Skip to main content

Providing retailers with a guaranteed stream of revenue and providing the ultimate in convenience for consumers, subscription boxes are a brilliant way for eCommerce retailers to sell their products.

But subscription boxes, by their very nature, require accurate and timely fulfilment, every time without fail. If you’re growing your subscription box business, you might be wondering when you should be outsourcing your fulfilment. Keep on reading to find out! 👇

What is subscription box fulfilment?

Subscription box fulfilment simply refers to the shipping of a product (or package of products) from an eCommerce retailer to a consumer on a regular, scheduled, basis.

For some retailers, subscription boxes involve the shipment of the same product each month – think of Harry’s razors or Wild deodorants. For other retailers, subscription boxes involve shipping a selection of different products each month, such as Box to Box football shirts or Craft Whisky Club.

No matter what products an eCommerce retailer may be shipping via their subscription boxes, the most important thing to note is the fact that the boxes are provided on a scheduled, repeated basis.  

Get the fulfilment of a subscription box wrong, and you can undermine the entire appeal of your subscription boxes.

So when it comes to your subscription boxes, you cannot afford to get fulfilment wrong.

What are the challenges of fulfilling subscription boxes?

Surely it can’t be that hard to fulfil subscription boxes in-house? Actually, you might be surprised how much goes into the fulfilment process.

To give you an idea of what goes into fulfilling subscription boxes, we’ve set out the main challenges below.

Fulfilling orders on time

As we just mentioned earlier, you have practically no margin of error when it comes to subscription box fulfilment. If a customer fails to get their subscription box on time, they’ll simply cancel their subscription and go to another retailer.

This is particularly important if you are selling a daily necessity such as razors, shaving foam or soap.

Remember, shipping your subscription orders on time is one of the key value propositions of a subscription box in the first place!

Change product requirements

If you’re offering subscription boxes that provide a different or a curated set of products each month, this can present significant challenges to your inventory management, picking, packing and more.

Should you fail to plan in things like manufacturer lead times, you can easily find yourself running out of inventory, resulting in many unhappy, dissatisfied customers. Because of this, offering subscription boxes can generate additional administrative and financial burdens for your business.

Quality control

Part of the appeal of subscription boxes is that they often present products in beautiful, sometimes personalised, packages.

Maintaining this level of presentation requires considerable attention to quality control as well as picking and packing. If your standards start to slip and consumers find your subscription boxes to be sloppily (or even worse, incorrectly) packed, you’ll quickly lose customers.

It’s about scale

As you can see, when it comes to the effective fulfilment of subscription boxes, it’s all about scale.

Once you reach a particular volume of orders, then you may face insurmountable barriers to the continued, effective, fulfilment of your subscription boxes in-house.

So, what’s the solution? Outsourcing of course!

When you should outsource your subscription box fulfilment

Okay, so you’ve determined that you may be better off outsourcing the fulfilment of your subscription boxes.

But when is the right time to do so?

Naturally, this varies from eCommerce retailer to eCommerce retailer. It depends on what exactly you’re shipping, where you’re shipping it to and the volume of boxes that you’re shipping.

However, there is a general rule that may help you make your decision to outsource:

For many eCommerce businesses, 500 subscribers is the threshold at which they outsource the fulfilment of their subscription boxes.

This is the scale at which it becomes commercially viable for an outsourcing provider to undertake the work, whilst also saving you time, money and hassle.

How to select a fulfilment partner for your subscription boxes

When it comes to selecting a fulfilment partner for your subscription boxes, there are several things which you should factor into your decision.

Cost

Does the cost of outsourcing your fulfilment work out cheaper than doing it in house? It’s almost always cheaper to outsource fulfilment, especially when you reach larger scales, however, you should still take the time to do the math.

Consider the following things in your calculations:

  • What are the hourly expenses associated with your employees that undertake fulfilment?
  • Are these costs cheaper or more expensive than the fulfilment company’s pricing plan?
  • How much have the subscription box materials been costing you? Are these things included in the fulfilment company’s pricing plan?
  • Are there any additional fees associated with the fulfilment company?

Answering these questions will help you to determine whether or not it makes economic sense to outsource the fulfilment of your subscription boxes.

Custom packaging

One of the most appealing things about subscription boxes is the packaging and the way they are packed. For many consumers, there’s a genuine sense of excitement every time they receive their subscription box.

If you’re thinking about outsourcing your fulfilment, you want to make sure that the fulfilment company is able to maintain that level of customisation.

So, ensure you work with a fulfilment partner that allows you to provide your own packaging, and who will follow your pre-determined packing instructions.

Remember, getting small things like this right every time will improve the perception of your subscription boxes and help you gain more sign ups.

Order and inventory visibility

Handing over your fulfilment to an outsourced provider is a big deal. After all, you’ve spent significant amounts of your time building up your subscription box business.

You don’t want to hand over your fulfilment only to find yourself in an informational blackhole…

Which is why, when you’re looking for a fulfilment partner, you need to select one that provides you with full visibility of your inventory and orders. Ideally, this should be via a digital dashboard. You should be able to see that your subscription boxes are being fulfilled correctly and on time every month.

Competitive shipping

Whether you’re shipping subscription boxes domestically or internationally, you want to ensure that you choose a fulfilment partner that has partnerships with a range of quality carriers.

Outsourced fulfilment providers such as 3PL get the best shipping rates, from the best carriers.

Think of it this way – the best fulfilment providers work with multiple carriers every single day. They should be able to offer you excellent shipping rates.

Account management

Your fulfilment is important. That’s why you should choose a fulfilment partner that provides you with a dedicated account manager.

Fulfilment providers such as 3PL appoint dedicated account managers to ensure that every part of your subscription box fulfilment goes to plan. Plus, they act as your first point of contact should you have any questions.

Beware of fulfilment providers that only offer anonymous helplines or email addresses!

Time to outsource your subscription box fulfilment?

If your subscription box business is booming, it might be time to outsource your fulfilment. If that’s the case, then speak to 3PL today. We have a huge amount of experience and very many happy subscription box customers who have chosen us as their fulfilment partner.

Find out more about outsourced subscription box fulfilment now

 

Find more eCommerce and subscription box advice on the 3PL blog

 

What Makes the Most Successful Subscription Box Business? | Subscription Box Marketing: 6 Ways to Get More Sign Ups | How to Create the Ultimate Unboxing Experience for Your Brand

Barry Ryan

Barry Ryan is Marketing Manager at 3PL. He researches and writes everything you need to know about eCommerce fulfilment and logistics.