eCommerce fulfillment is one of the major battlegrounds of the 21st-century marketplace. Customers’ standards for price, delivery speed and selection have never been higher, and the resulting crunch can be challenging to deal with for any business.
You’ve probably heard plenty about Amazon’s innovative fulfillment strategies since they’re largely responsible for this high bar. However, Amazon is far from the only company forging new paths in fulfillment logistics. These four companies are all leveraging innovative solutions to make their fulfillment processes faster, more efficient and safer, and other businesses would do well to watch and learn from these fulfillment disruptors.
This Spanish fast-fashion house (part of the Inditex clothing retail group) has long been known for its innovative supply chain practices. Zara has mastered the art of pushing out chic clothes more quickly than just about anybody else, and now they’re in the middle of their next big initiative: online delivery that leverages their network of thousands of brick-and-mortar locations to ship clothes to customers lightning-fast.
This idea, known as ship-from-store, isn’t totally new. Many retail titans such as Target and Walmart have already embraced it. It can be a good strategy to cut logistics costs that eat into profit margins and mitigate inventory problems. It’s also a borderline necessity for competing with Amazon, which has recently taken a big bite out of the apparel market.
With this big push for ship-from-store, Zara is promising that it will be able to offer same-day delivery in hundreds of markets by 2020. Will they pull it off by their target date? Only time will tell, but this brand is nothing if not bold.
Competing with Amazon is tough for any business of any size. The retail giant’s scale and infrastructure create an incredibly high bar to meet. ShipBob is a Chicago logistics startup that’s focused on helping smaller companies compete with the giants by offering the holy grail for eCommerce merchants: two-day shipping. ShipBob has built its own logistics network of eCommerce fulfillment centers in major cities, meaning that customers around the country can get their products shipped with the speed that consumers demand.
One key aspect of ShipBob is that its digital infrastructure is just as robust as its physical one. Orders placed on a merchant’s website go directly to the ShipBob servers, which use sophisticated algorithms to calculate the quickest route to the customer. On top of that, it’s easy to integrate with common eCommerce platforms like Shopify and Magento, making it a snap for eCommerce merchants to implement. Going up against Goliath is never easy, but ShipBob is making sure that David has a little more of a chance.
Shipping an entire full-sized mattress in a tiny box? Yeah, right! That’s what some said five years ago when the mattress business was still dominated by the old-school power players like Mattress Firm. Since then, Casper has cracked the mattress market wide open, and it was recently valued at $1.1 billion.
For Casper, the key innovation was to turn something that ostensibly couldn’t be shipped via standard parcel logistics—a mattress—and come up with the tech to make it possible. Casper was the first to introduce their unique open-cell foam mattresses that enabled a mattress to be delivered without much more effort than a pair of jeans, and they’ve now added a whole new range of sleep technologies, from bed frames to nightlights, all available for online delivery.
With hot competition coming from brands like Purple and Tuft & Needle, Casper is (ironically) now making moves into brick-and-mortar retail. That mirrors the larger trend we’ve seen recently of eCommerce brands moving to establish a greater presence in the physical retail space. Whatever the future holds for Casper, one thing’s for sure: Technology will continue to be at the center of its business model.
With all of the focus on speedy fulfillment, it can be easy to forget that it’s just as important for a shipment to arrive in good condition as on time. But, for many years, the standard solutions available, such as passive temperature sensors and expensive GPS units, weren’t scalable or effective outside of the specific contexts for which they were designed.
Tive is a company that seeks to change all that through their innovative line of IoT shipment tracking devices. The Tive tracker is a small, sleek device about the size of a smartphone. Inside its snappy blue enclosure box (about the size of a mobile phone) is a full suite of sensors including:
- Location tracking via GPS, WiFi and cellular tower.
- Orientation, shock and vibration sensors to ensure that a shipment has been handled with care.
- Temperature and humidity sensors to ensure that the cargo hasn’t left its safe climate zone.
The accompanying Tive software allows businesses to generate useful and easy-to-use reports from this data to analyze their supply chains in real time, as well as offering an API that facilitates integration with existing systems. Tive also offers other models suited to specific purposes, such as the Tive Solo, a single-use tracker in a smaller key fob sized case that even offers a mail-in return program to help create more sustainable practices. In a supply chain environment where accountability and transparency are high priorities, Tive may have found a winning solution in the power of IoT.
eCommerce businesses know that in this highly competitive industry, standing still will likely mean failure. The competition never rests, and thus, neither can an eCommerce retailer. These four companies—and many others—have been hard at work creating the innovations that will help their businesses continue to deliver outstanding value for their customers and their investors. Whether they’re competing with Amazon or blazing their own trails, they’ve all made their mark on eCommerce already. With any luck, they’ll continue to create a space for competition and innovation in this exciting industry.
Kate Began serves as the Sales and Marketing Manager for Polycase. She oversees the customer service representatives, assists with product development and leads the marketing efforts from the Avon, Ohio headquarters. Kate is also an avid Cleveland Indians fan!