What Has More Than Two Million Square Metres And Is About To Change The Shipping Game?

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Flexe helps small-scale ecommerce stores take on Amazon with next-day delivery.

One of the tradeoffs many ecommerce merchants are having to make is the choice between keeping their branding and customer service or getting their merchandise to their customers quickly. Giants like Amazon and Walmart have made shipping so fast that customers are expecting their new purchases almost as fast as if they bought them in-store. And indeed, shopping online is becoming the predominant way to buy anything - in huge part because it’s getting easier to get whatever you want sooner than we’d ever thought possible, with one-day and two-day shipping for cheap.

Build your brand, or sell more stuff? That shouldn’t be a tradeoff.

What that means for online retailers is that if they want to get their products to their customers at the speed their customers expect, they’ll often have to go (at least in part) through big warehousing and shipping giants like Amazon. Selling through Amazon is not a bad way to get your products where your customers are already looking to buy, but it has drawbacks. You’ll pay a fee to Amazon, plus a commission. More importantly, though, customer service goes to Amazon and you don’t get to really build your own brand or offer branded boxes, etc. This means you’re highly limited with what you can do in terms of developing your brand while offering the shipping speed you may want.

Growing pains

Another problem many growing companies, especially startups, face is that they can’t always predict how much they’re going to grow. Finding warehouse space often means signing multi-year leases, which can mean getting a space that’s too big for a while or one you know you’ll outgrow soon.

Flexe helps you find flexible warehousing space, and ships your stuff for next-day delivery

Flexe is a new company that just launched last month, offering a service that helps out both retailers and warehousers. Basically, they find unused warehouse space all over the U.S. and store your products ready-to-go with a pay-for-what-you-need plan. Once you get an order, they ship it immediately and (almost) always deliver the next day.

This means a few things for retailers using Flexe. First, if you’re avoiding selling through giants like Amazon and opting for a shipping company like Flexe instead, you can focus more on your branding and directing customers to your self-built store. Second, companies like Casper that use Flexe have included shipping and delivery as part of their branding strategy - which isn’t something you can do as easily if you rely on a slower fulfillment process or outsource your fulfillment to Amazon.

Step One: Stash your stuff

Flexe uses corners, spare rooms and other bits of storage space that already exist. Need only a few shelves? Need a bunch of shelves but don’t really care if they’re spread out? Flexe is referred to as the “airbnb” or warehousing space. You tell Flexe how much storage space you need now; they’ll find space for it somewhere.

This is different from more traditional warehousing, where you have to sign a lease for a certain amount of time. This service is great for companies who aren’t sure how fast they’re going to grow, or for pop-ups or seasonal companies that need short-term space.

Step Two: Fill up fulfillment centres

Not only does Flexe have warehousing space, it can do the shipping for you. The idea is that you figure out roughly where your target market is. You then choose the number of hubs you need to reach your market within a day. Flexe uses trucks rather than planes, so costs are lower and you can offer competitive rates on shipping.

Flexe is also helping out wholesalers and warehouses with extra room

If you’re a wholesaler or have warehouse space that goes unused for a few months at a time, you can make some extra cash by offering it to Flexe. They’ll store someone else’s stuff for a while, ship it out as needed, and give you a piece of the pie.

So what’s the catch?

Flexe is a new company and there are still a few things to be worked out.

It’s only available in the U.S.

As with many initial launches, Flexe is currently only available in the U.S. For the rest of us, we’ll have to wait and see if they expand or if another company comes up with a similar model.

Winter is coming

Flexe is dependent on using space that their warehouses don’t immediately need. But there are a few high seasons, such as winter holidays, that their warehouses probably will need all their space for. How they’ll manage everyone’s inventory with tighter space is still up in the air

It’s not always reaaaaally “next day delivery”

Flexe’s big branding point is that you can get next day delivery anywhere in the U.S. That’s true if you have a ton of warehouse stashes all across the country, but if you’ve only got a couple, it still might take a couple of days.

Still, Flexe is offering fast shipping, low prices and flexible inventory space for companies. This is a pretty good deal for many small and medium retailers who don’t need as much warehousing space consistently, and can’t compete on shipping volume like Amazon can.

So what’s next?

Flexe is one example of recent innovations in warehousing and fulfillment. Other companies are trying other things (remember burrito delivery drones?) so we’re keeping an eye out for anything that can help ecommerce retailers do more with their business. If you ship within the U.S. a lot and are interested in using Flexe, you can learn more about them on their website. Want to know more about the ways you can use ecommerce tech to grow your business? Talk to us today.