Before the end of the year, I wanted to take the time to share some experiences our team has had in 2016 with various EDI integration projects, where we enabled some of our clients in the manufacturing industry to “drop-ship” their merchandise, directly to consumers.
The term “drop-ship” has been used quite a lot in 2016 by retailers and manufacturers alike. This supply chain management method looks to be gaining in popularity going into 2017 and will likely be in high demand for years to come as well.
Let me first explain the meaning of drop shipping and how it has become so popular…
What is Drop Shipping?
“Drop-ship” is a fulfillment method where a merchant does not carry any inventory on hand. Instead they sell products to consumers via an online store (eCommerce), send the customers’ orders to the manufacturer and have the manufacturer ship the goods directly to the customer. The customer will never know the difference since they pay the merchant and receive their goods in a box with the merchant’s labels. This method eliminates the need for the merchant to handle the goods.
The Rise of Drop-Ship Popularity
Due to the fast evolution of eCommerce, coupled with the continuous challenges that businesses face to reduce costs and increase profitability, the drop-ship method is in high in demand by major retailers. You’ll find that eCommerce giants like Amazon.com, Costco.com, Cabelas.com, Sears.com and others, are increasing the pressure on their supply chain to adopt the drop-ship concept. Of course, they also require their business partners to comply with their EDI requirements and specs for a full automation of the entire sales cycle.
The Complexity behind Drop Shipping
If we take a behind-the-scenes look at drop shipping from 2 perspectives, from the eCommerce retailer, like Amazon or Cabela’s, and from the manufacturer of goods, we’ll find the simplicities and complexities behind each process.
From the perspective of the eCommerce retailer, the drop-ship method allows them to eliminate the need to carry any inventory and to ship their goods. Their process is rather simple, profitable and quick. All they need to do is sell products online and ensure that their partnered manufacturers are EDI and drop-ship ready. Once they sell products from their eCommerce site, they will send the orders via EDI to their manufacturer and the manufacturer takes it from there.
From the perspective of the manufacturer, we’ll find some of the complexities. However, if they are setup correctly from the get-go, then it becomes rather simple and quick. In this case, the drop-shipper (manufacturer or distributer) is entirely in charge of the fulfillment of all incoming eCommerce orders (from the retailer). They need to process the sale all the while complying with the retailer’s business specifications such as EDI. Let’s go over the top 4 challenges a manufacturer must overcome during a drop-ship EDI implementation;
Top 4 Challenges the Drop-Shipper Might Face
If you are a manufacturer and have recently partnered with an eCommerce retailer to sell your products, then you might already know that they will require you to drop ship and automate your sales process through EDI integration. I have listed below the top 4 challenges you might face as a drop shipper;
1. Ability to submit accurate inventory feed (846) to the eCommerce retailer
When starting a new business relationship with an eCommerce retailer based on the drop-ship method, the first step will be to feed inventory & per-item stock statuses to the retailer in a timely manner. This inventory inquiry/advice document is called EDI 846. Major retailers such as Amazon.com, Cabelas.com, Costco.com and Wal-Mart.com require their Trading Partners to send them an 846 document at least twice a day so that their online store can properly show only available products, based on inventory available to ship. Most of the time, companies either don’t have an accurate inventory system or their stock status is not properly maintained, which can be a great challenge to overcome. Even if companies have accurate inventory statuses, many of their management software systems, even reputable and expensive systems such as JDE, do not have built-in capabilities to send the 846-inventory status in X12 format, as per the requirements of the retailers.
2. Ability to receive and process EDI orders (850)
Another challenge comes in the form of receiving EDI purchase orders (document 850). Many companies struggle with the capability to receive EDI orders, process them and integrate them quickly into their management system before it is sent to the pick/pack/ship process down the line in the supply chain. Most software systems are still missing this integration capability and require end users to manually key-in orders received in EDI x12 format, to then be able to process and ship. This is a great challenge for many manufacturing and distribution businesses. Dealing with eCommerce Stores, orders are continuously coming in, at all hours, in high volumes. The client (retailer) typically expects the manufacturers to ship within 24 to 48 hours (at the latest!). Moreover, eCommerce retailers are expecting to receive a P/O acknowledgment (document 855) via EDI. Therefore, it’s extremely critical that the drop shipper is equipped with a fully integrated software solution where EDI orders can automatically come through in real-time, so that they are quickly processed.
3. Ability to fulfill orders within a very short period of time
As previously mentioned, eCommerce retailers expect their partners to ship goods to the end-consumer within a very short time frame (24 to 48 hours). They expect them to package the products, print customized picking/packing slips to send with the goods and complete the shipping process in a very quick manner. In case of failure to comply, there is a risk the vendor will be eliminated from the program. At the logistics level, an important challenge is to have a management system and required resources to process orders, pick, pack and ship in the required time frame. Efficiency in this case is imperative since time is money.
4. Ability to electronically submit Ship Notices (856) & Invoices (810)
Two other EDI x12 documents are sent out to the eCommerce retailer by the drop shipper; the Advance Ship Notice or ASN (document 856) and of course an invoice (document 810). Most companies don’t currently have the capability to turn those business documents into an x12 EDI format and submit to the Trading Partner, straight from their management system.
Overcoming Drop-Ship Challenges
Our team’s experience with EDI drop-ship has allowed us to overcome the above challenges in an efficient and timely manner. Since every project varies, it’s important to do the following;
- Surround yourself with experts in EDI who have the experience in dealing with drop-ship projects. It’s important to have enough knowledge and expertise in these methods prior to beginning any EDI drop-ship project. It’s important to get organized internally before any major project.
- Ask an EDI Provider, who offers flexible and affordable EDI & IT services, to help you streamline your processes and advise you on best practices.
- Opt for a full EDI integration with your current management software solution, if possible. Of course, such an option is not always possible or provided by your Software provider but if it is, it’s our recommendation to go ahead with this since it will eliminate chargebacks and increase efficiency in your EDI projects so you are best capable of complying with your Trading Partners’ demands. Don’t forget, partner demands and specs can change at any moment. It’s best to ensure you can handle changes at a moment’s notice. (Flexibility is the way to go!)
If you’re looking to complete an EDI Drop-Ship project, contact us today. We’ve got the experts and the EDI2XML service to get you drop-ship ready. Contact us today for your FREE consultation to evaluate your EDI project.