Due to the special packaging and handling requirements inherent to the category, beauty and cosmetics order fulfillment is not only uniquely challenging, but oftentimes much more expensive than anticipated by new entrants in the eCommerce space.

In this post, we explore the following:

  • Fragility
  • Temperature sensitivity
  • Expiration dates
  • Shipping restrictions
  • Luxuries — and related expectations

Beauty and Cosmetics Order Fulfillment: Fragility

Of course, beauty and cosmetics products are generally quite fragile.  Consider, for instance, eye shadow palettes – a product type so delicate that a sharp look can (nearly) cause them to shatter.  To minimize the likelihood of damage in transit, palettes usually call for several layers of thick bubble wrap (one or two is insufficient) and a corrugated carton.  Such requirements drive substantial cost increases (relative to a polymailer or bubble mailer) – especially if the weight of the package is pushed up over one pound (which is a critical line of demarcation when it comes to shipping costs).  Creams, lotions, and sunscreens present their own unique challenges as their respective containers (usually bottles, tubes, or jars) can easily crush and/or break open in transit – ruining not only the affected item(s), but the overall presentation of any companion product(s) as well.

A few tips:

  • When in doubt, use more protective materials as opposed to less.
  • Keep in mind that corrugated cartons generally increase materials, handling, and shipping costs – the latter being especially problematic if the extra weight of a carton (relative to a polymailer or bubble mailer) takes things above one pound.
  • For bottles, tubes, or jars that could open in transit, the use of plastic bags and adhesive strips (to hold caps in place) is generally recommended for all individual items.

Beauty and Cosmetics Order Fulfillment: Temperature Sensitivity

Beauty and cosmetics products often do not handle either extreme temperatures and/or humidity well.  Lipstick, for instance, can easily melt; soap and wax-based products tend to attract moisture (which can “sweat through” and wreck product packaging); and liquid-based products can freeze (and shatter their containers).  For many items, therefore, climate-controlled storage is a must – especially during the warmer months of the year.  Keep in mind, though, that beauty and cosmetics products can also be damaged by heat, cold, and/or humidity either during or post-transit – a parcel left unattended on a hot porch, for instance, can easily be ruined before the intended recipient takes possession of it.

A few tips:

  • The summer months are especially problematic – make sure that warehouse conditions are suitable for safe storage and also consider faster shipping methods to reduce product exposure to high temperatures in transit.
  • Many warehouses and fulfillment companies offer both climate-controlled and non-climate-controlled options – consider leveraging non-climate-controlled storage during milder times of the year to reduce costs (this carries some risk, but is quite common).
  • Thoughtfully developed product packaging can minimize the likelihood of damage due to both extreme temperatures and/or humidity.

Beauty and Cosmetics Order Fulfillment: Expiration Dates

Expiration dates make fulfillment more complicated when different lots (batches) overlap in storage.  The last thing an eCommerce seller wants to find out is that a significant amount of inventory has become unsellable because newer units (with later expiration dates) were physically placed in front of older units when received into storage and, subsequently, shipped last-in, first-out (LIFO) instead of first-in, first-out (FIFO).  Lot control helps to prevent these errors; however, formal lot control processes tend to increase both receiving and order fulfillment fee structures (via lot-specific barcoding and scan verification). 

A few tips:

  • Informal lot control is sometimes possible (it usually consists of the physical separation of separate lots and pickers with substantial account-specific knowledge); however, as a human-driven process, it is naturally error-prone and not advisable except for unusual, one-off circumstances.
  • Many expiration-related issues are actually the result of manufacturers shipping borderline “aged” products – a problem which comprehensive receiving processes can help to identify before becoming customer-facing

Beauty and Cosmetics Order Fulfillment: Shipping Restrictions

Due to their components, many beauty and cosmetics products have shipping restrictions.  Alcohol-based products such as perfume and cologne, for instance, are flammable – thereby necessitating the use of ground-based shipping methods.  Until recently, products containing CBD and/or other hemp-based extracts were in something of a grey zone when shipped domestically; however, even now, shippers are responsible for maintaining accurate sourcing records – and international shipments remain problematic.  And, of course, prescription products have their own stringent regulatory requirements.

A few tips:

  • Know your products and their components.
  • Understand that the rules differ across not only carriers, but shipping methods.
  • For international shipments, be especially careful to not run afoul of necessary customs reporting requirements.

Beauty and Cosmetics Order Fulfillment: Luxuries – And Related Expectations

Given the high price points typical of products in the beauty and cosmetics space, eCommerce customers tend to have very little patience for anything short of an outstanding buying experience.  Making this even more challenging is the tendency of purchasers to have trouble distinguishing between errors made by brands as opposed to those made by third-party vendors (manufacturers, fulfillment providers, carriers, etc.)  As a whole, when an error occurs (say an eye shadow palette shatters in transit), customers could generally care less as to why or how it happened, they simply want things fixed (which usually entails a replacement shipment, a full refund, or both).  Any commercially reasonable steps that can be taken, therefore, to minimize avoidable errors (and the resulting headaches, bad reviews, and other penalties associated with them) are advisable.

A few tips:

  • Luxury items are often coupled with a high-end unboxing experience – just keep in mind that the cost implications of such packouts can be substantial (not only in terms of packaging materials, but handling and shipping as well).
  • Understand that brands are held responsible by customers for all mistakes – build buffers for reshipments, refunds, and chargebacks into your margins.

Conclusions 

The beauty and cosmetics space has enormous potential for eCommerce sellers; however, as the complexities associated with storing, picking, packing, and shipping many of the product types in the category are notable, it is imperative that new entrants allocate a more-than-adequate portion of their budgets to fulfillment and logistics – while understanding that actual costs are likely to come in even higher still.