As brands and retailers across verticals head into 2021, the looming shell shock from the rollercoaster that was the past year has many reeling at the long list of operational changes needed to support the new post-2020 normal. From Brexit ramifications to vaccine distribution, many things remain uncertain with one exception — digital is the way forward. Survival in this digital age depends on embracing e-commerce as a core component of your brand strategy and aligning the budget accordingly.
The struggle for many brands and retailers, though, is how to accomplish all of it. There is the task of implementing and keeping e-commerce functionality up to date; the constant push for faster delivery options; the struggle to manage frequent planned and unplanned demand fluctuations; the obligation to ensure secure payment processing and proper fraud management; the desire to provide customer service that accurately reflects the brand — and that is just touching the surface. There are an overwhelming number of components that go into a successful e-commerce operation.
This is where an end-to-end business process outsourcer (BPO) can make all the difference for your brand’s future, not to mention the sanity of your team.
Is a BPO Your Best Option?
When brands and retailers begin thinking about outsourcing operations, there are some typical fears that cause them to delay. These include losing control of operations, inaccurate brand representation, lack of operational visibility and the risk of getting boxed into an unchangeable solution.
In reality, a qualified BPO, particularly one who can manage the complete e-commerce operation for you end to end, can actually improve your capabilities in these areas and more.
The proof is in the pudding. According to results from PFS’ recent post-peak retailer survey conducted in December 2020, 49% of retailers relied on BPOs to support their peak operations this past year. Those that outsourced their alternative fulfillment operations experienced notably fewer fulfillment challenges during the 2020 peak season.
Key Advantages E-commerce BPOs Offer
Small, mid-size and large businesses alike have much to gain in relying on the extensive knowledge and expertise a BPO can offer. Below are some of the keyways BPOs can help you take your e-commerce operations further in 2021.
Increase flexibility and scalability
Keep momentum going when rapid growth occurs. As your business grows and volume increases, a BPO is already equipped to grow with you. They can expand your fulfillment footprint and enable expansion to new markets without the burden of capital investments and permanent additional infrastructure costs falling to you.
The ability to ramp personnel and scale systems is also critical to your success during peak demand periods. Whether warehouse production workers, customer service agents, scalable order processing, etc., an end-to-end BPO can leverage resources across the operation, shuffling staff as needed to meet demand fluctuations, planned or unplanned.
Free up time and resources
A BPO manages your day-to-day e-commerce operations for you, freeing up your in-house team members to focus on the core competencies of your business, such as brand innovation. What’s more, in an end-to-end solution, a single point of contact supports all of your business needs across service areas. If you need to change packing guidelines and adjust customer service appeasements, you only have to make one call.
Access best-in-class technology
A BPO depends on keeping their technology up to date. Best-in-class systems and integrations are critical to maintaining a competitive edge in the industry. With an end-to-end BPO provider, seamless integrations across platforms and systems means fluid operations and advanced functionality and control for your e-commerce operations.
Proper workforce management and scheduling for peak periods ensure you don’t pay for costly labor you don’t need, but also that your customer service level don’t suffer due to under-staffing. Better employee environments and built-in career growth paths also provide enhanced retention, which results in a better customer experience and reduces shrink costs over time.
Best practice recommendations
Managing dozens of clients allows a BPO to observe tactical and technological industry trends, bringing that knowledge in the form of recommendations back to you. From industry standards to consumer expectations, a BPO can guide you to a solution that meets the latest consumer demands and ensures service levels that encourage customer loyalty. Even better, a good BPO acts as a partner and identifies areas of improvement instead of just selling you more or billing more fees.
Keep up with industry trends
Brands who can support the ever-changing and growing consumer demand for more and more personalized experiences have a real opportunity to take back ownership and control of the customer experience. BPOs are constantly adapting operations to incorporate the latest consumer expectations and ensure the brands they support can stand out from the competition.
Embrace the future of retail head on
2020, with all its disruptions, has resulted in a giant leap forward for e-commerce, advancing the industry at least two years ahead of pre-pandemic projections. In the US alone, e-commerce sales grew over 40% for the year according to Digital Commerce 360, the highest jump since we started tracking the industry 20 years ago.
Today’s digital-first shoppers demand that brands rethink their physical retail strategy and embrace an omnichannel approach. A proven e-commerce BPO can help you adjust your operations accordingly and ensure you have the resources and technology in place to keep up with the fast-paced digital environment going forward.
Zach Thomann is executive VP and GM at PFS.