Order fulfillment tends to trip up inexperienced ecommerce entrepreneurs shipping physical products or scaling up their delivery operations.
Thanks to technology democratizing fulfillment of goods, both domestically and internationally, is only recently becoming a mature possibility available to all.
The past few decades of technological progress - from the spread of the internet in the early oughts to the beginning of widespread internet access across the globe via smart technology: first with the appearance of the iPhone in 2007 and then the Android in 2008.
These handheld gadgets unleashed democratizing forces especially suited for individuals with an entrepreneurial bent. The world has never been the same.
And now as the third decade of this century begins, the forces of technological advancement continue to enable new unexpected realities that were unimaginable just a few years ago.
Local to Global: Enabling Distribution to Massive Markets
Prior to the borderless world created by the internet, markets were smaller and thus market opportunities were also diminished.
Markets like politics tended toward the local. Outside of local brick and mortar stores, the only other options were mailed catalogs, radio, infomercials and trade shows - all with steep barriers to entry.
Sears catalog serves as one of the best, and oldest, examples of the opportunities available when markets moved beyond the local with mail order merchandise allowing rural populations access to goods easily available in cities.
"The time was right for mail order merchandise. Fueled by the Homestead Act of 1862, America’s westward expansion followed the growth of the railroads. The postal system aided the mail order business by permitting the classification of mail order publications as aids in the dissemination of knowledge entitling these catalogs the postage rate of one cent per pound. The advent of Rural Free Delivery in 1896 also made distribution of the catalog economical."
The network of postal delivery enabled the catalog business, just as the global communication network is enabling the sale of goods to a global market coupled with the emerging fulfillment networks available to online sellers for easy global product fulfillment is driving the current opportunity.
With advances in shipping technology over the past few decades the playing field has shifted, now individuals can compete head-to-head with enterprise.
This is democratizing fulfillment at its best, how can we begin to understand this new paradigm?
One way to think about this is via Peter Diamandis's Six Ds of Exponential Organizations framework:
Number six democratized in this context - the democratization of fulfillment for the ecommerce context - means that anyone, no matter where they are on the planet can access fulfillment for their products; it is not only available to the largest companies and rich people, you can do it yourself (and right now) with the help of companies like Fulfillment Bridge, democratizing fulfillment continues.
This is how the game has changed and what we mean by the democratization of fulfillment - everyone has access to it; and, it's getting cheaper.
“This is the process of digitization, dematerialization, demonetization and democratization. We're dematerializing the supply chain and the warehouse and we're demonetizing the cost and then it becomes more available to everybody. This happens over and over and over again on every single, not every single, but most all products. “
Hiccups in the Advancement of Enabling Technology
The curve of progress is not linear and there are often dips.
For example, the smart phone itself, iteration one, the failed genesis was birthed before its time.
Thanks to a recent documentary, a little known company - outside of Silicon Valley - that failed, General Magic, is credited with the idea of the smart phone before the market was ready for the smart phone.
The company tanked.
Yet, from the passionate team that worked on that failure came the founder of eBay, the designer of the iPod, the iPhone and founder of Nest Labs and the co-founder of Android.
For fulfillment and global market opportunities, to bring it from a corporate B2B necessity, "You have to trace globalism to Larry Hillblom [the founder of DHL]," detailed in Shadow Billionaire.
While Damon Schechter - the founder of Shipwire, sold to Trend Micro - details why logistics is key for business growth and success in Delivering the Goods: The Art of Managing Your Supply Chain.
"Another way fulfillment providers can help is by giving you shipping options, and price breaks, from different carriers. More carrier options translates into more service-level options, allowing you to cater to your customers’ shipping requirements," says Damon Schechter in an Entrepreneur article.
Damon began Shipwire to enable shipping for smaller businesses, starting with a minimum of 6 shipments a month at a similar scale to the shipping operations that DHL enabled for corporate clients. This may be one of the first recent examples of a company using technology to democratize fulfillment crossborder for online sellers.
FedEx is known for creating the tracking number, unlocking data about the movement of parcel throughout the shipping process.
"The tracking number was initially an internal process for quality control.
The system, launched in the late 1970s, was created to improve efficiencies. It worked so well that, in 1979, the system was offered to customers as COSMOS (Customers, Operations and Services Master Online System). When the system went online it included early prototypes of handheld computers that scanned package barcodes with wands. FedEx was aware that of the importance of all this data.
FedEx founder Fred Smith is famous for saying, "The information about the package is as important as the package itself."
Shopify vs Amazon A False Choice
Bringing the potential to the masses both Shopify and Amazon have a place as pioneers of awareness, education and money makers for many online entrepreneurs today. But as time has crept forward, new possibilities have emerged, are being developed, are here.
Democratizing fulfillment is part of the puzzle in this mega trend.
eBay and PayPal were some of the first early enablers of ecommerce for all, then came Amazon's FBA Fulfillment and Shopify.
These were the platforms that allowed anyone to sell and get paid but fulfillment, outside of Amazon FBA, has been a longer journey to truly be at an enterprise level for anyone.
Democratizing Fulfillment 2020 and Beyond
The road of ecommerce order fulfillment has been windy, potholed, and - it seems - finally, today, is being fully paved and democratizing fulfillment is no longer an imagination but a reality.
In jumps and spurts logistics have advanced.
From FedEx changing expectation in the 1970s, launching the expedited shipping industry and standardizing tracking numbers and transparency into parcel position and delivery to Amazon and same day deliver for FBA sellers and prime members.
Now we are entering a new phase where these expectations and the services that enable them are commoditized.
From Tim Ferriss's theses showcasing the reality of micro-multinational company based on outsourced manufacturing and cloud based technology (see Shipwire "Enterprise logistics for everyone*") to emergent business models being tested today.
The next generation of democratized order fulfillment for all is emergent and available in many nascent forms today.
Darkstore is the USA is making moves to make same-day fulfillment a reality with a growing network of urban fulfillment centers allowing any online brand to sell directly to their customers and cutting delivery time to compete with the speed of Amazon or Walmart by building a platform of fulfillment companies across the USA.
Shopify is building a fulfillment network so merchants using its platform can compete with the the delivery expectations created by Amazon.
Order management, simple cross border fulfillment, courier selection, shopping cart integration, order automation, package tracking, global coverage, multi-country warehouse selection, storing and shipping merchandise across the world securely, cheaply and fast is becoming the new frontier of democratized fulfillment in 2020 and beyond.
After the Checkout: Make Shipping Easy on Yourself with the Help of Fulfillment Bridge
Once you have your site optimized, from guests checkout options and pricing to images and user generated content, your sales will start to climb. Prepare to keep your customers happy and yourself sane by taking advantage of the full suite of Fulfillment Bridge Ecommerce solutions that are helping sellers like you participate in the opportunities of the new democratizing fulfillment era.