It’s certainly not the most glamorous part of starting a startup, but distribution logistics are a big deal for customer satisfaction and fulfillment flow. Here’s how SP Express is helping e-commerce startups and SMBs.

So you made a product that people will love. But how are you going to ensure that they get it?

It’s certainly not the most glamorous part of starting a startup, but distribution logistics are a big deal for customer satisfaction and fulfillment flow.

Basically, you need to know how you’re going to get your fancy new product out to the masses without having to hire a whole new department or rent a warehouse space. That’s where SP Express comes in.

We talked to the company’s Director of Marketing and Agency Services, Brian Crowder, about how supply chain technology is catching up with the times and driving a change in how (and when) we send and receive e-commerce products.

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At a big company like Amazon, there’s a massive system that’s always evolving. Soon we may even get our packages delivered by drones while we’re stuck in rush hour traffic.

It might sound farfetched, but it’s a future that Crowder is preparing for and working toward at SP Express.

“In the past 5 years, e-commerce has seen such advances in technology that it’s possible now for almost anyone to play.”

For SP Express, most of the inquiries come from startups with 2,000-3,000 orders per month via various channels. SP Express can house those companies’ goods in one or many of its six warehouses, strategically placed in New Jersey, Virginia, Dallas, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and the Netherlands.

When an order comes in for a company’s items, the order is approved or not approved.

If approved, it goes to a facility to be picked up; it prints out; then it’s either guaranteed to be fulfilled that day or it’s held for later.

This cycle is already made transparent to the customer, but SPE’s ultimate goal is for that transparency to go both ways with better dashboards and more user-navigated fulfillment.

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Lead with tech. Support with people.

While the boom in automated technology has helped SP Express create APIs for big systems and write their own software, their success can be attributed to both their systems and the people who run them.

“We have a very specific role to play in the value chain. It’s a physical service that we’re providing so that requires infrastructure. It requires people. And those people really need good data. They need good information all the time.

“So, the number-one thing that we’ve built on our own is this core location service where we capture the orders coming in from multiple channels for our customers.”

SPE’s customers have completely guided the way for growth.

Crowder explained, “To keep up with order volume, we’ve employed smart hardware, like networked scan guns and inventory-dedicated tablets in our warehouse environment.”

With more clients and more space acquired, they’ve made their system increasingly smarter to manage inventory across multiple locations.

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On the human side of things, Crowder said it’s important to hold hands and offer flexibility.

“We have an entire division called ChannelCode that’s dedicated to building and selling stores for e-commerce,” he said. “Because fulfillment is so big, there’s always room for more eyeballs on an order — more human interaction.”

It may seem strange to think that, even though the reality of drone deliveries is growing ever closer, human interaction will still be an invaluable component of e-commerce fulfillment. But that’s what Crowder predicts.

He says it’s all about following the story of a customer’s purchase and predicting their needs.

“[Automatic, transactional e-mails are] cheap, and the data that you get out of your automation is great. But imagine if you had a person on the other end … to truly follow up to make sure your experience was great.”

That’s the void that SPE is filling, with 120 seats in their customer care center managing purchases from end-to-end, all on behalf of other companies.

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What’s next for e-commerce fulfillment?

On SPE’s more immediate to-do list is creating smarter customer-facing dashboards and deeper API integrations. But down the line, they’d like to give users more control over the fulfillment cycle.

What they want to do is give you the ability to change the dropoff location of your order at the last minute by triangulating three locations: where you are, where your item is, and where you’re going.

For example, let’s say you’re leaving on a trip from LA to Mexico in two days. You buy a new swimsuit and schedule it to arrive at your hotel the day you get to Mexico. But then your flight gets delayed a day.

What SP Express wants to do is give you the ability to control the final destination of your shipment until the very last possible moment. So you could change the address to your house in LA and the fulfillment cycle won’t skip a beat.

Crowder calls this the “Holy Grail of order fulfillment.”

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The technology-first part of the development world right now is doing great things with order flow management.

What’s important to take away from SPE’s efforts and small businesses’ evolution into the world of fulfillment is that the rules are changing and companies are willing to scale with you.

For SP Express, a great customer isn’t really determined by their number of orders, so much as the amount of value we’re able to provide them,” said Crowder.

The ultimate goal for tech-first fulfillment cycles is to create fewer touchpoints. For SP Express and other fulfillment services, that requires continually evolving integrations and using technology to leverage mobility and human interaction.

SP Express hopes that, by providing more integrated services, the world of e-commerce can rely on fewer touchpoints to save time and money, thereby evolving the future of distribution for big and small business alike.

Images via Visual Hunt

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