Director of Bookstore Services Cyndi Farrington shares her tried and true best practices
The 49er Shops have a long history serving the California State University, Long Beach campus – since 1953 to be exact – and a long history fulfilling, packing and shipping orders. While their foray into eCommerce and online fulfillment didn’t start until 2008, their mail order fulfillment started in the early ‘00s. Director of Bookstore Services Cyndi Farrington, who has overseen many of the shop’s operations in her 30-year tenure, has shared her online-fulfillment best practices with us, plus advice for stores starting out in the space.
A start in mail-order fulfillment
The 49ers Shops implemented PrismWeb in 2008, but in the early ‘00s, the store was offering mail-order fulfillment for CSU’s nursing program and the online teacher credential program across the entire state of California.
“As a result, we were very familiar with order fulfillment and shipping out,” explains Farrington. “Before eCommerce, we had a lot of strength, history and experience in how to ship orders, especially large amounts of orders. All the things you deal with in eCommerce, we were already dealing with in our mail order model.”
Transitioning into eCommerce
As soon as the store implemented PrismWeb, they began building their eCommerce platform and offering shipping, as well as reevaluating other offerings.
“We had done textbook reservations before eComm,” says Farrington, “And, we continued that offering for a couple semesters, but it was too confusing. We were doing in-store reservations, textbook pickup and ship-to-home. It got to be too much.”
That reevaluation allowed the 49ers Shops to focus on the web and fine-tune online ordering, shipping and in-store pickup.
“Since the very beginning, we’ve seen nothing but an upward trend in eCommerce fulfillment. We’ve done 234,741 web orders in our history, which includes a combo of shipping and in-store pickup for general merchandise and course materials,” she adds.
Order fulfillment best practices
Farrington has years of experience navigating the challenges of online order fulfillment and has developed tried and true best practices for a successful program.
- If you see it in store, you should put it online. “There’s a lot we didn’t get online before the pandemic, and now it’s in our markdown schedule, because no one had the opportunity to buy it. Had it been online, we could have sold it,” Farrington explains.
- Integrate with UPS. “With our UPS integration, we can type in web order numbers and it auto-populates the shipping address. Then customers automatically receive an email saying their order has shipped. It’s something customers expect now,” she says.
- Stay on top of customer communication. “Ensure a team member is dedicated to answering phones and email, because customers expect immediate communication. Shoppers have the same expectations of a campus bookstore as they do with other online retailers. Their expectation doesn’t change because of who we are,” urges Farrington.
- Staff appropriately to turn around orders. “Currently, pretty much my entire staff is dedicated to getting web orders done first thing in the morning, and we go on from there,” she explains. For reference, the 49ers Shop has seen a high of 1,500 textbook orders in one day during the pandemic, and they process those orders within a day. Farrington also notes that for spring graduation, the shop saw a surge in general merchandise sales online. A previous normal may have been around 75 general merchandise orders in one day, and this past spring, the store saw 800 in one day. In our current climate, it’s imperative to be ready for these types of changes, she says.
- Have a defined process, and stick to it. “No matter what your process is, make sure it’s followed. Then, if something isn’t right, you know why it happened, because you can trace the problem to its source,” Farrington says.
- Find what works for you. “When we first started our online fulfillment process, we were filing orders by last name, and we soon discovered that didn’t work. Then we tried it by the entire web order number, and that got complicated. We eventually settled on a system using the last three numbers of the web order number,” she explains. “You learn as you go along what works and doesn’t work and what might be better for you than not.”
- Be flexible and adaptable to change. These words of advice are even more important right now as campus stores navigate the pandemic landscape and adjust for limited or virtual classes. When trying to navigate change or find a solution to a problem, Farrington suggests pulling the entire team together and talking through the issue. “Make sure everyone has a piece in it and can talk about how it will affect their part of the operation. Then deal with concerns and move forward.”
Now more than ever is the time to fine-tune your store’s eCommerce experience and order fulfillment process. With flexibility, adaptability and an effective eCommerce platform like PrismWeb, you’ll be well on your way to scaling your order fulfillment model and eCommerce business.