Especially when you are just starting out as a business, order fulfillment can be a stressful and time-consuming process. In our second ‘How I Fulfill’ case study, we look at the ways you can better streamline your ecommerce order fulfillment and save your small business money in the long-run. We speak to Dutch illustrator Eva Stalinski about the evolution of her order fulfillment, and how she learned to find her feet as a single-person operation.

Eva Stalinski is an illustrator and printmaker based in Groningen, the north of the Netherlands. While studying illustration at in Minerva Art Academy, she discovered the art of printmaking and quickly became hooked. Nine years later, she is a devotee who uses the technique to create her line of funky handprinted t-shirts, hoodies and tote bags that she sells through her online store. This style is also the inspiration behind her quirky custom tissue paper design, which has pride of place in her order fulfillment.

Whilst many choose to outsource their order fulfillment to a fulfillment company or third-party logistics firm (3PL), managing it yourself as a small business has some major advantages. It’s far easier to manage your supply chain and quality control when you are the one to pick, pack and ship orders. It also increases your profit margins, since you’re not paying someone else to do the job for you. Best of all, it gives you the ability to personalize your order fulfillment process. Whether it’s adding in handwritten thank you notes, some free stickers or bespoke custom tissue paper, you can ensure that every element of your online orders reflects your brand!

Eva’s steps to order fulfillment

(In Eva’s own words):

I've been doing the order processing for my shop for about 3 years now. Looking back on how I used to do things, I've definitely improved in terms of turnaround time, efficiency and overall mess-ups!

I never really had a grasp on how much of what packaging material I would need, so I always ran out of supplies. I probably wasted a bunch of money because I kept buying very small amounts of things (like mailers, tissue paper, thank you cards etc.) After a while of getting orders regularly, I got a bit more confident in what I was doing and started to invest in larger amounts of things, which made me feel a lot more professional.

I also used to mess up orders a lot, like accidentally sending someone the wrong size or switching out two completely different orders by mistake. I remember once having to cut open 30 taped-up envelopes to check each one - I’d messed up an order and didn't know which one out of the 30 it was! Nowadays mistakes like that are few and far between because I've got a pretty good system going, which looks a little something like this:

Firstly, I handprint or make almost every item I sell, so it starts with that. After that, I fold, label and count every item very carefully. That way when I’ve received an order, it’s super easy to grab the folded item and start the packing process. I always add one, two or more thank you cards to each order, pack it up in my wonderful noissue custom tissue paper, and then either slip it into a biodegradable mailer or a recycled cardboard box with a packing slip. After that I create a shipping label, stick it on there and bring it to the post office!

The challenges of Eva’s order fulfillment

It goes without saying that there are some disadvantages to not using a fulfillment service. It means turning your own house or studio into a DIY fulfillment center, which obviously requires space for all of your packaging materials and stock. Otherwise, you might have to hire a storage space. There is also a large time investment involved in processing and delivering orders to postage centers. In Eva's case, it was her business's location which presented the biggest difficulty:

The biggest challenge is that I'm constantly dealing with is that I live in and ship from the Netherlands, and almost all of my customer orders come from the US. This means shipping is expensive and packages can take a long time to reach their destination, which is understandably a turn-off for some people who are looking to buy something. I am extremely grateful for all the people who have looked past this and order from me anyway!

Pro tip: As your business grows, it's important to periodically review your order fulfillment process to see where you can streamline it, or whether you are at the point where you may need to outsource for a better fulfillment solution. For more info, check out our article on 6 Signs your business needs third-party logistics!

The role of noissue tissue in Eva’s order fulfillment

When shipping is expensive and fulfillment times might be longer, small businesses need to find other innovative ways of providing value to their customers. Showing off the uniqueness of your brand is one of the best tools at your disposal! By showing prospective customers that you offer something that a regular online marketplace can't provide, you are giving your business a much stronger brand narrative.

For Eva, designing her custom tissue paper with her very own illustrations was a very important part of her value proposition as a creative. Premium wrapping makes every purchase feel like a special gift, even when it's for the person that ordered it:

It’s been so wonderful to be able to pack orders in my own drawings - it makes the whole experience of receiving a handmade item even more personal and special, which I think is very important. I've gotten so many compliments on the paper so far, which goes to show that 'small' touches like personalized tissue paper really can make a big difference to the overall customer experience.

Pile of pink and purple mailer bags on desk

What is one piece of advice that Eva would give to other small businesses about order fulfillment?

Don't be afraid to invest in the beginning and buy your shipping supplies in bulk! Even in the beginning when your sales aren't super steady. Save yourself the extra time and money you're spending by going to the post office every week to buy 3 envelopes and 1 roll of tape!