Discover how eco-friendly beach brand Ocean & Co. found the best fulfilment partner in ShipBob after dropshipping and testing out a new all-in-one fulfilment network.
Based in New York, Ocean and Co. sells high-quality jewelry and eco-friendly accessories with a mission to raise awareness of the impact that pollution has on our oceans. They donate a portion of each sale to organisations that are actively cleaning the oceans and create educational materials to reduce ocean pollution.
Ocean and Co. is dedicated to selling products that promote a plastic-free, healthy, sustainable lifestyle — and it’s no marketing gimmick for this direct-to-consumer brand.
With every purchase, Ocean & Co. makes a donation to organisations that are preventing ocean pollution through research, awareness, and education, including the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue & Rehabilitation Centre, The Lonely Whale, Oceana, and OneLessStraw.
Every hour, an estimated 1.5 million pounds of trash is dumped into our oceans. This problem cannot be solved by ocean cleanup efforts alone — reducing trash is the only way to ensure cleanups aren’t an endless battle.
Ocean & Co. is dedicated to supporting research efforts and awareness campaigns to help fund a solution to this problem. They have developed classroom materials for teachers free of charge to educate students about the harmful effects of ocean pollution and single-use plastics, as well as the importance of protecting the oceans and the biodiversity of aquatic life within them.
We sat down with Gerard Ecker, Founder & CEO of Ocean & Co., to learn more about his brand’s efforts and growth as well as their changes in fulfilment partnerships and lessons learned.
Launching a mission-driven brand
As told to ShipBob by Gerard Ecker, Founder & CEO of Ocean & Co.
Back in 2018 when paper straws were becoming very popular, I started doing research on how much plastic was being put in the oceans. The more I became aware of ocean plastic contamination, the more I knew I wanted to do something about it.
In August of 2018, I took a stab at creating a brand with a mission to give back to organisations that are helping fight this.
“We started with Facebook ads and organic Instagram growth, found our mission hit home with people, and exploded to $2 million in sales in our first year.”
Gerard Ecker, Founder & CEO of Ocean & Co.
Before we launched, we thought we knew exactly who our customers were: younger people living on the coasts. One of the most enjoyable aspects of launching a brand from scratch was seeing how we have customers at all ages, and while we are a beach brand, our customers are not only on the coasts but located inland and even in the Midwest. They might be far from oceans, but people want to bring the beach to them (think Corona beer commercials) and support a good cause.
We expanded our product line to include t-shirts and other apparel, and evolved quickly to become an eco-friendly beach brand with a great mission. After just a few months, we realised we needed a better fulfilment option.
From dropshipping to working with a 3PL
When we first got started, we were dropshipping. It was nice because we had no money tied up in inventory, but we also had no quality control.
“With no control over the customer experience and very poor shipping times, we quickly realised dropshipping was not a long-term solution. It was good for proving out an early concept, but we had to move to a professional fulfilment company.”
Gerard Ecker, Founder & CEO of Ocean & Co.
I’ve talked to people who think they save money by fulfiling themselves. Their first question is always ‘is a 3PL worth the extra expense?’ We see outsourcing fulfilment as a cost-savings and believe it will save you money in the long run. 3PLs negotiate rates, give you back all the time you’d spend stuffing mailers, and reduce the errors you’d make messing up addresses.
We looked into opening our own warehouses and hiring employees, but couldn’t come close with what 3PLs charge for picking, packing, and shipping. We’d also be worried about scheduling fulfilment shifts, ordering boxes and shipping labels, and dealing with the extra headaches of running logistics.
Most of all, those are hours we’d spend on tasks that are not scaling our business when we could be using those resources for growth. You should spend time doing what you do best, and fulfilment is an easy task to take off your plate. Plus, we really couldn’t do it ourselves.
We researched 3PLs and found a great solution in ShipBob. They worked really well with our core tech stack, which centreed around Shopify. On top of that, we utilise leading technologies, including Klaviyo, Bold Commerce, Smile.io, Octane AI, Shogun, and Refersion, with all of whom ShipBob also has a strong partnership.
After a year and a half long fulfilment partnership with ShipBob, we were approached by another “solution” whose company also has a great reputation and promised us an all-in-one experience.
Overpromised, but under-delivered
We liked working with ShipBob but decided to leave because the thought of centralising our points of contact and having everything in one spot sounded nice.
But when our new fulfilment network started fulfiling our orders, we realised we made a huge mistake. Everything they promised us was far from reality. They really missed the boat on having all of the information in one place.
“The new fulfilment network sold us on their solution that was supposed to be superior, but they clearly did not think much through. They don’t understand the fulfilment game like ShipBob does. We were only gone from ShipBob for a month and a half, and it was a terrible experience.”
Gerard Ecker, Founder & CEO of Ocean & Co.
Why the leading direct-to-consumer fulfilment solution only focuses on fulfilment
There were several reasons why we immediately returned to ShipBob. We were promised an all-in-one experience from this new option, but they didn’t deliver.
[Editor’s note: Other company names were redacted.]
Inaccurate inventory counts
One of the biggest advantages we saw with moving away from ShipBob was the native integration it had with our store’s backend. While ShipBob had an integration to our store, it still had to process data through their API connections.
The fulfilment network we switched to appeared to have a solution to this by automatically calculating that figure and syncing directly with the product page. However, we learned that the inventory figures can’t be trusted.
For example, our store view would show negative units of a product in stock, but the fulfilment inventory counts would show thousands of units available. This was typical across products and turns out their technology is unable to properly communicate amongst itself, both in regards to technology and people.
Inability to manage bundles
With ShipBob, we were able to mark any combination of SKUs as a unique bundle and select the component SKUs right through the dashboard. Each time that bundle was fulfiled by ShipBob, we could see the individual components that were physically picked, and we would know that the order went out as expected.
ShipBob also allowed us to make changes to bundles on the fly with complete control and visibility, which is important in monthly subscription boxes, holiday bundles, and many more scenarios. With the new fulfilment network, we had to rely on a game of telephone and someone else to do this for us.
A surge in fulfilment errors
With the new fulfilment network, we experienced a huge surge in fulfilment errors and countless complaints about orders being inaccurately fulfiled. Errors will inevitably happen when you fulfil orders at large volumes, but not like this.
Higher prices than advertised
This was the most surprising and disappointing part of the experience. We are willing to pay a premium for a premium product. In our initial call with the new fulfilment network, we were told that our average fulfilment cost would be around $0.15 to $0.20 higher than ShipBob.
In actuality, our costs were around 50% higher than that of ShipBob, and the new fulfilment solution was not a superior product in the slightest. They even overcharged us with billing errors. While many 3PLs utilise a complex pricing model that makes forecasting expenses nearly impossible, ShipBob has a clear pricing model so we know exactly what we’re going to be billed.
When trying to leave the fulfilment network to return back to ShipBob, the fulfilment network had 1,500 units of missing inventory that they couldn’t find.
Because of a lack of ownership of the entire fulfilment stack, it’s been difficult to rectify, unlike with ShipBob who owns the entire stack: inventory and order management system, warehouse management system, and their fulfilment centres.
ShipBob has done a great job of giving each store owner a feeling of complete control over everything. You can outsource your fulfilment while still maintaining full control.
If I create a SKU in my ecommerce platform, I can link that in ShipBob myself to whatever inventory it is. If I run out of one product, I can assign it to another SKU. With ShipBob, you see exactly what is picked.
With the new fulfilment network, we had to rely on our rep for everything. It doesn’t give you the ability to be self-sufficient. They had to do all of the work for us, and we couldn’t actually see what their warehouse associates were picking.
We had 10 orders on an address hold with the new fulfilment network over one weekend. All we were able to see is the orders were ‘on hold’ — not why they were on hold. By the time we were able to finally identify the cause and correct the addresses, we were out of stock of the items ordered. The SKUs weren’t placed on hold. We oversold by 10 items and had to email those 10 customers to let them know that we didn’t actually have stock.
With ShipBob, that inventory is automatically marked as accounted for, so it’s held until it’s shipped. We are also able to see all orders “in exception” on a shipping hold in one dashboard screen. We can hover over any order on that list and see why it was being held and resolve it directly within ShipBob ourselves.
With the new fulfilment network, all we know is that an order didn’t get fulfiled. We have to play detective, and look at orders before and after to find an anomaly (or even know there is an issue). Once we see the anomaly, it’s a process of elimination to figure out what’s going on:
Is an item sold out?
Is there an incorrect address?
Is there a warehouse delay due to increased volume?
Is there a stockout due to the incorrectly reported inventory counts?
Of all the reasons an order can be on hold, only one is able to be resolved by our own staff without the help of our fulfilment network rep — and even then, we have to cross-reference an email to figure it out.
“With this new fulfilment network, each process relied heavily on someone else needing to help us rather than feeling like we have control of our store — the exact opposite of our experience with ShipBob.”
Gerard Ecker, Founder & CEO of Ocean & Co.
The fulfilment network’s response to any issues have been very slow with lots of uncertainty. The rep working with us seemed to be overwhelmed and inundated with these issues. We gave a ton of constructive feedback upon exit, and there was no response from their team.
Moving fulfilment back to the experts at ShipBob
We quickly realised the grass is not always greener on the other side. After that experience, we moved everything back to ShipBob. Our order volume has seen ebbs and flows, and ShipBob has fulfiled over 10,000 shipments per month for us, with Black Friday/Cyber Monday and our summer season being our most in demand times of the year.
Because everything goes out in mailers and not boxes, and nothing is super heavy, we are using ShipBob’s centrally located Dallas fulfilment centre. Since we’re still a young company, we’re constantly expanding our product line to see what’s resonating. We pivot quickly and don’t want to be stuck with too much inventory.
Every purchase of our jewelry, apparel, and accessories will continue to help support ocean cleanup programs as well as initiatives to provide free learning materials for teachers around the world to educate the next generation about ocean conservation — something we’re proud to supply while teachers are learning to teach from home during COVID-19.
We’re also focused on creating a sense of community with our Facebook Group that has almost 6,000 people in it. Creating a community around a brand by bringing people together helps us all feel like we’re doing something together, which is especially important at a time when many are in isolation.
We’ve seen some challenges with COVID-19, but are excited for things to normalize. We’ll continue iterating on products, so our offering never stays stagnant. Our customers enjoy that we’re constantly launching new items.
I’m most excited for product innovation and the opportunity to expand our wholesale market (like what we’ve done with British Airways, having our products sold aboard flights) to expand our brand and lifestyle beyond the direct-to-consumer route with ShipBob by our side.
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