deliveryAs ecommerce continues its upward growth, more and more merchants are considering and leveraging drop shipping, in which manufacturers or distributors handle and ship orders directly to the end customer. The benefits are clear: there are lower inventory costs and less risk, since retailers don’t have to stockpile inventory that might not sell.

Drop shipping inevitably means less control and any shipping errors caused by the provider will be your responsibility and ultimately reflect the brand. Also, merchants may have less visibility into product availability. For some, it may be best to use both drop shipping and order fulfillment, which can either be done in house, outsourced, or a combination of the two. Whatever the outcome, it’s important to note that the decision to begin drop shipments – and who will handle the process – must be weighed carefully.

So where to turn? Ec-bp.org has compiled this list of top drop ship resources and experts (in no particular order). Some offer educational opportunities and networking, others provide services for a fee, and some provide research and studies. The list isn’t exhaustive by any means, but it’s a good start.

Professional Organizations

1 - National Retail Federation

The National Retail Federation (NFR) is a non-profit, retail trade association representing retailers from the United States and more than 45 countries abroad. Under NRF's retail umbrella are four association groups:  the Association for Retail Technology Standards, the National Council of Chain Restaurants, the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association and Shop.org. Additional information on these groups can be found at NRF Divisions. In addition to the divisions, NRF has a research and education arm as well as a monthly magazine.

2 - Direct Marketing Association

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) is a global trade association of businesses and nonprofit organizations using and supporting multichannel direct marketing tools and techniques. Central to the DMA’s mission is its advocacy of industry standards for responsible marketing. The association also provides research, education, and networking opportunities. Founded in 1917, DMA today represents companies from dozens of vertical industries in the US and 48 other nations, including nearly half of the Fortune 100 companies, as well as nonprofit organizations.

3 - Retail Industry Leaders Association

The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) is a trade group representing American retailers, with representation in among key retail segments including: apparel, consumer electronics, department stores, home improvement, large format and small format. The association is an advocacy and lobby group, and also provides a forum where members can network and participate in educational events. RILA is structured to focus on five core areas: Supply Chain, Asset Protection, Finance. Human Resources and Enterprise Issues (Sustainability, Privacy).

Market Research Firms

4 - Retail Systems Research

Founded by Brian Kilcourse, Paula Rosenblum, Nikki Baird and Steve Rowen – all long time retail industry observers and practitioners – Retail Systems Research (RSR) provides insight into business and technology challenges facing the retail industry ecosystem. The firm works one-on-one with companies and also regularly publishes market data, reports and studies. The firm’s blogs, written by the RSR analysts, also offer a variety of insights and research.

5 - IDC Retail Insights

IDC Retail Insights assists retail industry executives, and vendors serving retailers with business-driven technology investments.  The firm provides market research and merchant-centric strategies designed to enable better offerings from vendors and more effective technology investment by retailers.

Consultancies

6 - F. Curtis Barry & Company   

a fulfillment consulting firm for catalog, e-commerce, and retail businesses. We offer clients expertise in business process and order management systems, inventory management systems, warehouse management systems; warehousing and distribution; call center services; inventory management and forecasting solutions; and strategic, financial, and operational planning for all business channels. The Barry firm does some work overseas -- in the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and New Zealand -- but the bulk is in the United States. A quick look at the firm’s client list is a who’s who of retailers: L.L. Bean, Nieman Marcus, Tiffany & Co., Starbucks Coffee, even Harrod’s.

7 - Marketing Systems Analysis

This consulting firm, which adamantly notes on its web-site that it is vendor-independent and has “no financial relationship with any of the vendors” in its field, covers a variety of channels, methods, and technologies merchants need and use. Led by founder and director Ernie Schell, the consultancy covers order and inventory management systems, ecommerce platforms, and fulfillment solutions such as drop shipping, as well as mCommerce, business intelligence, social marketing and even radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. Schell, in addition to his consulting experience, has served as an IT columnist and editor for several publications, including the Direct Commerce magazine in the United Kingdom, as well as a software reviewer for Multichannel Merchant. He is also a frequent speaker at direct commerce industry functions in the United States and United Kingdom.

8 - Warehouse Management Consultants

Warehouse Management Consultants (2wmc) says it specializes in developing simple and cost-effective solutions to distribution problems. The consultancy has 15 years’ experience working in warehousing and distribution environments.

9 - Optimalogica

Optimalogica is basically a one-man consulting firm, led by Maxim Mironov. Mironov offers his ecommerce fulfillment expertise to online retailers in an effort to help them reduce shipping costs, improve vendor management and streamline returns processing. Mironov also is Founder and CEO at AllegroShops, an online merchant that sells everything from furniture to fish tanks. Not surprisingly, shipping is free, and there’s no sales tax on any item AllegroShops sells. Finally, Mironov has been a contributor to MutliChannel Merchant, GetElastic and Practical E-Commerce magazines. Check out Mironov’s LinkedIn profile here.

Social Networks and Communities

10 - LinkedIn Operations and Fulfillment group.

LinkedIn is always a great resource when looking for like-minded professionals. There are groups on just about any business, technology, idealogy, etc. So, as you’d expect, there’s a LinkedIn Operations and Fulfillment group.

11 - Retail Universe

Retail Universe is a social networking site, developed by SPS Commerce, with a focus on retail industry, suppliers and logistics providers. SPS Commerce, a provider of on-demand supply chain management solutions, providing integration, collaboration, connectivity, visibility and data analytics, created the resource as an online community for trading partners. It is designed to facilitate relationships and communications between all members of the retail ecosystem. For example, a supplier can use the directory to promote its capabilities to potential retail customers. A retailer can engage potential vendors in online sourcing conversations and exchange marketing information to streamline buying decisions. The Retail Universe can also be used by 3PLs, carriers and other trading partners to better market themselves to potential supply chain partners and new customers. It’s important to note that the Retail Universe is for more than just networking. Retail Universe has a database that includes a variety of vendors, including those who provide drop ship services and software.  Suppliers can directly add product details and are Retail Universe will include links into other data repositories. 

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