Halfords have recently started using their MetaPack system to gain the benefits of drop shipping while avoiding the pitfalls.

Retailers invest billions upon billions of pounds in stock that they do not need to hold in warehouses that they do not need to build, and in equipment that they do no need to procure. Why? Because they are working to customer service standards that they do not recognise can be met and even surpassed if they let their suppliers’ ship direct to the consumer on their behalf. With Drop Shipping this huge investment in stock can not only be minimized but the range of products offered can be greatly increased. As Patrick Wall, CEO of MetaPack says, “drop ship is a hot topic just now. Retailers are bound to be interested because not only does it extend their offer, it also reduces their working capital.” This is something Halfords realised some time ago. Jon Asbury, Multi-Channel Development Manager at Halfords explains, “we were looking to expand our range of products, so while the store buyers would edit their choice of what to stock, we made the whole range available online through direct ship. That way we could also collect business intelligence on what people bought and feed that back to the store buyers. However, customer services found the fulfilment process too difficult and there was no visibility.”

And this is the Achilles heel of drop ship – losing control of the delivery. The main issue being visibility, in that once a shipment has left a remote supplier, the retailer loses sight of the shipment. Any customer query then falls into the process where the contact centre need to ring the shipper, the shipper ring the carrier etc. and it gives a totally unsatisfactory shopper experience. Added to this is the disparity that can arise in the last mile customer experience depending on whether the bought item is shipped from the retailers own warehouse or the suppliers’. The retailer pays the supplier for both the product and its delivery and yet has no control over how it is handled.

Halfords realised that for their dropship to work effectively they needed to eradicate these pitfalls. After searching around for various integration systems, they chose MetaPack’s delivery management software. Asbury explains, “MetaPack were the obvious choice when looking at streamlining our dropship service as it was not only available without any major integration and at short notice but had everything else we were looking for. The system has allowed us to allocate time more productively, reduce and manage costs and provides us with a greater level of flexibility with our delivery options, but most importantly it has given a greater level of visibility which enables us to continue to provide a consistently high level of customer service.”

MetaPack’s multi-carrier management system links up the whole fulfilment process by automatically transferring and interpreting information between systems. The web front end, warehouse, carrier, 3PL and supplier can all be integrated via an API and complete visibility of the order through to delivery and even return, can be maintained. For drop shipping either the supplier or the retailer can be the “owner” of the system and thereby can control who has access and the breadth of their visibility. Halfords have been using MetaPack for some time and recently took on the drop ship option. The Halfords drop ship process is as follows: every morning customer services use a single click to import order data from SAP to MetaPack. Each of their suppliers are set up as a separate warehouse within the MetaPack system, each with their own log in. When the suppliers log on to MetaPack through their web browser, they see only their own Halfords orders as pre-allocated consignments. MetaPack then prints the carrier labels for them and automatically sends the carrier the collection notices. From this point onwards it becomes a “Halfords delivery” and their contact centre retains visibility of the order throughout its life from upload to delivery within the MetaPack system. Thus enabling Halfords to provide full customer care and proactively contact the customer should the need arise. This in turn reduces the number of inbound calls, making the whole process a lot more scalable. Halfords are now able to extend their product range further without incurring any overheads, expand their delivery offers and increase flexibility and visibility when shipping from suppliers. All these factors contribute to an outstanding shopping experience. The feedback from their suppliers is extremely positive too, as they no longer have to manually enter each consignment into their system, or answer delivery enquiries, saving their time and resources too.

The first shipper to join the operation increased their lines offered on the Halfords’ web site from single figures to in excess of 100. Asbury concludes, “we’ve been using MetaPack for some time now and are extremely happy with the service we receive. It has improved our general delivery process considerably, making it more manageable and scalable.”

Halfords also plan to offer a “collect at store” option to their customers which will also be implemented through MetaPack. Here the parcel will be allocated to a courier as before but the delivery address will be ‘Customer Name, c/o Halfords store address’. Options such as these can significantly increase first delivery success and provide customers with a wider variety of options to suit their lifestyle.


Published on: 2:53PM on 23rd November 2009