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Top considerations for shipping cosmetics as a D2C brand

illustration of a woman looking at her phone on a couch. emerging from her phone are cosmetics products going into a box.

The U.S. beauty industry raked in nearly $50 billion in revenue in 2020 despite the global pandemic, with a forecast growth rate of 5.1% per year. As more D2C makeup brands enter the fold to compete with established industry heavyweights, there’s no sign that growth is going to flatten out any time soon. 

But while it may seem like a goldmine industry, cosmetics also present a number of challenges within the order fulfillment process. It requires a much more specialized approach across storage, packing, and shipping – and this can be quite overwhelming for brands who are new to this space or are looking to expand operations.

As an expert in cosmetic fulfillment, Whiplash is here to take you through all of the considerations your business needs to make when shipping cosmetics (and how we can help!)

Why are cosmetics challenging for order fulfillment?

A category spanning a multitude of product types and regulations, cosmetics often require a more considered approach to order fulfillment and shipping.. As a merchant, it’s important that you have a good understanding of the unique considerations involved with this market:

A wide variety of product characteristics

Cosmetics products can differ widely in their storage and handling requirements. The average inventory will include liquid products (often packaged in glass bottles), pressed powders, and gels, as well as accessories such as sponges or brushes. These characteristics may demand very different approaches, which can make your order fulfillment ‘rules’ complex to create and carry out.

Stricter shipping and packaging regulations

It often comes as surprise to consumers (and some businesses) that many beauty products are classified as ‘hazardous’ substances. This has a huge impact on the order fulfillment process and how items need to be shipped. Many beauty mainstays, such as perfumes and nail polish, require specific handling and packaging types that can add extra, costly steps to the fulfillment process.

Shelf life

Although they might not be as perishable as food items, most cosmetics items do have an expiry or a best-before date that brands need to abide by to maintain product integrity. Furthermore, most products need to be stored under specific conditions to ensure shelf life is maximized as much as possible, or earlier expiry could occur. This adds another layer of complexity to inventory management.

3 key considerations for shipping cosmetics

Understand shipping regulations

If you’re shipping cosmetics, you need to know the rules of the trade. Otherwise, you’re likely to experience delays in transit – or worse, shipments being sent back to your facilities for violating regulations.

In the U.S, the Department of Transportation (DoT) is in charge of setting the rules for how hazardous goods are shipped domestically. This includes:

For example, perfumes and nail polish fall within the Class 3 Flammable Liquids category due to having a flashpoint of 93 degrees, meaning they are subject to the above rules. See the full regulations.

Furthermore, it’s important to note that beyond DoT regulations, domestic carriers may have their own rules regarding the transportation of hazardous substances. The same also applies to international shipments.  

Package products securely

Packaging is an important part of shipping hazardous goods safely and meeting DoT guidelines. However, it also helps you to avoid damage and achieve better product presentation, which is key to ensuring customer satisfaction.

For this reason, a more conservative approach to packaging is appropriate when shipping cosmetics. Here are a few tips to consider when packaging your items:

Even though these might seem like packaging 101 tips, they’re extremely beneficial. Items like air-pressurized hairspray can blow if wrapped incorrectly, causing real damage. As a result, it’s always better to be safe than sorry!

Robust warehouse infrastructure

As a high-needs product category, it’s important that your business is using the right facilities. Cosmetics can be easily damaged if they are stored incorrectly, such as in a location that’s either too humid or too dry. This is a very costly error to make, as it will require you to either write off stock or face disappointed customers who receive unusable products. Storing your products in a climate-controlled environment that can be tailored to suit your inventory is key to avoiding either scenario.

Furthermore, you also need to think about the location of your warehouses; using a centralized location might work if your customers are based in one geographic area – but not if they’re distributed nationwide. In the latter case, a network of facilities that put inventory closest to the end customer will improve your fulfillment process.

Why you should work with a 3PL for cosmetics fulfillment

FIFO/FEBO inventory management

Shipping cosmetics typically involves working with thousands of SKUs – and this is further complicated by the need to manage product quality. Unlike product categories such as apparel, you need a strategy for managing expiry dates effectively to avoid unhappy customers or costly issues with deadstock.

Working with a 3PL who can manage both FIFO (First In, First Out) and FEFO (First Expired, First Out) sequencing for your inventory means that older SKUs, or those closest to expiry, will be used to fulfill orders first. They will also help you to identify which SKUs may be in need of a push, such as a promotional deal or spotlight on your website. 

Kitting for influencer packages / boxed sets

Cosmetics is an intensely competitive market, especially within the DNVB space. Social media has driven a consumer culture where beauty influencers’ recommendations have an enormous impact on which brands and products are in demand. So, if you’re planning on gifting products or hoping to catch the eye of any influencers, first impressions definitely matter!

It can be time-consuming and logistically complex to go about sourcing custom or premium packaging on your own, and this is where working with a 3PL can be a huge advantage. As well as connecting you with potential suppliers who meet cost and performance requirements, they can also integrate your preferred packaging directly into the fulfillment process.

Climate-controlled warehousing

As mentioned above, climate control is vital during the storage process to make sure that products don’t degrade or face a shorter shelf life. If you’re self-fulfilling and storing product either at an office or within your home, it’s very difficult to keep products in optimal conditions.

Because 3PLs use purpose-built facilities designed to maintain product integrity and security, you can feel confident that your stock is in safe hands (and will get to your customer in the state it’s meant to be in!)

Seamless integration with your store

To manage orders and returns swiftly, this requires real-time visibility into both your inventory levels and the activity on your ecommerce platform. If your store and your WMS (warehouse management system) aren’t communicating effectively, you’re likely to run into a range of problems, from stockouts or costly order errors.

A technologically-advanced 3PL will act as an intermediary between all areas of the fulfillment process – from warehousing, picking/packing, and shipping to your Shopify store – by integrating with all of your software platforms for maximum clarity and ease of use.

Partner with Whiplash

The process for shipping cosmetics can seem overwhelming, which is why it’s a great idea to partner with an experienced cosmetics fulfillment provider like Whiplash. With an in-depth understanding of cosmetic shipping practices and a global network of technologically-advanced facilities, our team is on-hand to can take care of your fulfillment needs so that you can focus on growing your business.

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