The Fundamentals of Ecommerce for Home Furnishings Manufacturers - Part Two: Process Creation
By Josh Walter, CEO
In Part One of our three-part series, we outlined a number of critical elements to building out a successful ecommerce strategy. To start, it’s important to lay the foundation of your overall ecommerce program: craft a robust pricing policy, carefully choose your online partners, and finally, define a thoughtful online product assortment.
In Part Two, we’ll take a closer look at establishing ongoing processes that will allow your online partners to best represent you to your intended audience. Here are some things to consider:
Product Set-Up and Digital Assets
Most online retailers have a minimum set of specs required to publish a product on site. Think SKU, price, color/finish, dimensions, and shipping information. This is an area where many manufacturers overlook details that are specific to each retailer, which can create missed revenue opportunities (by way of delayed product launches).
Developing comprehensive knowledge, properly organizing, and establishing processes that centralize required specs for each of your retailers, will not only ensure the fastest publishing time possible, but will also help you gain an understanding of how to enhance your product pages over time. Being able to clearly distinguish between “required to publish” and “nice to haves” will help you avoid publishing delays and also give you insight into subsequent spec enhancements that will increase future conversion.
Digital assets are also a major component to this strategy – having a best-in-class suite of imagery that properly displays your products digitally is critical. Start with an image showing every finish option (with a white background), then move to alternate angles, close ups, and lifestyle shots. Pricing and imagery are the first two items that the consumer sees on a product page and are often the only components used in making a purchasing decision. Yes, you read it right… consumers are not always reading the features about a what makes your product special… so visually demonstrating those unique aspects is key.
Nice to haves, but moving towards must haves, are 3D Models and Product Videos. 3D models will allow for augmented reality with your more sophisticated online retailers, but make sure that your file types meet their individual standards. Product videos demonstrating how innovative features work are also another way to help your product stand out and increase consumer confidence in your brand. Ideally, these videos should be less than 30 seconds.
Customer Service Training on Retailer-Specific Transactional Processes
Drop Shipping from your warehouse will be the majority of your ecommerce business in the home furnishings space (unless your average order value is under $25). As such, internet retailers who are striving for a best-in-class customer experience, are heavily reliant upon the manufacturer to meet their specific standards to ensure customer promises are kept.
Many of these requirements are more complex than those of a traditional brick-and-mortar retailer, so dedicating and training additional customer service staff to your ecommerce business is vital to your success. They should understand each internet retailer’s order processing system and manufacturers should invest in automation (e.g. EDI) as often as possible.
Operations and Logistics
In addition to understanding each internet retailer’s system and streamlining where possible, its equally important to ensure that your drop-ship capabilities and delivery times are not only fast (12-24 hours from order entry), but accurately stated.
Two-Day delivery has become the gold standard, and Amazon is moving customer expectations to One-Day very quickly. The good news is that it’s achievable thanks to opportunities such as CastleGate Fulfillment (Wayfair), FBA (Amazon), and in some cases, Air Freight.
Another important operational process is establishing an inventory feed for each internet retailer to ensure product availability messaging is properly conveyed on each site. These inventory feeds should be tailored to meet the needs of each individual retailer and if possible, automatically submitted multiple times per day.
Electronic data interface, or EDI, takes some of the human element out of this process through automation, and in turn making it more efficient and less subject to errors. There are third-party EDI providers that help facilitate this type of communication for manufacturers that don’t have their own systems.
Healthy Inventory and Replenishment Strategy
There couldn’t be anything more deadly to your ecommerce business than inventory outages. The reason for this is because many online retailers (unlike brick-and-mortar), won’t take orders on backordered product. There are three ways retailers handle outages:
Some retailers do process backorders, but there’s an adverse impact on product rankings with no inventory. In these cases, a consumer might receive a notification that the item will be delivered at some point in the future when the product is back in stock.
Some retailers have a “notify me when available” option which means that the product is unorderable. In our experience, the consumer usually decides to purchase something else, and the retailer loses the sale for that particular brand (even if the consumer is notified in the future)
Worst case from the manufacturer’s point of view, but becoming much more common, is that retailers will remove a product from site completely if a quantity reaches zero, and won’t reappear until inventory appears again.
Use your internet retailers’ forecasting tools religiously to mitigate the risk of best-selling stock outages. Be sure to establish an inventory management and replenishment process that takes your ecommerce business into account.
Dedicated Ecommerce Team
To ensure all of these processes and procedures are working well, we recommend dedicating a specialized team to your ecommerce business. Our channel management solution can guide you through the fundamentals, help you with best practices and ultimately execute upon a collaboratively created ecommerce strategy.