Ecommerce experts at Blume, Doe Lashes, Kuru Footwear, and more identify 15 ways DTC brands can make their day-to-day operations easier.
As an ecommerce brand owner, you know how much behind-the-scenes work goes into managing your business.
Customers only see the front-end: your website, your emails, your social media ads. But what customers don't realize is how much of a role back-end operations plays in making all of your systems work smoothly. That way, they can have a seamless shopping experience.
Truthfully, managing your ecommerce operations includes some of the most time-consuming tasks. And yes, there's a science and an art to balancing your front-end needs and back-end operations.
But the frustrating part is you can't control it all—this is something that the Co-Founder of Blume, Bunny Ghatrora, has learned over time.
"There's a lot of dreams I have with operations; things that I wish were in my control," she shared. "So one thing I'm thinking a lot about is finding the things that are in my control that I can really optimize and focus on in the best way possible."
Recently, I had the chance to chat with Bunny, along with ecommerce experts at Doe Lashes, Kuru Footwear, and more, to learn what 15 functions of your operations you can control. And how you can optimize those tasks to make your brand operate more efficiently.
Essentially, I'm writing this article to say… I hear you.
Let's fix the frustrations of your day-to-day operations together.
What are ecommerce operations?
In ecommerce, day-to-day operations are the daily activities of running a business, including marketing, inventory management, fulfillment, finance, customer support, and more.
The role of operations depends from business-to-business. As the President of KURU Footwear (an innovative shoe company focusing on comfort), Sean McGinnis, puts it: “In short, it focuses on manufacturing and logistics. But depending on the size and configuration of the business, ops might also have an internal focus on tech stack selection, process development, adherence, and more.”
Think of it as all of the tasks required for your brand to function.
The efficiency of your ecommerce operations can drastically impact customers and their experience. In fact, 38% of online shoppers say they will abandon their order if the delivery will take longer than a week.
So, how do you ensure your day-to-day operations work efficiently? You make sure your internal systems work efficiently.
Making your operations more efficient
It all starts with your internal systems—how you manage tasks, communicate as a team, and document how everything works. When you increase efficiency here, it impacts the rest of your operations.
1. Understand your customers
You’ll hear a lot of marketers recommend talking to your customers, but anyone working in operations or product development can benefit from these conversations too.
“I'm constantly managing the relationships with our customers and understanding what they're seeing, what they're receiving, and where their pain points are. Try to understand what is most important to them. Is it fast shipping? Free shipping? Both?” explained Bunny Ghatrora, Co-Founder of Blume, a beauty and wellness brand focusing on skincare and period care.
She recommends using these customer preferences to develop more efficient operational strategies that meet customer expectations.
2. Use a project management software
The number one time-consumer for Doe Lashes founder Jason Wong is project management.
Why? “It’s difficult to be both a manager and an operator, which is why larger companies typically have dedicated roles for these tasks. But at our scale, I tend to need to do both,” he said.
As the founder of this growing beauty brand selling Korean Silk false lashes, Jason relies on technology to help him. And he uses tools like Asana, Zapier, and Airtable to build internal automation systems.
3. Create strong systems right away
Strong ecommerce systems today can save you a massive headache tomorrow.
Well, actually, as a first-time founder, it's easy to get caught up in the busyness of running a brand. And if you're like most of us, you accidentally deprioritize your operating systems to focus on other things.
Blume has experienced this first-hand. But after bringing in a VP of Operations, they spent time going through their current processes and finding ways to strip them back and rebuild them more efficiently.
"It was super time-consuming and took up almost all of the VP's time. But now, each month we go back to that system, we quickly see what's working and what's not, and it becomes a little bit faster," shared Bunny.
Her advice? Right from the beginning, set up your systems properly.
4. Document everything
“My favorite strategy for being more effective is to document everything and build SOPs around what we do repeatedly so we can either automate or outsource it,” said Jason Wong.
Documenting processes can also help with transferring knowledge to new employees or contractors, so they can be as efficient as possible right from day one.
In the new year, Jason plans to have more frequent team meetings to pulse check how everyone is doing their job. That way, the team can collectively assess how to improve those processes, which leads me to the next point...
5. Have regular meetings to discuss improvement
When the business grows, processes that used to work can suddenly become inefficient.
The solution is simple: host a recurring operation improvement meeting to keep efficiency top-of-mind.
Wes Blundy, Founder and CEO of bra and lingerie company Curvy, shared, “We find operation meetings useful for identifying and addressing process improvement opportunities. Most of this is done in a weekly meeting where we identify, discuss, and solve these issues together.”
This is also something that Madhu Sharoff, Founder of Kimbala (a ready-to-drink chai beverage brand), said their team does as well. While constantly evaluating every step of the process, the Kimbala team searches for inefficiencies and tests possible solutions.
And this doesn’t just include project and product management—it’s baked into everything the brand does .
The Kimbala team will try changing the type of equipment they use, altering batch sizes, adjusting the flow of their overall production, and even changing where products are produced.
If their test fails, they’ll either try again or go back to doing something the traditional way. Madhu suggests having a backup plan if you’re going to try a new way of doing something.
If you’re worried about testing new processes, you can always “fail-safe,” as Madhu puts it. This means starting small, automating as much as possible, making adjustments, and repeating if you’re successful.
6. Put resources behind your most profitable opportunities
Every founder has gone through the experience of having limited resources.
I get it—you want to do it all, but as a growing business, there are never enough hands. Ever.
According to Wes Blundy of Curvy, the hardest thing is finding the right balance between where you need to focus versus what you want to focus on.
"One of our international sites has been on autopilot with no resources for about two years now. Fortunately, the demand has been strong enough that it's on track for seven figures with less than one hour a week spent on it," Wes said. "But it's hard knowing the opportunity is so much bigger. We just don't have the resources to focus on it because our main site is in our home market and doubling year-over-year."
Put your resources behind the parts of your business that you know will have a positive ROI, and tell yourself that it's okay to take your focus off of other parts.
Improving the manufacturing-side of operations
Once your internal processes are cleaned up, start looking at where you can improve some of your external operations. Your product creation is a great place to start, and I’ve got two great tips below.
7. Maintain strong relationships with your labs and manufacturers
One way the Blume team has improved efficiency with product creation is by simply building positive relationships with their labs (AKA, manufacturers).
Not only can this help manufacturers better understand your product, but it makes them more excited to work with you.
“We see our labs and our partners as an extension of our team and treat them as so. We really want them to feel like they're along this journey with us, and that allows us to have more commitment—for lack of a better term,” said Bunny.
It’s simple math, really. If you’re working with labs that are passionate about the product and brand, they’re going to help you create the best products possible.
8. Keep detailed records of your raw materials
Keeping track of the raw materials on hand is just as important as end-product inventory. That's because knowing when you need more ingredients or materials makes your manufacturing operations less likely to be interrupted.
This is a common practice at Kimbala, and Madhu Sharoff understands the importance:
"It can be really easy to neglect keeping records of raw materials, and then all of a sudden be completely out of a critical item you need to produce your product. It's not a good look to have to take an item out of stock because you didn't re-order the labels, for example."
AKA, running out of boxes or one key ingredient sends product production processes into a tailspin. And every direct-to-consumer business knows how important it is to create and ship products on time.
Streamlining shipping and logistical operations
Shipping and logistics may cause some of the biggest headaches for you. Thankfully, these experts know their stuff and have great tips that'll make you more efficient.
9. Beat shipping expectations with clear communication
Managing shipping expectations isn’t a walk in the park. Ecommerce businesses are constantly competing with the Amazon’s of the world, making it difficult to get customers to support even a small fee.
But did you know 68% of consumers say it increases their perception of a brand when that brand sends them proactive customer service notifications?
This is why Jason believes in honesty as his primary policy when it comes to shipping costs and timelines.
“We’re upfront about what expectations are when shopping at our store. It’s really just setting those expectations with the consumer so they don’t think we can do what Amazon is doing,” he explained.
Keep in mind that being honest about your shipping costs and times can mitigate customer service inquiries. And it can reduce your cart abandonment rate if customers aren’t greeted by a nasty shipping cost surprise at checkout.
A few ways you can be upfront about shipping is by:
- Highlighting shipping costs in your promotional emails
- Adding your shipping information to every product page
- Creating an FAQ page and adding all shipping details to it
- Sending dedicated customer emails explaining any shipping delays you’re facing
Truthfully, this level of over-communication may just be the future of omnichannel marketing, earning you more customer attention and an opportunity to build deeper relationships.
10. Stick to the distribution channels that make sense
While most brands start as digitally native vertical brands (DNVBs), as they expand, many see retail or marketplaces as new avenues for growth. However, adding more sales channels adds more complexity to your daily operations.
And do you really need that right now?
The truth is, it actually doesn’t make sense for you to try and be everywhere. Instead, focus on the best experience you can give customers.
In addition to new channels creating more complexity, a secondary issue is the tension between focusing on growth and focusing on efficiency. This is why you shouldn’t expand before you’re actually ready.
Sean of KURU explained this concept well: “Underinvesting in inventory means you’re not able to satisfy the demand you’re creating, which makes your marketing less efficient. It’s the same problem with funding inventory for other distribution channels. Staying focused [on efficiency] also keeps growth possibilities in your back pocket for when you really need them.”
Unless you’re ready to put resources behind other channels to keep them running efficiently, focus only on your core channels to avoid being spread too thin.
11. Pre-book shipments to combat delays
One new process the Blume team uses is pre-booking shipments. Thinking proactively like this has really saved them from some of the current supply chain issues.
As soon as the Blume team receives a ready date—the date that the manufacturers say they'll have the next batch of products done by—the Blume team is pre-booking the shipments with carriers.
Bunny said they're pre-booking these almost one full month in advance, which has helped them avoid delays during peak times when carriers are overloaded.
"This has been really helpful because we're seeing huge delays in ports coming out of certain countries where even if the goods are ready in January, for example, they can't get on a boat until February. We are pre-booking those shipments so that when something's done in January, it actually gets out in January," she explained.
12. Use carriers you’re familiar with
Sometimes those bigger-name carriers can offer an appealing pricing package, but the Blume team explains why you should consider only using carriers you can trust.
When you're familiar with a carrier and their rates, your shipping and logistics are more likely to stick to the plan, and you can easily contact someone if there's an issue.
Blume has seen first-hand what happens when they opt for a lower-cost carrier option. "It'll be cheaper, but our pallet will get lost. And it's a few days spent trying to get a hold of somebody to tell you what's happening," said Bunny.
On the other hand, when using carriers they're familiar with, they already know who to contact and can find a resolution quicker.
She explained, "There's a little bit more control [when working with careers, you know] than there is with some of the larger carriers who are running thousands and thousands of pallets a day."
Managing your inventory system
Finally, let’s talk about demand planning. It’s never easy to know how much inventory you need to order and when, but these tips will help you improve.
13. Leverage historical data to make inventory predictions
Demand planning is always a struggle for brands. With so many external factors, it’s hard to predict where consumer demand will be a month from now, six months from now, or even over a year from now.
Ecommerce veterans say it’s important to create a system that’s as accurate as possible. Combining sales history, order lead time, and stock-on-hand is a good way to start, and if you can do this with a forecasting tool, it’s even better.
And, of course, don’t be afraid of some trial and error when starting out.
“We do our best to predict inventory based on what we know historically and what we expect our budgets are for specific channels, but it’s frankly never accurate. All we can do is to get as close to it through trial and error,” explained Jason.
By tracking a brand's real-time inventory levels and historical sales data, Cogsy builds near-perfect inventory forecasts. And you can use these forecasts as a starting point to map out different growth scenarios and plan accordingly, so you actually reach your inventory optimization and operational goals. All without ever touching a spreadsheet.
14. Plan to get rid of left-over stock
Knowing how much to order and when is extremely difficult—and it’s a science that’s never fully accurate. But it makes the burden less difficult if you have a plan to get rid of any additional stock you may have.
This will help you stay profitable, even when accidentally over-ordering. (P.s. you can use a tool like Cogsy to forecast your demand, which will be way more accurate than trying to guess.)
For example, to get rid of leftover products, you can do the following:
- Host a semi-annual sale
- Host an in-person pop-up event
- Gift it through a giveaway, contest, or to influencers
Bundle your products with a promotion as a “free sample.”
15. Keep your hottest products in stock
To avoid backups in your shipments and orders, overstock your hottest products in advance. Don’t forget to take any marketing events (like sales and promotions) into account when doing demand planning; it’s never a good look to run out of stock during a big sale.
Use demand planning software to determine where you think demand will fall based on historical data and over-order a reasonable amount.
In the event you have left-over stock, you can use the strategies I mentioned above to make good use of it still.
Besides, having extra inventory allows for creativity—and that certainly beats not having enough and backing up your operations. Just be sure that you’re making smart safety stock decisions to avoid ending up with dead stock.
Operating from day-to-day isn’t easy, but it is easy to improve
Smoothing out and documenting processes can empower your team and enable your brand to scale faster because you’ll have more time to focus on marketing, customer experiences, and other front-end tasks.
My advice to you is to stay focused on iterating on the processes you create and making better decisions with more data.
In no time, you’ll improve, and then you’ll see your customer’s experience improve. After that, revenue growth will follow!
But let’s face it, one article isn’t enough to master operations efficiency.
If you want to learn more in-depth tips about optimizing ecommerce operations, be sure to read our Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Retail Operations in 2022.