Fulfillment services can take away the hassle of packing book orders, printing labels and standing in line at the post office. They can handle shipping individual books to customers, or larger orders to bookstores and other institutional buyers.
You may decide that you need a fulfillment service because shipping books takes too much time from you or your staff, or because you often travel and are not in your office when orders come in and must be shipped, or just because you do not want to deal with it yourself.
Choosing a fulfillment service can be tricky. There are often hidden costs and expenses that can really add up. Here are some issues to consider.
Do you need order taking services, or just shipping? Some fulfillment services will take orders for you, while others just ship when an order is received. For example, I simply have my shopping cart set up to send new order notices both to me and to my fulfillment service.
If you do not have real-time credit card processing, or if you get a lot of phone orders, you might want or need to set up order taking services. This might be with your fulfillment service or with a company that only handles order taking. Book Clearing House is a book distributor that can handle both order taking and fulfillment.
Do you want the fulfillment service to store inventory of your products, or do you want them to make them up when orders are received? Any fulfillment service will store products, although some will charge a fee, often per item per month (such as $.05 per item per month). Some companies will print books using POD technology when orders are received, or will create CDs or other products as needed. Lightning Source is a POD printer that will print and ship book orders as they are received. Speaker Fulfillment Services will duplicate CDs, DVDs, audiotapes and binders as well as shipping orders.
What shipping methods do you require? Does the fulfillment service offer all of the shipping options you wish to offer to your customers, such as USPS, FedEx, UPS, etc? Is it important that you offer overnight shipping, or other special options?
Can the fulfillment service handle unusual order patterns? If you are planning a major promotion, will they be able to keep up with a surge of orders? Always keep them informed of your marketing plans so they can prepare when a large volume of orders is expected.
When talking to a fulfillment or order taking company, ask exactly what your costs will be. There may be a set up fee, a charge per order (plus a charge per item), inventory fees for storing products, etc. The fees may include the costs of shipping and materials, or there may be an additional charge. There may also be a monthly minimum, so that if your fees are less than a specific amount you will be charged the minimum fee. If they are taking telephone orders, there may be a set up charge and a per-minute charge for handling the phone calls. If they are processing payments, there may be additional charges to cover the credit card fees. Ask for a detailed listing of any applicable fees before you commit.
You might not want a fulfillment service to hold all of your inventory. If they go bankrupt or go out of business, it might be difficult to get your inventory back. A few years ago, a large fulfillment service went out of business with no advance notice. Their customers were left scrambling for a new service and trying to make arrangements to get their products back.
There are many companies that can handle fulfillment services. In addition to the fulfillment options listed here, you can locate companies, and get additional information about fulfillment, through the Mailing & Fulfillment Service Association at http://www.mfsanet.org/.