
3) Tight Systems Integration
When it comes to integrating technology platforms, it’s crucial to make the transition as smooth as possible to avoid communication issues. Especially when it comes to merging international and domestic systems, things can get complicated. Pick a partner who can facilitate flexible integration through a defined interface, allowing for data/information integrity as well as rapid deployment of new functionalities that may be significant to an e-commerce experience.
4) Strong Forecasting and Inbound Scheduling
In e-commerce today, with more and more brands turning around orders overnight, same day or even within the hour, speed is a vital element in customer satisfaction. Moreover, the scope of the U.S. consumer market means that PR events, sales promotions and retail events can set off dramatic spikes in sales. Because an overseas brand may face increased challenges with regard to communication around planned events, it’s essential to both maintain predictable replenishment cycles and to prioritize strong forecasting. The latter will help set critical expectations for general capacity requirements and allow your logistics partner to plan and respond accordingly – and quickly.
5) Attention to Packaging and Presentation
In the world of e-commerce, brands generally have only two customer touchpoints: when an order is placed, and when that order is delivered. Particularly when your company does not yet have a physical storefront in the U.S., leveraging order presentation to create an impactful brand experience is not just a smart move, it’s a marketing necessity. Choose a fulfillment partner whose proficiency extends to packaging and presentation, from procuring raw materials from vendors to advising on creative inserts and brand-appropriate dunnage to advising on the types of packaging (and included returns packaging) that will be gentlest on your bottom line. Note that if your packaging materials are sourced internationally, you’ll need to ensure there’s good communication with your logistics partner about availability and delivery times for critical items.
6) Flexibility to Scale
Today’s under-the-radar fashion tech startup may be tomorrow’s Bonobos or Zara. Think long-term and seek out a 3PL partner that is not only the right size for you right now, but can also grow with you over time. Better yet, find a partner whose experience scaling emerging brands into power players within the U.S. market will help guide you forward, and don’t be shy about soliciting their advice and active partnership. Which brings us to our last critical factor:
7) Proven International Experience
Launching any brand is an exciting adventure, with unknown territory to explore and unexpected challenges to tackle and conquer. Especially if you are a first-time shipper in the U.S., the mix of options across carriers can be somewhat confusing. The ideal partner has the experience to complement your novel approach and ensure that the foundation of your business is solid. Choose a logistics company whose solid track record in IT, Operations and Management/Executive proves they’re experts in their field with the authority and capability to do what needs to get done (such as negotiating favorable air transit rates with key shipping carriers). Moreover, keep in mind that appreciation for different cultures, languages and time zone separation is very important to build a strong partnership.
Don’t settle until you’ve found a team of excellent communicators, open to collaboratively discussing your specific requirements and requests and working together to build a customized plan for success.