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How to choose the best footwear fulfillment provider

illustration of footwear: a running shoe, a high heel shoe, a soccer cleat, and a boot.

After a dip, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the footwear industry is mounting a speedy recovery. The global footwear market is forecast to hit $530.3 billion by 2027 – and retailers will need to stay ahead of the competition if they want a slice of this lucrative pie.

At the same time, order fulfillment is emerging as a bigger competitive differentiator in ecommerce. Consumer expectations have evolved beyond their order being delivered on time with the requested items. Customers want their orders faster, with more choice over delivery methods, and more flexible return policies that enable no-questions-asked refunds. 

With footwear order volumes set to rise in tandem with consumer expectations, footwear brands need a fulfillment partner who is experienced at navigating the unique challenges and opportunities of footwear fulfillment. 

In this post, we’re going to cover what should you be looking for in a footwear fulfillment services provider – and why Whiplash ticks all the boxes.

Why your ecommerce business needs a dedicated footwear fulfillment service

It’s not unusual for third-party logistics companies to class footwear as just another form of apparel for the purposes of ecommerce fulfillment. However, footwear has several unique characteristics that demand a more specialized fulfillment strategy:

The biggest challenges of footwear fulfillment

Short product lifecycles. Footwear is a highly seasonal product category where demand for different styles can change virtually overnight. Short-term fashion trends, combined with the shift from cooler to warmer weather, require a responsive footwear fulfillment strategy with accurate customer demand forecasting to reduce obsolete inventory from piling up in your warehouse.

A huge number of SKU variations. With a wide range of sizes, colors, and styles, sellers need to be able to support the tracking of thousands of unique SKUs and control proliferation for accurate inventory management. If your inventory is being stored across multiple warehouses or storefronts, footwear companies need real-time inventory visibility to ensure that SKUs are being deployed where they have the biggest chance of selling.

High return rates. Large product return volumes are widespread across ecommerce, and footwear is one of the most affected categories. A study by Nosto found that footwear is the second most frequently returned item in ecommerce, beaten only by apparel. Footwear also sees some of the highest bracketing rates, which can distort your inventory levels without superior reverse logistics. 

Meet growing omnichannel expectations. The rise of ship-to-store and store-based fulfillment strategies has given consumers increased flexibility over shopping and delivery of their orders. Footwear brands need to meet these expectations for rapid fulfillment and O2O retailing to enhance the customer experience and strengthen brand loyalty.

What you should be looking for in a footwear fulfillment provider

Real-time inventory control

Your fulfillment provider should equip you with a granular level of control over your footwear inventory. An advanced inventory management system will allow you to see all of your product variations in one place, as well as flagging issues such as low inventory levels for replenishment or insufficient stock to fulfill orders. By integrating directly with your online store and physical storefronts, you can view your inventory levels in real-time and keep an eye on how different styles or sizes are performing.

Custom packaging and labeling 

Protecting your footwear and enhancing its appearance upon delivery are both crucial for a positive customer experience in ecommerce. For SKUs heading straight to retail outlets, it’s imperative that all units are correctly labeled and packed to avoid confusion when they arrive. Partnering with a footwear provider that offers a full suite of value-added services, including custom kitting and subassembly for special edition footwear releases, enables your business to exceed customer expectations.

Superior last-mile logistics

In ecommerce, time is of the essence to meet customer expectations for rapid delivery. Finding a provider who can support multi-node fulfillment strategies across more than one warehousing or distribution center is the key to shortening last-mile delivery times to your storefronts or end customers. Being able to take additional storage space for your footwear as needed during peak times is also a major advantage to help maintain footwear integrity.

Streamlined exchange and return processing

As we mentioned above, efficient returns management is one of the most important footwear fulfillment services. When the margin for error when buying online is high, customers want reassurance that returned footwear will be processed quickly and efficiently. 

However, returns aren’t just about refunds. Boosting your exchange rate is critical to prevent your business from losing sales. A study by Shopify found that over half of returns take place because the product is either too small or too large – a massive source of footwear returns you could be converting into revenue with the right fulfillment partner.

Why Whiplash is your ideal partner for footwear fulfillment

Streamlined, scalable ecommerce technology. Whiplash enables you to manage multiple inventory locations via one intuitive dashboard. Edit, pause, and cancel orders on the fly, set custom Order Rules for packing and routing, and track specific SKUs for unprecedented control over footwear fulfillment and your supply chain.

State-of-the-art network of facilities. Our nationwide footprint is made up of 18 best-in-class fulfillment centers at strategic locations throughout the United States, including the East Coast, West Coast, and the Southeast. We can develop advanced multi-node fulfillment strategies for faster, more cost-effective shipping to your end customer or storefront. 

Self-service returns and exchanges. Set fully configurable returns workflows in just a few clicks that enable customers to initiate footwear returns without needing prior approval. Incentivize customers to make profitable exchanges via our integrations with top returns management tools, including Loop, Returnly, and Happy Returns.

Brunt Workwear: Best-in-class footwear fulfillment

‘You built these boots’ with the brunt workwear logo

Eric Girouard started Brunt Workwear when he identified a gap in the market for high-quality, affordable workboots designed for year-round wear. From the beginning, their biggest challenge was demand: When a workman needs new boots, he needs them fast.

Whiplash helped Brunt to pioneer a responsive footwear fulfillment strategy with a swift turnaround from order processing to shipping. Their launch on September 15th, 2020, saw their first orders leave the warehouse within 24 hours, which wouldn’t have been possible without Whiplash’s dedicated ecommerce platform to track the fulfillment process from end to end:

“The Whiplash platform offered us this unique interface where we could see what was happening in the warehouse in real-time. It made us really comfortable to make the switch to another provider because we knew that we didn’t need to be close by to monitor what was happening.” Eric Girouard, Founder and CEO of Brunt Workwear

Find out more about Brunt Workwear’s footwear fulfillment journey with Whiplash.

At Whiplash, we know footwear. With decades of operational experience at delivering on our clients’ promises to their end customers, enhancing the customer experience with best-in-class fulfillment is what we do best. Find out more about our footwear fulfillment services and how we assist both emerging and multinational footwear brands.

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