If you have a business that sells products, even if your primary focus is bricks-and-mortar retail, online sales should be part of your business plan. You’ll need a good fulfilment plan if you want to increase your customer base and expand your profits. Online shoppers will drive the growth of sales in years to come, particularly as digital-native Millennials increase their buying power.

Go It Alone or Outsource your Fulfillment?

Your fulfillment strategy should go well beyond packing and shipping orders. Competent picking and packing is the absolute minimum; your fulfillment strategy can do so much more to power the growth of your business.

If you haven’t already outsourced your fulfillment, this should be part of your fulfillment strategy. Eventually, most eCommerce companies reach a point where inhouse fulfillment hampers their growth. Even most big brands use third-party logistics (3PL) companies instead of doing it themselves (with the notable exception of Amazon).

Here are seven ways you can use fulfillment to increase customer loyalty, bring in repeat sales, and build your eCommerce brand identity.

Fulfillment 101

If you’re in a very specialized, niche market, you may be able to get away without covering the basics of good fulfillment. If you’re like most eCommerce companies, however, you’ll need to fulfill these four wishes to get and keep happy customers. If this seems like a tall order, your fulfillment warehouse can help you tackle these fulfillment challenges with ease.

1. Free Shipping

Free shipping is a great way to grease the wheels of your online shopping cart.

Your customer’s route to her final purchase is littered with distractions and potential obstacles. Your job is to lead her to that order by removing reasons to change her mind. However, free shipping won’t help your business grow if it bites too heavily into your bottom line. Your fulfillment warehouse can help with that: a strategically-placed fulfillment center (or two or three) can reduce your shipping costs by putting you within one or two shipping zones of your customers, so free shipping doesn’t hurt.

2. Fast, Accurate Order Fulfillment

Wish fulfillment and order fulfillment go hand in hand. If a customer’s new golf bag can arrive before his tee time on Saturday, he’s more likely to buy. Choose fulfillment warehouses that place your products within a 2-day shipping radius of your customers and you’ve hit a birdie.

3. Great Customer Service

Everything you can do to improve your customer’s experience adds value and increases repeat purchases. Thank you notes, a helpful human voice on the other end of the customer service line, and informative, engaged responses to customer emails are just three of the many ways you can provide great customer service. Your customer service can turn an angry customer into a grateful and loyal supporter of your brand. You don’t have to do it alone. A good 3PL provider can be a valuable member of your customer service team.

4. Easy Returns

When the dressing room is your customer’s living room, a hassle-free return process with free return shipping is a must. Ease of returns has been a key factor in the growth of major eCommerce brands like Zappos and the venerable mail-order house Lands’ End. Your fulfillment center can help you put systems in place that allow your customers to make returns easily – and get your products back on the shelf and ready to ship to someone else.

The Fancy Stuff

When you’re looking for a 3PL provider, don’t stop at the fulfillment basics. A great fulfillment center will offer additional services to build your brand.

5. Custom Packaging

Everything that lands in your customer’s hands is a branding opportunity. There’s no reason to waste that opportunity by shipping orders in generic packaging. A card inside the box gives your customer something to pass on to a friend when she recommends your products. Choose a fulfillment warehouse that can ship orders in your branded packaging (hint: Fulfillment by Amazon ships in Amazon’s iconic smile boxes – not yours).

6. Personalization

If your products need a personal touch (a house number on a mailbox or a name embroidered on a baseball cap), you might think you need to keep your order fulfillment in-house, so you can provide these services to your customers. However, a full-service order fulfillment warehouse can take this work off your hands. Just ship them the blanks, and they can add the personalization just in time for the order to go out.

7. Kitting

Kitting is combining two or more products into a package with a new SKU. This is one of the most powerful tools eCommerce sellers have to increase revenue and move products off the shelves. When a customer needs a gift for his great-aunt, he doesn’t have to figure out whether she would like your plum jam or your apricot jam; he can buy a set of assorted jams, complete with a decorative jam spoon or a gift basket. Gift solved, time saved – a grateful customer. Get your fulfillment warehouse to assemble the kits for you – and make sure they have the flexibility to build and break up kits to meet customer demand. Kitting plus flexibility is a great strategy for eCommerce growth.

Whatever steps are right for your eCommerce business, don’t neglect fulfillment. Shipping orders may not be the most glamorous part of your operations, but it is the beating heart that pumps life into your eCommerce operations.