Natural and Organic Product Fulfillment: Fragility
Many natural and organic product types are fragile. Consider, for instance, food or beverages which are often packaged in glass, hard plastic, or flexible materials – all of which are susceptible, in their own ways, to different forms of damage in transit. To minimize risk, sellers, therefore, often utilize corrugated mailers, pre-formed corrugated inserts, and ample void fill – all of which significantly increase the costs of not only packaging materials (relative to alternatives like bubble mailers and polymailers), but handling (due to lost efficiencies at the fulfillment level) and shipping (due to increased weight and dimensional weight) as well. Creams, lotions, sunscreens, and other skin care and body care products present their own unique challenges as their containers are also susceptible to breaking open in transit and ruining not only the product itself, but the overall presentation of companion products and marketing collateral as well.
A few tips:
Generally, it is better to err on the side of using too much as opposed to too little when it comes to packaging materials, but be cognizant of the cost implications (which can be heavy).
When selecting packaging materials, try to minimize weight and dimensions – the reduction of just a fraction of an inch or ounce can sometimes make a very big difference.
For liquid-based organic products, consider using adhesive strips to hold caps in place and bagging individual products to either prevent and/or contain leaks.
Natural and Organic Product Fulfillment: Temperature Sensitivity
Many natural and organic products are highly susceptible to damage from either extreme temperatures and/or humidity. Again, consider organic foods and beverages which generally eschew the use of preservatives. Naturally, exposure of such products to extreme heat, freezing cold, and/or high levels of humidity for extended periods of time is very likely to render them unfit for consumption. Accordingly, products in this category often need to be stored in climate-controlled environments – especially during the more severe months of the year. Beyond storage, keep in mind that natural and organic products can easily be damaged in transit if exposed to either extreme temperatures and/or high levels of humidity.
A few tips:
Most temperature-related fulfillment issues occur during the warmer months of the year; therefore, make sure that seasonal warehousing conditions are adequate for safe storage – if necessary, utilize climate-controlled storage options (just understand the cost-implications of doing so).
If economically feasible, consider using faster shipping methods to reduce the likelihood of damage occurring in transit.
If incorporating insulated or other specialized packaging materials into the packout, keep in mind the potential upwards pressure that such materials put on both handling and shipping costs (more on this below).
Natural and Organic Product Fulfillment: Expiration Dates
Expiration dates make order fulfillment for natural and organic products a bit more complicated when different lots (batches) overlap in storage. As newer lots are received, it’s easy for them to end up being placed physically in front of older lots which then proceed to age (endlessly) on the shelf – potentially leading to product expiration for those units which do not cycle through on a timely basis. Formal lot control processes can help to prevent these types of problems; however, they are usually accompanied by additional receiving and processing costs.
A few tips:
Informal lot-control is sometimes possible (it necessitates the physical separation of different batches and the use of fulfillment staff with substantial account-specific knowledge); however, as a human-driven process, it is inherently error-prone (we only utilize informal lot-control processes at IronLinx as a temporary, one-off type of solution).
Many expiration-oriented problems are driven by manufacturers shipping borderline “aged” products in the first place – receiving processes, therefore, should be developed to uncover these instances, if possible, before they become customer-facing.
Natural and Organic Product Fulfillment: Unboxing
Higher-end unboxing experiences are common for natural and organic products – especially those sold at premium prices. To a significant degree, given the emotional connection that most sellers are trying to create between their customers and their products, the attention paid to unboxing makes sense; however, of the many elements which tend to drive up the costs of order fulfillment, unboxing is especially notable. In and of themselves, custom packaging materials are more expensive than generic alternatives – plus, they are usually treated as independent SKUs when it comes to both storage and picking fee structures. Further, special product arrangement or presentation also increases handling time (and, therefore, the fees associated with the picking and packing of orders). Lastly, unboxing needs frequently increase either actual and/or dimensional weight – which can materially impact shipping fees.
A few tips:
Unboxing has its benefits (especially for resource-rich sellers offering premium-priced products); however, for resource-constrained sellers targeting price-conscious consumers, unboxing often does more harm (to the seller) than good.
When in doubt, remember that many online shoppers are materially price-conscious: a great product at a great price makes for an excellent model.
The cost savings ostensibly generated by the bulk purchase of customized packaging materials are often eroded by higher storage costs.
Order fulfillment for natural and organic products tends to be a bit more complicated – and, therefore, expensive – than it is for many other categories; however, with a little bit of knowledge and proper planning, much can be done to keep costs in check. As a general rule of thumb, it is our opinion that those in the category are best served from a competitive perspective by keeping things as simple and inexpensive as possible.