It is hard to believe that Q4 is right around the corner, yet with Amazon’s recent release of details and deadlines for the upcoming holiday season, brands are tasked with shipping inventory now to ensure that products arrive at the Fulfillment Centers (FCs) by the FBA inventory cut-off date of November 3rd, 2021. Over the past 18 months, many Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) sellers have been frustrated by consistent delays in the shipping process, which have sometimes led to lost sales due to out-of-stock issues. As a Senior Marketplace Account Manager at Stella Rising, I help clients navigate the inbound shipping process, ensuring they know their options and the benefits and drawbacks of each. Below I detail Amazon’s two inbound shipping strategies for FBA sellers and when each should be utilized.
OPTION A: AMAZON PARTNERED CARRIER PROGRAM
FBA sellers can use the Amazon Partnered Carrier Program, which offers discounted rates for shipping inventory to FCs. This program allows sellers to tap into Amazon’s vast network of carrier partners when inbounding shipments, rather than shipping via their own carrier account. To ship via the Amazon Partnered Carrier Program, sellers select “Amazon-Partnered Carrier” when choosing from available shipping carrier options. Once all required shipment details have been specified, Amazon will provide a quote for shipping charges, which the seller must review and accept. If the shipment needs to be changed or canceled, the seller has 24 hours to void shipping charges and make any changes, after which point the shipment cannot be altered and the shipping charges will not be refunded.
Amazon Partnered Carrier Program options are available for both small parcel deliveries (SPDs) and less-than-truckload (LTL) and full-truckload (FTL) shipments. SPDs are shipments consisting of units that are packed in master cases or boxes, with each box labeled individually for delivery. SPDs are typically smaller shipments that are sent via UPS. LTL and FTL shipments combine individual boxes onto pallets for delivery.
The biggest benefit to using the Amazon Partnered Carrier Program is the financial aspect of receiving highly discounted, competitive shipping rates, which are typically much lower than what brands pay when shipping via their own carrier account. Additionally, brands utilizing the Amazon Partnered Carrier Program are eligible for Amazon’s In-Stock Head Start program, which makes replenishment units available for purchase once shipments are en route to FCs. By making temporarily out-of-stock products available for customer purchase, sellers can minimize the negative impact on discoverability and sales due to unexpected gaps in coverage.
The Amazon Partnered Carrier Program is definitely cost-effective, however it is not always seamless, especially during high-volume sales periods like Prime Day, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the lead-up to holiday. During these times, sellers are likely to experience delays within the shipping process—specifically when waiting for an Amazon Partnered Carrier to pick up their shipment and deliver it to the FC. Our clients have seen pickup delays of up to two weeks, with no option to expedite or cancel shipments that may contain replenishment units for low- or out-of-stock products. Additionally, Amazon Partnered Carrier shipments are only available within the contiguous United States and cannot be used to ship hazmat/dangerous goods to Amazon.
Despite the drawbacks outlined above, the Amazon Partnered Carrier Program remains the preferred inbound shipping option for most FBA sellers due to its cost savings and access to the In-Stock Head Start program. There are a handful of instances, however, where it makes sense for a brand to ship via their preferred carrier.
OPTION B: BRAND’S PREFERRED CARRIER
Brands that do not wish to or cannot use Amazon’s Partnered Carrier Program to inbound their FBA units can use their preferred carrier to ship inventory to the FCs. To ship via a preferred carrier, sellers select “Other Carrier” when choosing from available shipping options. The seller will then arrange pickup and delivery and payment with the carrier directly. This option can be used for both SPD and LTL and FTL shipments, though carriers may differ depending on the size of the shipment.
One of the biggest benefits to shipping via a preferred carrier is that carrier pickup lead times are typically shorter, since the brand arranges pickup and delivery directly. Brands shipping via their own carrier have more control over when their shipments are picked up, which can be a game changer when Amazon is experiencing delays within the Partnered Carrier network. Additionally, brands can arrange for expedited shipping when using their preferred carrier, though this, of course, increases overall shipping costs.
Though shipping via a preferred carrier has its efficiencies, brands that opt for this strategy can expect to pay more to ship their inventory to Amazon’s FCs, and though pickup lead times are often shorter and shipments can be expedited, all inbound shipments are still subject to receiving delays at the FCs which are common during high-volume sales periods. Additionally, inbound units not shipped via the Amazon Partnered Carrier program are not eligible for the In-Stock Head Start program and will not be available for customers to purchase until they have been checked-in and received at the FC. Lastly, when inbounding LTL and FTL shipments brands are responsible for scheduling a delivery appointment with Amazon via Carrier Central and should expect longer appointment lead times when Amazon’s FCs are at their busiest.
For brands shipping non-hazmat goods to Amazon’s FCs within the contiguous U.S., using the Amazon Partnered Carrier program is the recommended strategy nine times out of ten. However, if your brand is dealing with inbound shipping delays, specifically in the form of longer carrier pickup lead times, it may make sense to send in shipments via your preferred carrier—especially for products that are out of stock. The cost to ship via your own carrier is higher than the alternative, however the benefit of getting back in stock as quickly as possible typically justifies the increased fees.
As brands approach Amazon’s busiest time of year, it is critical that they have a strategy in place for efficiently inbounding FBA inventory ahead of time. Brands utilizing Amazon’s Partnered Carrier Program can absolutely count on inbound shipping delays this holiday season and can help minimize unforeseen stock issues through a two-pronged approach, using their preferred carrier to quickly inbound units if they find themselves in a bind. Research shows that it can take three to four days to regain sales volume after a product is out of stock for one day on Amazon. Recovering organic search placement after being out of stock for two or more days can take over a week. Especially during Q4, your brand’s number one goal should be to avoid running out of stock. Knowing your inbound shipping options and when to use each can help protect against unexpected stock issues so you can optimize sales this holiday season.
If you are looking to accelerate your Amazon strategy, connect with us; our team of former Amazonians and third-party experts knows the platform intimately, and can help your brand shine.