What is Subscription Box Fulfillment?
The process of shipping products to a customer on a recurring, pre-determined timeline is referred to as subscription box fulfillment. These recurring shipments can be the same product every time (such as a razor and cartridge replacement), or a newly selected product each shipment (commonly referred to as curated subscription boxes). Subscription boxes have become especially prevalent for food items, grooming, health and beauty products, and fitness products.
While the most common timeframe for delivery of subscription boxes is a monthly schedule, some companies offer other scheduled deliveries, with support for one-off orders as needed. Usually, the subscription boxes are delivered during the same time window each period (such as the last week of each month).
Subscription box fulfillment is significantly more complicated and is uniquely different as compared to traditional fulfillment and presents some distinctive challenges. Most notably, subscription box fulfillment requires the fulfillment staff to have the ability to not only process a large number of orders in a short time window, but also requires fulfillment staff to be able to accurately kit and bundle sets of orders without error.
Due to the variance in monthly staffing needed each month and because of the complexity inherent in fulfilling subscription box orders, many companies opt to use a third-party logistics (3PL) provider for shipping and distribution.
Below, we’ll get to talk more about the processes involved in outsourcing subscription box fulfillment, what to look for in a subscription box fulfillment service, and when it’s best to outsource this complex fulfillment function.
Subscription Box Fulfillment Steps and Processes
When utilizing a third-party logistics fulfillment company for shipping your subscription boxes, there are several steps that must be planned out to orchestrate flawless deliveries. Below we walk through the most common steps in the subscription box fulfillment process.
- Delivery of the Inventory
Before your purchases are shipped each period, adequate stock must be shipped to the fulfillment company for both immediate shipments and any overflow needed for additional purchases. Receiving inventory is such a critical step in the fulfillment process – so adequate time is required to receive the goods, verify quantities and condition of stock, enter these figures into their warehouse management system (WMS), and physically located the stock on pickable bins within the warehouse.
- Sharing of Order Details
Each batch of orders must be sent to the fulfillment center well in advance of shipment. Usually, a fulfillment company will have a cut-off time whereby orders can be received up to that point and still be included on the subscription box batch being fulfilled. In some cases, order details will be sent over via a flat file (Excel file or CSV), and in other cases subscription box signups are automatically sent to the fulfillment center by integrating your system with their WMS.
If the company has multiple fulfillment centers, the management system will select the most appropriate warehouse site based on the delivery address and item availability. This shortens transportation times and lowers delivery expenses. For fast delivery, a single order including several goods can be fulfilled from separate warehouse locations.
- Selection and Packaging of Items
A fulfillment firm develops a picking list and assigns it to its warehouse staff when it receives an order. The picking team then gathers items that have been ordered. After selecting your goods, they’ll be packaged for shipment in regular or personalized packaging.
Some subscription boxes are very simple in nature, requiring only an item or two. But in other cases, kitting and assembly is required in order create a box with a multitude of items. It may be easier for the fulfillment center to produce a batch of boxes that include the same items, whereas individual picking and packing will be required if each box has uniquely different contents.
- Creation of an Unboxing Experience
The commitment made by a company in making the experience memorable distinguishes its box from that of other competitors. This involves the use of custom packaging and branded boxes and appealing inserts and complimentary samples.
Unboxing has become such a point of differentiation in e-commerce and has almost become a form of entertainment for consumers. Opening an order is nearly as much about the ceremony as much as it is about the contents, recreating the joy of unwrapping presents on birthdays or Christmas morning. If you adopt this strategy into your packaging and distribution, your company can gain a significant competitive advantage.
- Mailing the Subscription
After your purchases have been packed, the next step in the process it to ship them to customers. Orders must be delivered to the correct individual. Purchases might be supplied directly to the customer or integrated with other activities to save money and minimize shipment volume.
Bundled purchases are commonly transported by the same carrier and directed to specific locations as needed. It’s vital to have a sound tracking system in place when shipping so that you and your customers can keep track of transactions.
- Post Shipment Customer Care and Support
It might seem that shipping out the subscription box orders is the final step in the process – but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Customer care and support is a vital step in the process that is often overlooked. Customers may have questions about shipment times and arrivals, and any issues or errors must be addressed and correctly promptly to keep customers coming back for more and avoiding the dreaded negative reviews.
Most fulfillment companies do not offer customer care services. Be careful in sourcing a subscription box fulfillment partner that doesn’t have the ability to deliver on this key function.
What to Look for in The Best Subscription Box Fulfillment Service?
The Right “Fit”
The first piece of advice is to select a 3PL for your subscription boxes that is appropriate in size and scope. Some companies may be just starting out or are smaller in nature, so finding a fulfillment service that is both comfortable with your order volumes and has appropriately priced services is important.
Larger volume subscription services will require more staffing and support to execute on monthly order volumes. In this case, a larger 3PL will most likely be the best fit.
Price Isn’t the Only Factor to Consider
When looking for a 3PL, you should look beyond the price of their services. While you may be looking for a low-cost supplier, you should research their essential features, delivery capabilities, and customer service quality before purchasing. Because 3PLs have a significant impact on the quality of your customer service, you must select the one you can trust when you need them the most.
Discount suppliers may end up sending products late, shipping wrong orders, or experiencing various other troubles. Hence, it’s critical to take the time to select a firm you can truly rely on for your shipping requirements.
Pay Close Attention to Your Requirements
While looking for a 3PL, you want to work with a firm that is laser-focused on your needs. You want a provider to investigate your unique requirements and inventory and comprehend what is most vital to you as a subscription box company.
Given the increased level of care and customer service you desire to provide your clients, you must collaborate with a firm that shares your values. To maintain a seamless and successful partnership based on accuracy, speed, and dependability, your company and your 3PL must always be on the same page.
When Should You Outsource Subscription Box Fulfillment?
Starting a subscription box service as a side business sounds like a good idea. If you are successful, though, it will quickly grow to the point where it will be too large to operate with the support of friends, family, or part-time staff.
Some analysts believe that the 500-subscriber mark is the moment at which businesses begin seeking outsourcing partners, but oftentimes no single number is a perfect signal for when to outsource. If you’re having trouble finding enough personnel in a large enough region to meet your deadlines, it’s probably time to think about outsourcing your fulfillment business.
Why Is OSW Best for Subscription Box Fulfillment?
In the subscription box market, the fulfillment process AND customer care follow up is critical. At first, doing everything in-house may appear to be a simple task. After processing multiple batches, however, you will most likely find that outsourcing is the only option. Working with a firm that specializes in subscription fulfillment is crucial.
Subscription fulfillment is fraught with difficulties, ranging from on-time shipment to offering a pleasant unpacking experience for your clients. Our Serviceworks has mastered the subscription box fulfillment process by employing top notch staff, sophisticated technology, and time-tested procedures. Finally, Our Serviceworks is one of the only fulfillment centers that offers fulfillment and customer care under one roof, for a synergistic fulfillment offering that will “wow” your customers.
Do you have a great subscription box idea but need help with fulfillment? Then you are looking at Our Service Works. Contact us today to help you create a service that exceeds the expectations for both your consumers and bottom line!