Preparing Your In-Store Staff for Ship-from-Store Fulfillment

Optimizing a brick-and-mortar retail store to manage ship-from-store processes is a complex and intricate task. One of the biggest hurdles is training and motivating retail sales staff to accurately fulfill online orders. These employees are hired to assist customers in person and most likely don’t have training in picking, packing and shipping inventory.

To successfully implement ship-from-store fulfillment, retailers need a well-trained and highly motivated staff that can execute sales on- and offline. Here are four important tips for building a staff that will support ship-from-store.

Think (and Staff) Ahead

If you anticipate a greater demand for shipping, bolster your ship-from-store operations by staffing up. Bringing in dedicated support for picking, packing and shipping can help offset training time and concerns about commissions for your regular sales staff.

Train Your Staff on Fulfillment

Adding in-store fulfillment for online orders calls for a different skill set than that of a customer-facing sales team. Develop reference materials like booklets and posters, and use them as part of ongoing training programs to help employees performing fulfillment functions implement easy-to-follow processes. Training should include:

  1. 1

    Picking

    Train your staff to pick products for online orders in the most efficient way. This is best done in batches when in-store customer traffic is low, like before the store opens, after it closes or during slow periods throughout the day. Scheduling it during these time periods will cut down on in-store distractions that slow down the picking process. Having staff members assigned to either fulfillment or customer sales also makes picking easier to implement without hurting the customer experience.

  2. 2

    Packing

    Next, you’ll need to teach your staff the proper way to pack items. Create a dedicated packing station that is stocked with all the right tools—boxes, envelopes, fill material, scissors, tape—and that displays instructions for properly packing items to ship. It is considered best practice to use consistent packaging across fulfillment channels to avoid any issues. If a product is improperly packed, it could be damaged, lost or delayed, causing a customer to ultimately lose trust in your store.

  3. 3

    Shipping

    Shipping time is a huge factor in customer satisfaction. Develop a process that takes into account pickup times and also ensures that employees check off all the necessary steps before sending. For example, a package being shipped internationally would need different paperwork and postage than a local one.

Provide Emotional Motivation

Adjusting to ship-from-store standards and processes can be taxing for everyday sales employees. They may see the addition of fulfillment as losing productive hours and commissions or feel underappreciated and overworked. In your orientations and trainings, make sure to address these emotional pain points—transparency and reassurance helps show your appreciation for your hardworking staff.

Provide Financial Motivation

Hand in hand with emotional motivation comes financial motivation. If your employees are worried about losing in-store sales, adjust your commission structure to fit the new ship-from-store strategy. Bring ordering technology into the store with laptops or eCommerce apps that employees are trained to use. This will improve the experience of a customer who can’t find what they need in person, and will help your sales staff seamlessly close deals for products bought online.

In Conclusion

Implementing a ship-from-store process in your brick-and-mortar stores requires understanding and participation from employees. Transparency along with robust, ongoing training for staff members can help any store optimize its new fulfillment strategy.

6 Tactics for Successful Holiday Staffing

Properly staffing your business is crucial year-round, and especially so during the holidays. Hiring the right workers and giving them the right training can have countless positive effects on your operations. With the right staff, shipments could be picked, packed and shipped faster. Stock rooms and warehouses could remain orderly and organized. Employees would more likely make fewer mistakes and help improve return rates in the future. Here, we dive into six hiring tips for the most important time of the year.

  1. 1

    Start Planning Early

    Every year, retailers hire hundreds of thousands of seasonal workers. To help ensure you don’t miss out on the best talent, start establishing how many employees you need to hire early in the year, and begin the hiring process while the applicant pool is large.

  2. 2

    Advertise Your Openings

    Assess your recruiting strategy and seek out the most valuable channels to find seasonal workers. Utilize industry job boards, make sure your job postings are accurate and up-to-date, and don’t forget about your social media channels. Post job opportunities on your most popular channels to leverage another pool of talent: your customers.

  3. 3

    Recruit with Help from Your Employees

    Happy, hard-working employees are your greatest advocates. Ask your staff to refer applicants for open positions, and give them incentive to do so. Countless companies use employee referral programs as one tool among many to find quality applicants.

  4. 4

    Be Clear During Interviews and Ask the Right Questions

    When meeting with applicants, communicate the expectations and responsibilities of the role clearly. If the job requires working late nights and holidays, be frank and honest about those responsibilities. Do not, however, ask questions that suggest applicants with personal responsibilities need not apply (for example, questions about child-care arrangements or or child-bearing plans).

  5. 5

    Take the Time to Train Employees the Right Way

    No matter how large your seasonal staff may be, giving them the proper training could make a noticeable difference on your operations and your bottom line. Work with full-time and star seasonal employees to construct a training program for every type of position you need to fill. Then incorporate it into your onboarding process to get your new team up to speed. Consider cross-training your employees for added efficiency during peak shipping times.

  6. Helpful Tip: Consider cross-training your employees for added efficiency during peak shipping times. Learn more about seasonal staffing from
    Terry Bicycles’ CEO Liz Robert

  7. 6

    Get Acquainted with the Laws for Seasonal Employees

    Familiarize yourself with the legal restrictions for temporary workers. This will help guide how many people you need to hire to properly staff your operations. Knowing local laws can also help you avoid any legal issues that arise with temporary employees.

In Conclusion

With careful planning, good hiring practices and efficient training, your business can get into great shape for the holidays. You may be able to improve your shipping operations, fulfillment times and your bottom line by carefully managing your seasonal team. Your year-end sales and your customers will thank you.

Interview with USPS’ Ashok Parasuram on International Expansion

After a decades-long career in shipping, including eight years at USPS, Ashok Parasuram knows a thing or two about global expansion. Parasuram, the Manager of International Products and Global Accounts at USPS, has established trade lanes between the United States and Asia, managed freight forwarding at private companies, worked in cargo, the airline industry and more. He’s seen businesses develop global exporting strategies in countries around the world. So we sat down with the industry vet to tap into his experience and learn more about international expansion—from customs to costs.

Some business owners looking to ship internationally wrongly believe that they need exporting licenses. What are some other big exporting misconceptions?

Depending on the nature and value of the commodities being exported, an exporter may or may not require a license. There are several misconceptions about exporting and they usually center on the complexities associated with international trade: specifically, the documentation involved, customs, language, culture, etc. While exporting does require knowledge of a foreign market and the cultural nuances of that country, there are plenty of free or low cost resources that are available to exporters of all sizes. USPS has resources and an international sales team that can assist new and existing exporters with competitive and easy to implement shipping solutions. In addition, the US Department of Commerce (export.gov) and US Census Department (trade.gov) websites contain a lot of important and useful information to assist exporters with any concerns they may have with doing business in a particular country.

How do companies decide which countries to export to? How do customs and taxes fit into that decision?

In many cases, US companies who are new to exporting will typically target English speaking countries. Canada is usually the first country that most companies target as the language, culture and close proximity to the US make that country attractive.

Customs and duty thresholds play a part in the decision making as well. Depending on the country being exported to, the duty free threshold (aka de minimus), the value and nature of the product can impact an exporter’s decision on which country to target. For example, Australia has a duty threshold of $1000 Australian dollars, so almost all ecommerce shipments enter that country duty free. Duty thresholds vary by country so it is important to do one’s research up front.

Is it necessary for these smaller companies to have a large team handling customs?

In my experience, generally not, however, depending on the volume of exports, the company’s international customer base and the nature of the products being shipped, they may need more than one person dedicated to customs. Many of the small and medium-sized companies that I have come across have had one or two people responsible for that aspect of the business. Most of these companies started out small, and eventually grew the size of their export departments in line with the growth of their international business. Depending on volume of exports, the nature of the commodities being shipped, and regulatory environment, some companies hire outside consultants to deal with customs compliance.

Looking to zero in on the biggest issues in global expansion, we tailored the rest of our conversation to the international apparel industry. This area of business boasts success stories from companies small and large. Pulling from his career experience, Parasuram was able to shed light on many facets of global expansion—all through the lens of the apparel industry.

On the Global E-Commerce Apparel Market

First, Parasuram gave a bird’s-eye view of the e-commerce apparel industry, noting the strength of the dollar, and how U.S. exporters function in this economic arena.

Can you describe the current state of the e-commerce apparel market?

Brand name apparel exports to Asia and other emerging areas continue to grow despite the strong dollar. There is a trend among consumers living in countries impacted by the strong dollar to source from countries like China due to the low cost of goods. It’s interesting to note that many apparel importers, who source products offshore, export their products back to the same country where they were manufactured due to the trust that their customers have in US brands. Aside from trust, consumers in some instances purchase from US websites for status reasons.

What types of commodities are sold on the international market?

Depending of course on the country, brand name apparel, home textiles, small electronics, books/media and home furnishings are the types of commodities being exported by companies of all sizes. In general, apparel is the primary product that is being exported.

Where do small and medium-sized apparel businesses export to?

Canada is typically the first market that small and medium-sized businesses target once they enter the international arena. In addition, the EU countries, Japan, Korea, China, Mexico and other emerging markets are common places to export to.

How has the strong dollar affected global apparel exporting?

That depends on the geography and how much the local currency is impacted by the dollar. In the case of Europe, Western Europe with the exception of the UK has been impacted negatively. To combat the weakening of local currencies, consumers in South America and Europe have been purchasing directly from China. Despite that, there is plenty of opportunity for US based apparel exporters.

On International Returns

Understanding the challenges of shipping returns across borders, Parasuram zeroed in on the biggest pain points exporters face.

Let’s take a more granular look at global shipping. When it comes to international returns, do small apparel businesses offer them and, if so, do they charge for them?

It really depends on the commodity and value of the product. In certain parts of the world like Latin America, returns aren’t as big a factor because consumers prefer to resell their online purchase locally. There are markets like Europe where it is very important to offer returns. In that region, not offering a return service can negatively impact an exporter’s business. The cost of returns can vary and vary by retailer as well. In many cases, high-end retailers offer free or low-cost returns options.

What are the greatest operational challenges that apparel companies face when it comes to returns?

In my experience, customs can be challenging, however, if a commodity is exported to a particular country through a shipping company, the return should preferably be handled by that same shipping company to facilitate easy customs clearance.
The cost of returns can be a challenge for many online sellers. Depending on where the return is being exported from, the shipping cost can sometimes outweigh the cost of the product. The USPS is in the process of developing returns solutions that will address the needs of the e-commerce marketplace. For undeliverable and incorrectly addressed mail and parcels, shipments made through Priority Mail Express International® service (PMEI) are returned free of charge.

On Shipping Costs & Expansion Strategies

Finally, Parasuram spoke to the price of shipping and how companies, both small and large, have doubled their exports in the last five years.

Let’s transition the conversation over to another important subject – shipping costs. How do apparel companies deal with the high cost of shipping internationally?

Dealing with shipping costs is not industry specific, but a universal concern. Unlike many shipping companies, USPS does not levy surcharges, so shippers are better equipped to predict and manage their shipping costs. This predictability enables companies to keep the price of their products consistent and more attractive to prospective customers.

Have you seen apparel companies fold the cost of shipping into the price of the product?

In my experience, depending on the value of a brand and product, companies may include the cost of shipping into the product price. This is very typical among high end apparel brands.

Do you think limiting the types of products an apparel company sells internationally can help ease the expansion process?

In my experience, companies who are new to the international market place will test their products and depending on demand, will either reduce or expand the number of lines offered online.

5 Tips to Gear Up for the Retail Holiday Season

The holidays present countless opportunities for businesses to meet their bottom lines. They also present countless opportunities for pitfalls. Inefficient warehouse systems, confusing communications and incorrect packaging can prevent companies, both small and large, from making their year-end fiscal goals. Read on for tips to help you tackle the lucrative days ahead.

Quick Tip 1: Talk to Your Supplier

It’s critical for your business to have stock going in and out in a timely manner. Work with your shipping provider to confirm pick-up schedules, communicate changes in business hours and identify peak volume days. That way, your warehouse will know what to expect.

Quick Tip 2: Evaluate Your Warehouse Systems

Make sure your warehouse is logically organized. Place “bundle” items in the same area for easy picking and packing, and set aside room for dramatic influxes of shipments. Finally, inspect your technology so that it’s running smoothly.

Quick Tip 3: Simplify Your New Hire Onboarding Process

The more confusing the training process, the less productive your workers will be. Talk to permanent and returning staff to tweak your onboarding process for clarity and effectiveness.

Quick Tip 4: Use the Right Size Packaging

With dimensional weight pricing, both the weight and size of the packaging affects the ultimate shipping price. As more transportation companies use this pricing method, businesses should diversify the types of packaging they use. Consider Padded Paks, Poly mailers or other packaging in lieu of boxes. In most cases, the smaller the package, the lower the shipping cost.

Quick Tip 5: Communicate with Your Customers Clearly

Take your holiday communications to task. Look through last year’s customer complaints to fix the wording of return policies, shipping timelines and Christmas cut-off dates. Your language should be uniform across every channel.

Planning for Success Around the Holidays with Shutterfly COO Dwayne Black

Preparing for peak holiday season presents a constant stream of challenges—from ensuring equipment functions properly to training the influx of temporary employees, it takes wisdom and planning to make the most profit in the final quarter of the year. We sat down with Dwayne Black, Senior Vice President of Operations at Shutterfly, to understand just how the website—which turns personal photos into books, holiday cards and gifts—tackles the holiday season. Read on for tips on forecasting stock needs, perfecting inbound and outbound processes and the importance of smooth communication along the way.  

How much of your business occurs during the holiday season?

Well over 50% of our revenue comes in the fourth quarter. Our highest volume of orders comes between November 15 and December 20, which is really our peak season right around Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

How do you plan and prepare for the holiday season? How do you forecast stock and staffing needs, for example?

Ten years ago, when I started, we started our Q4 planning in June. Now, Q4 planning is a year-long activity, from equipment purchases to workflow improvements. When the holidays are over, we’ll immediately go into postmortems. We’ll evaluate the entire model. We’ll go through what went well and what we can improve. Then, the following year, we’re fixing the things we can improve and augmenting the areas that performed well. It’s a full-year planning process.

During planning, what is the cutoff date for implementing new ideas?

As an online digital retailer, we have a code freeze, so we don’t make any changes to our website or workflows after October. All equipment will be installed and tested before then. Labor-wise, we bring in 3,000+ temporary employees in the fourth quarter to augment our workforce. The fourth quarter is the time of year when everything comes together–we bring people in and get them trained to ensure we deliver the best possible experience for our customers.

What role does your permanent staff play in holiday planning?

Everyone takes part in the employee onboarding process. My team focuses on the supply chain, which deals with the transportation side, and manufacturing which makes sure that the equipment runs and that we have the people in the right places. It all comes back to ensuring we deliver on our 100% customer happiness guarantee.

When it comes to postmortems, what kinds of activities do you do in order to single out successes and failures?

Postmortems are key to our continued success and happen in early January, right after the holidays. Our teams hold postmortems at all of our locations and divide them by department: calendars, holiday cards, personalized stationery, photo books and gifts. Those departments will really dig into areas that exceed expectations as well as areas where we can improve.

There’s one challenge I think every company is being faced with. Black Friday and Cyber Monday create huge peaks of demand. I’m sure it impacts the carriers as well. We work really hard to ensure that we can meet our customers’ needs during the rush.

Are there any tactics you use to increase processing speeds around those dates? Since you have customized products, pre-packaging isn’t an option, but what advice can you give to alleviate those demand peaks?

You’re 100% right, everything we do is custom and on-demand; we don’t pre-package or pre-produce anything. What we can do, however, is make sure our workflows and processes are perfect. It’s not only making sure the processes work and the equipment is running right. It’s also making sure we have the technicians on board so that if something does go wrong and a piece of equipment goes down, we can get it up and running right away.

The other thing is, even in our automated processes, we have backup plans. We always have a plan B and in some cases a plan C and D. We know if a piece of equipment goes down, there are ways for us to produce the product and get it out the door without using that piece of equipment. It might require more resources until we can get things working again, but it keeps our process moving.

So one piece of advice you could give is pre-plan and understand where your potential pitfalls are, have plans a, b and c ready. And the second part is to make sure your staff is properly trained, everyone’s on the same page and knows how to deal with potential risk situations.

One of the things we do internally, we call it the five P’s. It stands for: Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. That’s what everybody looks at. You have to expect the unexpected, and stay calm and communicate. If we encounter a challenge, it’s best to admit that there’s a challenge and develop a plan to solve it. It sounds cliché, but communication during peak is especially key. We have multiple meetings daily at all hours of the day; we’re always talking, so that everybody is in alignment.

Do you have that level of communication with all of your facilities across the country?

Absolutely, yes. Communication is not just held within the manufacturing facilities, it’s also with the teams working on the website, engineering and promotions.

With such massive operations, with so many moving parts and people involved, how do you keep that communication clear and how do you keep it from overwhelming the system?

In Q4, we have people in each department who are the communicators. You can’t expect a production manager on the production floor to be sitting in meetings all day and managing a workforce. We provide updates as needed so that we’re not inundating our workers.

Let’s change gears and tap into the subject of stock and inventory during the holiday season. Shutterfly has tons of SKUs and a ton of different product offerings. How do you organize your inventory to make it more efficient for processing, picking, packing and shipping?

It’s twofold. If you look at it from a floor perspective, we have what we call “supermarkets.” With raw materials and supplies, we have a visual factory in our locations. Everything is in its place, so you can easily look at it and determine if anything is low on inventory. We also have backup stock in our facilities. Nine months out of the year, I can keep everything I need to run our business within our own production facilities.

When we get into the fourth quarter, it’s all about planning. Our teams are really focused on creating a strong supply-chain strategy. When we get our forecast from our revenue teams, we’ll go through and extrapolate what we need for raw materials. We also calculate scrap, damage, etc. The worst thing I could do in the fourth quarter is run out of paper.

Everyone thinks, “Ok, just make sure you have enough paper,” but that’s easier said than done. People don’t often realize it, but paper is perishable; it has a certain moisture content to it. If you store it in a dry area, it’s going to dry out and it’s not going to print or cut as well. There’s a lot of planning that goes into the process. It’s a very orchestrated model. You just have to manage all the raw materials.

Do you have strong communication with your suppliers and your carriers?

We absolutely do. We know that our partners need to plan out their supply chain as well. For our carriers, we know they need to figure out how many trucks they need on the road, how many drivers to staff, etc. It’s a major orchestrated effort.

In terms of the shipping and carrier component, when do you start talking to the carriers about the holidays?

We give our carriers forecasts as soon as we can. We understand that they need to build their platform internally as well, and we give them a hard commitment of what we think we will be shipping about 3 to 4 months before the season.

It seems like you’ve figured out a way to manage all the obstacles that come with the holidays.

It’s a beautiful thing when everything comes together. When you’re shipping those packages, you’re making a lot of people happy. They’re not just ordering everyday staples. Everything we send out is customized and personal. Sometimes it’s Christmas cards and sometimes it’s a photo book from a special vacation. All in all, it’s things that make people smile and how we share life’s joy.