Interview: How Shipsi Helps Retailers Of All Sizes Compete With Quick Holiday Shipping
Shipsi founder, Chelsie Lee tells PSFK how she helps small businesses and independent retailers offer agile shipping solutions and excellent customer service for holiday shoppers amid rising consumer demand for efficient, seamless experiences
Shipsi is building a new kind of last-mile delivery, enabling retailers of all sizes to compete with the speed and convenience customers have come to expect from services like Amazon Prime. Described as a “white glove concierge service for order fulfillment,” Shipsi is a third-party SaaS platform, which leverages existing last-mile networks to enhance the on-demand delivery offerings of its retail partners.
PSFK spoke to founder Chelsie Lee about why she left a corporate job to streamline logistics and how she thinks even small and independent retailers can win this holiday season by investing in on-demand delivery.
PSFK: Could you describe the trends that you're seeing in the delivery space, especially in terms of consumer needs, considering rising expectations of seamlessness?
Chelsie Lee: It's such an interesting time right now because Amazon has set a precedent really for any retailer. Consumer demands aren't going anywhere; I believe that they will just continue to be more and more demanding. It's progressing so quickly—a lot of technology, a lot of streamlining and efficiency.
I think that when consumers are shopping we have so many decisions to make. I personally spend almost too much time comparing something online of where I should order from, if I have to pay for shipping, and if I don't have to pay for shipping, but how soon can I get it? It's almost like we're bombarded with too many options. To make it easy for the consumer, it's a no‑brainer for any retailer to fuel that or to enable their consumers to just make it easier.
I think about the difficulty sometimes when booking something or buying something. I grew up in Minnesota. In the winter when there's a blizzard, you need to get gas because you can't have your tank less than half full because it might freeze. You pull over to a gas station and want to get gas. You're sitting at the pump. You bundle up, and you run outside.
You put your credit card in. Then it asks you for your zip code. “OK, that one's fair.” Then it asks you if you're a rewards member. “No, I'm not.” Then it asks you if you want a car wash. Then it asks you if you want to buy a lottery ticket. “No, I'm freezing in the cold. I just want to get my gas…” I would recommend any retailer to not make it that painful, I'm‑in‑the‑middle‑of‑a‑blizzard experience and to really give their consumers that frictionless and seamless experience. Because the ones that don't are going to continue to become the Toys “R” Us or the Sears of the world.
Let's shift to Shipsi. Could you describe how it works?
Yes. Instead of giving you my standard one‑liner, I'm actually going to ask you for an example that will hopefully be beneficial to both of us. What is something that you recently ordered online?
Let me think—I just ordered an air humidifier.
Let's say you have your humidifier. You're excited to get it. You go to checkout, and you have three different options. One is 7 to 10 days for free.
Two is overnight for 40 bucks, or what if there was an option that you could receive it within an hour or, say, two hours for six dollars or nine dollars or maybe 12? Which one are you going to pay?
Definitely that last option.
That is what we do. We, in its most simplistic form, add an additional option at checkout so the consumers can receive their merchandise within an hour or less, or within a couple of hours. We do that by a seamless integration for the retailer's website, so the consumer doesn't have to go anywhere else.
Then on the back end we aggregate last-mile delivery networks to give the consumer the best possible option. Then we pick up from a store location, a warehouse, or a distribution center and take advantage of the existing infrastructure.
So it's about tapping into these channels that are typically siloed?
Yes, absolutely. We're like the connector, the facilitator, the wrangler, the aggregator. Then we also work with the brands where they can set different parameters around that so that their consumer expectations are always exceeded. For example, if that humidifier is not in a location where you are, you would just see the normal shipping options.
We're not replacing their traditional methods. We're simply giving their consumers the option to get it now should they so choose.
In terms of the consumer, what context do they need to be in in order to be allowed that option?
It really depends on the needs of the retailer. It might be a specific geographic radius. It might be specific merchandise available so it's down to the skew. Then we also look at the size, weight and dimensions and play matchmaker for the retailer as well in the driving network so that we don't put a couch on a bike, or a bike shows up to try and move a couch.
We're always aiming and have exceeded our specific times for deliveries. Then again, if those options are not met, then the consumer doesn't really know anything different. If you're my mother ordering in rural Minnesota, you just would see the normal options. You're still a satisfied customer.
As it exists for retailers to implement as a software‑as‑a‑service platform, correct?
Could you explain the integration process for a retailer who wants to implement this?
We add that additional shipping option. It would be no different than a retailer saying, “Well, I'm just going to add a button for UPS Overnight or FedEx Two‑to‑Five Day.” That actual button to make it appear is a really easy and seamless change that the retailer already has control over. We also don't ask them to change any of their existing business system.
We don't change their ERP or the way that they're doing their EDI or even their IMS or WMS. Rather, we just have visibility onto their inventory to make sure that those parameters are met, like giving someone viewing‑only access to your bank account. My accounting firm has asked us for viewing access, so they can't make any changes.
By us having that just viewing access, we can make sure that those criteria are met.
What are some things that retailers can do to better prepare themselves or meet all of their customer expectations during this extra-demanding holiday shopping season?
Well, they can start by partnering with Shipsi. That seems like a pretty easy one. It's been a really interesting time for us right now as well because, if I put my old buyer hat on and anyone contacted me trying to sell me a service after November 15, I would say, “No, I'm not. I don't have time for you. I'm never calling you back again because you don't understand that I am in the heat of my selling period.”
For us it's a lot different because, instead of a retailer being restricted to standard cut‑off time like they might be for a FedEx or UPS, we can actually extend the number of days that they can operate their e‑comm. If they have a six‑day cut‑off or a three‑day cut‑off for a traditional package, that's fine. We are not limited to that or handicapped by traditional methods for them.
Most of the time it's actually within a matter of minutes. Then we only need normally a half hour, sometimes an hour, to make sure that they're setting the business rules properly, or we walk them through that.
Our questions for retailers right now who might be dragging their feet because they're so tied up in holiday is, “Is an hour of your time worth you getting another six days immediately before Christmas?” That's a pretty easy argument to make.
How would you describe the changes that are going to be occurring for online order delivery? We talked about Amazon in the beginning, but what kind of future is in store for e‑commerce in general?
Fundamentally, we believe that all e‑comm will be on‑demand within the not‑so‑distant future. I would say the other interesting value or something that we found quite organically is that the retailer's never going to be perfect, which is why we've honed these business rules and criteria.
Even they are not omnichannel‑capable today, we can tie into their store point‑of‑sale system and also their online systems, opening up those distribution points and basically making them omnichannel‑capable upon going to live with us. Retailers have to become omnichannel‑capable, or they have to figure out some other method.
The day that I officially resigned from corporate America was the day that I saw our back end or even the first version of our back‑end portal. We are completely transparent with our retail customers.
We give them access to what is selling at those locations and what people actually want right now. Then we give them access to a back‑end dashboard that they can see by region. They can see the average delivery time. They can see what products they're selling best.
Then we make partnerships with specific warehouses across the country so that we can recommend them to send just those two products that people want now instead of them having to ship their whole catalog or open a new store or something. We're making partnerships like that.
Our biggest value long‑term will absolutely be the data that we have around the on‑demand market. We will have that predictive on‑demand analytics across the country and internationally.
We've been talking about how shipping and the logistics have changed. What new problems have arisen, especially when you talk about the future of shipping?
That's a good question. New retailer developments are problems that have come about. I probably think of this because of my background. My background is in BI MicroStrategy solutions focused on selling and sell‑through.
What we have found is that people are a little bit scared, so they're skittish. You want the highest sell‑through possible. You don't want to be sitting on inventory. What we're finding with even some brands that we're going live with at the beginning of the year is that they were too conservative, or they're sizing isn't right.
You would think that everyone would be really waking up and listening to those consumer demands, but some haven't necessarily caught on yet because they're too lean in styles that they shouldn't be it and too heavy on the ones that aren't selling. They need to continue to listen to consumer demands.
That's not necessarily a new thing, but you would think that a lot of them would pick up on that.
I'm interested in how mom‑and‑pop retailers can position themselves against Amazon—how can smaller retailers compete?
I think the idea of local will continue to go in that direction because it's more common to shop organically or shop and support local businesses. We love those ones, our customers that we have on that, because we have a tiered‑based approach that is focused on the value or the number of Shipsi orders that that shop is getting.
An example of that is someone selling at a retail location, a little store around the corner, we can partner with them so that they can offer Shipsi through our warehouse partners across the country. Those store owners are innovative. They want to grow their business. They're quick to make changes, and they're passionate about it. I love that space. I think it's amazing.
Everybody wants something that's going to speak to their own multifaceted identity. Mom‑and‑pop shops are definitely able to curate that.
Exactly, especially right now in the gifting season. My question to smaller retail shops like that would be, “Why are you enabling consumers to go to Amazon to buy your product whether they sell on Amazon or not?” or “Why are you enabling your consumers to get whatever widget it is on Amazon just because they want it right now? Why not do it on your own? ”
Shipsi is helping retailers enable faster, more efficient last-mile delivery, especially during the high-demand holiday shopping season. For more ideas from similar inspiring businesses, see PSFK's reports and newsletters.