You have worked hard to build your eCommerce business and it’s now up and running. You’ve optimized your eCommerce site to increase conversion rates, your social media team is executing your marketing strategy and more and more potential customers are turning into brand advocates.
However, scaling up an eCommerce company isn’t just about bringing in new business. Yes, that’s the foundation of growth, but how you handle that growth is a big determining factor in your online business’ success. Your operations are what sets well run businesses apart from those who fail to reach their full potential.
For a small business, managing orders, inventory, and fulfillment manually might have been a reasonable place to start.
As your business scales and becomes more complex to keep up with your customers’ demands, you’ll have to consider many more moving parts to ensure that you’re growing profitably and sustainably.
For example, is your backend processes optimized for efficiency so you’re not paying a large overhead on labor-intensive tasks that can easily be automated?
Do you have full visibility into your inventory, so you know exactly what products to stock, when to reorder, and make sure you have a healthy cash flow to support your expansion?
Are you putting the right measures in place to minimize delays, bottlenecks, and errors in your workflows?
Here are five key strategies for scaling up your eCommerce company while minimizing the growing pain:
1. Prevent Cash Flow Challenges Caused By Stockouts, Overstocks, And Backorders
Inventory control is often a Goldilocks situation… if you have too much stock, you’re holding up cash flow and limiting your ability to invest in products that sells. On the other hand, if you run out of stock, you’re losing out on sales and missing out on revenues.
To prevent inventory issues, set strict reorder points to indicate the exact moment when you’ll need to order new stock for each item in your eCommerce store.
A reorder point should take into account the typical lead-time for placing an order, processing payments, and have the items ready in the warehouse for fulfillment. Also, set aside an emergency stock to cover sudden changes in demand, which shouldn’t be counted when setting the reorder point.
Good inventory control is the key to healthy cash flow and maximizing sales so you can fuel growth where it matters most. You can use an inventory management software application to get real-time updates into the movement of all your products.
When you have visibility into your stock at all times, you can better control your inventory. For example, you can sell against incoming stock by launching a special eCommerce sales promotion to generate additional cash flow.
An inventory control system can also help you manage multiple online channels for your eCommerce business (e.g., Shopify inventory management, Amazon) so you can coordinate inventory without the risk of running out of stock and missing out on sales.
It can also give you the necessary information to respond to market demand, move stock, and increase cash flow by using merchandising techniques such as bundles, mystery boxes, pre-orders, and loyalty programs.
2. Increase Efficiency, Reduce Delays, And Minimize Errors With Automation
There are many moving parts in the supply chain and as your eCommerce company grows, the complexity of these processes will increase exponentially. Tedious and repetitive tasks that are labor-intensive will become more costly as your business expands.
Handling OMS processes manually (e.g., order splitting, backorder management, order import, and shipping updates) can create bottlenecks and unnecessary delays in the workflows, which could have a domino effect on other aspects of your operation.
Not to mention, many of these tasks are prone to human errors (e.g., re-keying information from one system to another or moving paperwork from one department to the next) and inconsistency can cause delays and confusion.
Consolidating all the processes onto a single platform that handles omnichannel order management and automates the workflows can help you minimize inefficiency, delays, and errors.
Some key automation functions that can help streamline operations and increase efficiencies include order splitting, pre-order or backorder management, returns management, e-invoicing, and order routing.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that automation technology is only as good as the workflow you’re automating. If a workflow isn’t optimized, you’re just making an inefficient process happen faster!
To maximize the ROI on automation, you should first audit your current processes and then optimize and standardize the workflows to make sure that when you scale up, you aren’t multiplying any inefficiency that’s inherent in the processes.
3. Test New Items With Pre-ordering
Scaling up takes some trial-and-error and introducing new products to the market can open up opportunities for growth. Yet, the last thing you want is to stock up on a new item only to find out that it’s not what your customers want.
Not only will you suffer a loss and hold up cash flow, but the excess inventory will also take up resources in other areas such as warehousing.
To minimize risk and plan for inventory, you can explore the market and test out new product ideas by preselling an MVP (minimum viable product.) It’ll help you find out how much inventory you’ll need and get a gauge on future potential sales so you can plan for cash flow.
To make the most of your MVP launch, create a dedicated product page and position the promotion as exclusion access for existing customers or a limited time/quantity offer to generate buzz and build brand awareness.
In addition, you can use the opportunity to test the supply chain and collect data on the various fulfillment and logistics operations so you can optimize the workflow before automating the order management process in the future.
4. Focus On Products With High Margins
As you grow your eCommerce company, you’ll need more stock to fulfill increasing orders. However, that also means the inventory will cost more money, which could put you in a bind if you don’t yet have the cash flow to sustain the volume.
As such, you need to plan your product selection strategically to focus on selling differentiated items that have profit margins instead of commodity products that have low margins. This will allow you to generate more profits, which you can invest in higher inventory levels to scale up.
In today’s competitive market, guesswork is no longer enough. In order to identify the most profitable products to carry, you need to understand the market demand and find out what’s most appealing to your customers.
Then, you can make data-driven decisions based on information from a variety of sources to optimize your profits. However, gathering information from across the organization can be a time-consuming and cumbersome task.
You can use a centralized platform with a robust reporting and analytics feature, which can help you break down silos, minimize bottleneck, and consolidate data from various teams (e.g., accounting, operation, and sales) to make informed decisions.
In addition, it helps you minimize errors caused by importing and exporting files, transferring data, or manually re-keying information. You can bridge knowledge gaps and empower your team to make sound decisions in a timely manner based on real-time analytics and insights.
5. Optimize Fulfillment To Improve Customer Experience
Since it costs more to acquire new customers than to retain existing ones, the ability to build a customer base that’d buy from you repeatedly is the key to sustainable and profitable growth.
Besides the many ways to improve the customer experience at the front-end, such as a streamlined checkout process or better customer service, you should also make sure that the backend processes are supporting a great customer experience.
If customers aren’t getting their order fast enough or delivered on time, they’re not going to have a satisfactory experience that’ll keep them coming back.
Therefore, making sure that your fulfillment and logistics operations are as efficient as possible can help delight and retain more loyal customers – giving you a strong foundation to expand your eCommerce company.
Automation can help you streamline time-consuming tasks, such as order splitting, warehouse routing, and shipment updates so you can improve efficiency while making sure that your customers are getting their orders as quickly as possible.
To facilitate shipment and delivery, use an order management platform that gives you full visibility into the fulfillment process and allows you complete control over logistics – even when outsourcing to 3PLs.
With the ability to control when and how orders ship, you can reduce mis-ships and improve delivery times. You can also provide better customer communications and post-sales customer service (e.g., real-time order status) to improve customer experience.
Tools like StichLabs’ fulfillment and logistics solution also enables you to leverage pre-built integrations and 3PL partner network to expand shipping coverage. It allows you to serve more customers without the added overhead so you can scale up more quickly.
As your eCommerce company expands, your inventory and order management system needs to grow in tandem to handle the increasingly complex processes associated with higher volume, wider product selection, and a more complex supply chain.
Consolidating as much as of your operation management onto a single platform and using automation technology to streamline workflows will help you improve efficiency, lower cost, minimize human errors, and improve the customer experience so you can scale up sustainably.