E-Commerce Raises the Snack Bar
To succeed in today's competitive marketplace, brands need to deliver a strong, direct-to-consumer experience across all their e-commerce and physical platforms, including social media, online marketplaces, website, and brick-and-mortar stores.
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Nature’s Bakery makes and distributes on-the-go soft-baked snacks, including oatmeal crumble bars and whole wheat fig bars. It sells its products through both brick-and-mortar retailers and e-commerce channels.
ITS Logistics, headquartered in Sparks, Nevada, is a third-party logistics provider offering an asset-based dedicated fleet; distribution and fulfillment services; and a nationwide, multi-modal freight brokerage firm.
"Brands need to interact with consumers in the ways that they want to interact with you," says Jonathan Bradbury, vice president of e-commerce with Nature's Bakery, which makes and distributes wholesome snacks such as oatmeal crumble bars and whole wheat fig bars. He joined Nature's Bakery in 2018, charged with defining its omnichannel e-commerce strategy.
Successful brands are able to use the data captured through customer transactions to "get the right message to the right person at the right time on the right device," Bradbury adds. He worked with ITS Logistics to launch a direct-to-consumer channel through the Nature's Bakery website.
Nature's Bakery had several goals in mind when launching a direct-to-consumer channel. One was capturing data that's often difficult to access from third-party sellers, whether online or offline. After all, many third-party sellers take only a brand's top performers. These items gain even more exposure and sales, cementing their place as top sellers.
By selling directly to consumers through their websites, brands gain information on consumer preferences that they otherwise might miss, Bradbury says. For instance, they may discover consumers like a product that hasn't broken out, and they can use that information to gain broader distribution for it. In addition, sales through a company's website often boast higher margins because they cut out some middlemen.
Moreover, a robust website can provide a positive brand experience, whether a consumer is starting to research product choices or ready to make a purchase. "It's about providing the right narrative and the most accurate information about our products," Bradbury says.
Exceptional Customer Experience
At the same time, it's critical that an e-commerce site provide an exceptional experience even after customers make their initial purchases. "Sometimes the post-purchase experience is neglected," Bradbury notes. For instance, can customers easily track their shipments? Do they receive the right merchandise, on time? Nailing down these functions, especially in the age of Amazon, can keep customers coming back and contribute to a brand's growth.
"The ultimate goal is to make the end consumer experience the best it can be," he says.
ITS Logistics helped Nature's Bakery build a robust direct-to-consumer channel. "We looked at a lot of different third-party logistics (3PL) options and ITS's track record and reputation stood out," Bradbury says.
Nature's Bakery needed a partner that could help it capture and manage orders arriving through multiple channels: the company's e-commerce site, physical retailers, and online marketplaces. "Like everyone else, we're trying to grow sales, but we wanted to do it in a way that is fitting for this modern world," Bradbury says. "We needed a 3PL partner that understood how to do that."
Evolving and Growing
ITS Logistics often works with midmarket brands that "are evolving and growing their brand," says Ryan Martin, president of distribution. "We pride ourselves on finding solutions for those organizations to help them grow rapidly."
ITS Logistics provided Nature's Bakery with a real-time order processing system that offers visibility to customers' orders, order status, and lot tracking. ITS also provided fulfillment, retail distribution, and transportation of both raw materials and finished products, among other services.
The implementation process moved quickly. The two companies started working together at a high level in August 2018. The website launched in February 2019, just six months later.
Bradbury, who has worked on more than 100 websites, says this was one of the fastest, as well as one of the most robust implementations he has been involved in. "The fact that we were able to launch when we intended to and required only six months to build a complicated system is a testament to the ITS team and their expertise and knowledge," he says.
To make things even more complicated, along with building a new brand and website, Nature's Bakery was implementing a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. "There were a lot of moving parts in an abbreviated timeframe," Martin says.
Keeping all these moving parts on schedule required "tons of communication," Martin says. This included numerous meetings and conference calls between ITS and Nature's Bakery to ensure the links between the two companies would be reliable.
"It was challenging, but it was definitely rewarding to hit all the dates that we were supposed to for our go-live, and to ship our first orders on time," Martin adds.
Because e-commerce touches every discipline within a company, almost all departments were involved in the implementation. For instance, the logistics team made sure the e-commerce function would work with its systems and processes. Representatives from accounting checked that the order processing system was correctly handling and reporting on orders, so they could correctly account for them. Bradbury also coordinated with his colleagues in forecasting to ensure they had the product properly allocated for the new e-commerce business and its potential growth.
The efforts appear to be paying off, as information flows smoothly between the Nature's Bakery website, which runs on the Magento e-commerce platform, and ITS's systems. Order information from Nature's Bakery travels seamlessly to ITS, which handles fulfillment and then informs Nature's Bakery of the shipment and tracking information.
As a result, Nature's Bakery can immediately let customers know the status of their orders. Minutes after an order is placed, it's being imported and processed within the ITS system. As soon as an order is shipped, Nature's Bakery receives tracking information, which it can relay to its customers.
Given Nature's Bakery's focus on providing excellent customer service at all stages of each transaction, this data flow is critical. Shipping as quickly as possible is one key to gaining repeat purchases and capturing customers for the long term. "We need to make sure we're getting customers the right product very quickly," Bradbury says. "The systems and technology that we built between the website and the ITS system has been flawless so far."
Similarly, Nature's Bakery also needs an accurate, up-to-date picture of its inventory, so when customers place orders, it's able to quickly fill them. Companies that lack this information often resort to taking backorders, which tends to create confusion and dissatisfied customers.
Backorders also generate more work, as the company has to go back to its customers and ask them if they want to wait for a particular product, order something else, or request a refund. "It becomes a messy scenario," Bradbury says.
The clean interface between Nature's Bakery and ITS has helped lead to double-digit growth in e-commerce sales month over month, Bradbury says. The fundamental key performance indicators also are encouraging. For instance, Nature's Bakery is seeing higher average order values than it expected, with many customers buying enough to qualify for free shipping, which kicks in once their orders hit $35. "That has been a good sign," he adds.
Moreover, visitors to the site are converting at a strong rate. "Those fundamental key performance indicators tell me that we have a foundation that we can grow from," Bradbury says.
Throughout this process, the ITS team has been responsive and professional. "They do things by the book, which is great for a company like ours that is learning how to do processes by the book and moving our operations to the next level," he says.
At this point, Nature's Bakery is shipping from its website only to customers in the United States. "We're learning to walk before we run," Bradbury says. However, expansion throughout the rest of North America and then even farther internationally is possible.
In addition, in the future, Nature's Bakery may use its e-commerce site for some business-to-business orders. "We have a foundation we can grow from once we're ready for new business priorities," he says.