When Jeni Britton Bauer of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams decided to launch an online store back in 2004, just two years after opening her first retail location, her entire team knew that the logistics of shipping a product like ice cream wasn't going to be easy.
Add to the equation that the company's frozen products are made without stabilizers, and you can see why this aspect of the online business proved to be increasingly complex.
They weren't alone in this feeling. Data shows that order fulfillment is one of the top barriers to growth in the world of online business. Packaging and shipping out orders purchased through an online portal can quickly become a nightmare for brick-and-mortar retailers who are new to online sales--and because of this, it sometimes keeps business owners from entering the online sales environment completely.
Jeni's wasn't going to let the challenge stand in their way. The team dove in, on a mission to find a way to keep products perfectly frozen from the shipping dock to the customer's doorstep.
Charly and Tom Bauer (Jeni's husband and brother-in-law) started experimenting. From fishing coolers to pellets of dry ice, they conducted rounds and rounds of tests and worked with delivery services UPS and FedEx to find the perfect shipping solution.
It wasn't a quick discovery. At first, they found that dry ice posed it own set of risks and that extremely cold air made packaging brittle. " One of the biggest challenges we had early on was figuring out the best shipping container to use," Bauer said. "We tested dozens of styles and sizes until we got it right. As with most difficult things, there's no substitute for experience--we did a lot of trial and error, experimenting, and learning from mistakes."
When all was said and done, they'd put in more than 1,000 hours testing and perfecting their shipping process.
Today, about ten percent of the brand's total revenue comes from online orders--but the online store has also been part of larger company strategies beyond direct sales.
"Being able to ship our product (even when we only had a single location) helped us build national network of fans who would do or pay just about anything to get their hands on our ice cream," said John Lowe, the company's CEO. "This came in handy as we expanded the geographic footprint of our scoop shops and launched our wholesale business. Additionally, anytime someone ordered our ice cream, we got their contact info, which helped us build out customer files and enable one-to-one direct contact via email and social media years later."
Lowe recommends that other brands facing what feels like insurmountable logistical challenges should remember three key things: