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Taking Stock: interview with Becky Clark, CEO of NetDespatch


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Becky Clark, NetDespatch

Parcel data management company, NetDespatch, has been around since 1999 and works with a wide list of ecommerce partners, including ChannelAdvisor, eSellerpro, Magento, OrderWise and StoreFeeder.

Among its carrier partners it can boast Royal Mail, Yodel, New Zealand Post, Coliposte and Australia Post.

All of which, when combined, means that it helps something in the region of 120,000 e-tailers, marketplace sellers, omni-channel catalogues, manufacturers and service businesses worldwide produce the correct bar-coded shipping labels, manifests and electronic pre-advice files.

CEO and founder of NetDespatch, Becky Clark, talked to eDelivery about how they operate, some of the changes they’ve seen and some of the trends she anticipates.

Tell us a bit about NetDespatch

We’re a cloud / software-as-a-service (SaaS) company. We work with carriers – the carrier is our customer and all the retailers we work with have been authorised by the carrier for us to talk to.

Our aim is to make it easy for the retailers to work with the carriers, and we do it by focusing on data and on consistency. By plugging into our systems, the carrier is able to rely on end-to-end compliant data and instructions, meaning the data in the retailers’ systems can automatically be the same as the carrier – nothing is out of sync.

There used to be something called ‘swivel chair integration’ – you take the data from one system, then re-enter it into another one. We’ve taken that whole segment away. Everything is electronic, everyone is using precisely the same data. It’s saved enormous amounts of time, but more than that it’s made it possible to send things efficiently and cost-effectively anywhere in the world.

What does this look like in practice?

If you take someone like the Shop Direct Group (Littlewoods) they have several catalogues, they have click-and-collect, and they also work through a number of third parties. It could be they’re using channels like eBay, Not On the High Street, and then work with someone like ChannelAdvisor to bring that together. That’s a potentially very complicated set-up. Managing the data around that is extremely important.

ChannelAdvisor uses NetDespatch to get all its labels for all the carriers. So that if a particular customer is using Royal Mail, for example, we automatically supply ChannelAdvisor with the right Royal Mail labels.

We can also integrate directly with the retailer. Tesco Marketplace is another good example. All those retailers use different warehousing systems. In fact, some might not use any platform at all. Sometimes we might get instructions from Tesco saying the labels all need to change overnight. We can make that simple for the retailer – which is something that they would really struggle with otherwise. And it’s free to them, as it’s the carrier paying us, not the retailer.

We can do all of this cross-border too, picking up the tracking from different territories, making sure retailers get the right label for the right carrier regardless.

One smaller depot got in touch with us just before Christmas saying a customer of theirs needed 25,000 hampers sent out. And I really do mean just before Christmas. It all sounds very last minute, but it could be the retailer had been let down and needed to find another carrier.

Anyway, the depot in question went on to our platform, set up the customer, configured the file, which detailed the shipments, and within minutes they were ready to start printing off labels.

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges to the sector?

A lot of it boils down to speed of dispatch. As recently as three or four years ago it was still ok to ship something after five days. That’s no longer acceptable. It has to be done same-day otherwise you risk customers not buying from you again.

It’s not just the speed but the volumes that have changed dramatically too. It wasn’t that long ago that everyone used to collect their contact lenses from the optician. That meant just one drop was required to deliver hundreds of pairs to one place. That doesn’t tend to happen anymore. People have them sent to them at home or at work, and that means that same shipment now has to become hundreds separate ones, all needing to be sent out individually.

But of course, now we’re seeing a trend toward things being delivered back to the store – for collection by the customer. Ultimately someone will find a way to develop a business off the back of that trend.

Who do you think really understands what’s needed to stay one step ahead?

House of Fraser is one of the names that spring to mind. They’ve joined the dots the really well and are looking to help customers get their goods however they want them. They’ve got dark stores, and click and collect has been a real hit with their customers, so much so they now have dedicated click and collect floors too.

Click and collect is obviously great for retailers as it means you’re getting people back into your store. But there will be a growth in alternative methods of delivery and collection, and in that respect, Amazon are doing a great job in terms of offering flexibility.

What trends will dominate in 2015?

We’re going to see the continued growth of things like locker boxes, and click and collect. That’s what will make it possible for retailers to continue to grow online get things delivered. After all, you can only have so many vehicles and they can only make so many deliveries.

And although it’s an area where the larger retailers are the dominant players, this could be the year smaller retailers start to offer all these kinds of service, using third parties like CollectPlus.

Returns is another big one. People buy multiple items and those parcels need to be returned and resold. It’s not just about the return but about the reprocessing and the re-selling – maybe through a seconds channel.

But perhaps one of the more interesting things will be the when the industry starts treating the consumer as the primary target from the delivery end of things – this surely has to be a big focus. There’s been a lot of work done understanding the customer online journey, analysing abandoned carts and so on. But there needs to be more done on joining the dots between the customer and the delivery.

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