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Are there services to handle fulfillment, shipping and delivery for e-commerce?

We started working on a new mobile app (side project for now) and can use some advice:

The app offers a new take on the traditional (i.e. boring) shopping experience in online/mobile stores, with a bunch of new features, a cool UI and engagement mechanisms (we think it's pretty awesome, but what do we know...).


For the MVP, our goal is to focus on the user experience and minimize our work and resources around operations or assets - so while looking to create a complete shopping experience from within our app and with our own UI (including shopping cart, ordering and payment), we do not want to deal with fulfillment/shipping/delivery and ideally not with returns or customer support.


Any suggestions on getting something like that done quickly?

We realize that commerce operations will likely be part of the long-term roadmap, but until we are ready to scale, would rather spend our limited resources on other things.



(In case it helps, we are looking to offer a wide range of products in the long term but for the MVP don't mind focusing on a smaller subset or a niche).


8 Replies

George Calvert
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George Calvert Entrepreneur
Senior Exec
Hai, maybe you could be a little clearer about what your product / service actually is?

If you are a store, define your niche and your customer base -- then let that drive the MVP functionality. If you're ecommerce software that existing stores will deploy -- which seems more likely given your emphasizing a better UX -- build the features that are new-and-improved and rely on popular platform APIs for the rest.

Ecommerce -- whether mobile or not -- is an incredibly crowded space with Amazon, eBay, CraigsList, a gazillion niche players, plenty of well-established platform vendors and a burgeoning list of widget vendors. Success means being very focused.
Steve Simitzis
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Steve Simitzis Advisor
Founder and CEO at Treat
Check out Shipwire -http://www.shipwire.com
Juan Pollo
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Juan Pollo Entrepreneur
Janitor at Pollo Unlimited
I know some 3PL's (3rd party logistic) companies. If you want some info on the details of pick / pack and fulfillment information, just e-mail me at [removed to protect privacy]. I'll fill you in on the details. My company uses an amazing 3PL for my wholesale company. Their prices are great and they do a great job of fulfillment for a large number of big as well as small companies.
Eric Wold
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Eric Wold Entrepreneur
CEO @ RingSeven • Web & Mobile Dev • Startups
Hai, you said that focus on user experience was important, so I would encourage you to build in an easy method for users to submit feedback. I was a little concerned when you mentioned adding "customer support" later on. It wasn't clear what you meant by that.

The other challenge I see is that an e-commerce systems purpose is to sell goods. I don't think you can call it an MVP if it does not have the minimum features at every stage of the workflow needed for the life cycle of a transaction. That means rudimentary shipping too. Having built an entire ERP with storefronts and shipping I can tell you a real MVP isn't that hard. Reach out if you want some advice.
Hai Habot
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Hai Habot Entrepreneur • Advisor
Growth | Business | Marketing
Thanks everyone for the feedback!

Perhaps I should have been more clear:
We are looking to offer various products for sale in our app, for the sake of this discussion, we can assume the shopping experience can be similar to Groupon Goods or Woot, where consumers can check out and then easily order any one of the products via the app. Since we are mostly focusing on the UX at the moment, it would be great if we can find a "feed" of products to offer in the app, without having to worry too much about establishing direct relationships with the sellers, about fulfillment, delivery, returns, etc. (until we can scale and start looking more closely at optimization and operations).

@George - yes, we are aware of how crowded the space is and don't take it lightly... we do have a few ideas on where we would like to focus down the road (mostly in terms of verticals and marketing, we already have a few other built-in differentiation) but a lot of it will depend on the data and feedback we can get from consumers in the initial testing. for now trying to figure out the pieces required to get a decent version out there.

@ Steve - it looks like a great service, but more geared towards companies that have their own products or need logistics for a predefined inventory. probably not a classic for for this project but I can actually use it for another project I'm involved with where we are shipping our own product. Thx!

@Eric - agree that feedback is critical, perhaps I should have been more clear that we meant customer support around returns and product related questions which we would rather not deal with initially. is there any way around that?
Regarding your second point, assuming we are looking at (leaving aside the UX and commerce/payment infrastructure) sourcing for products (including full product metadata), then dealing with fulfillment, delivering and support (returns, tech/other support) them, we would like to eliminate the last 3 from our initial version and sort of outsource them if we can while trying to see if the other elements or good enough to justify the future investment in this project. Hope this helps clarify In case I was abusing the term MVP here (asking for forgiveness from Steve Blank and Eric Ries:))

@Juan - same comment as above

Hope this helps, would appreciate your thoughts and ideas




George Calvert
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George Calvert Entrepreneur
Senior Exec
If you want a feed of products including a fulfillment stack, take a look at Amazon's Product Advertising API. You'll note they have a mobile component too.

I'd point out that skinning someone else's catalog is going to introduce branding issues and further narrow where you can establish value-add. You've identified UX as one differentiation -- but that mostly boils down to saving customers some time googling. There are other ways to add value throughout the buying process -- Zappos' return policy, CompetitiveCyclist's product reviews, Etsy's community, etc.

FWIW the less you are narrowing your market so that you can define what its customers especially want in their buying experience -- and why they're underserved today -- the more I think your concept is a software play (rather than a commerce site).
Marco Micheletti
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Managing Partner at Pike Product Services LLC
Hai,
There are several responses provided that have touched on a variety of tools that could be useful to you or your situation, but in the end they are point solutions and may not fully fit what is best for your end to end product flow.
There are definitely a number of 3PL type partners that will work with you, providing a number of models, and I would be happy to point you in their directions if this is something that you want to dive into while developing and focussing on your MVP. There also may be limitations on the terms of service that you can provide based on how I am potentially envisioning your product flow. Without a deep knowledge of your situation I would say that an effective solution could be developed, but would require you working with someone with operational experience. If you would ever like to discuss further contact me here on FD, I would be happy to provide my thoughts on your situation based on my operational experience.
Juan Pollo
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Juan Pollo Entrepreneur
Janitor at Pollo Unlimited
I totally agree with Marco. 3PL services are what you need to get something shipped ASAP. Their expertise in logistics, integration and implementation has years of experience with integration to UPS, Fedex, DHL that you can't imagine.

Handling all logistical issues inbound and outbound are things that shouldn't be designed for the MVP because it's something the rest of the crowded field currently does better than you. A startup needs to focus on demonstrating the unfair advantage other companies can't be (UX, business model, etc...).

Be laser focused and so incredibly good at one thing before sucking at trying to be too many things.
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