Selling products with a shelf life is no small feat. Between juggling expiration dates across product lines within retail spaces and digital marketplaces, and managing all the packaging, shipping and timing requirements for each and every said place of sale, you’re looking at a whole lot of time and resources to avoid costly mistakes. Doing well in either market (online or in-store) is hard, and operating in both, at the same time, with time-sensitive products is even harder.
But the pressure is on, because unsuccessfully managing the freshness of your inventory impacts not only the customer experience but also your bottom line. And while retail stores charge brands for expired products, navigating the parameters of selling online, particularly on Amazon, can prove to be even more costly with poor planning and preparation.
Luckily for brands, many 3PLs (third-party logistics providers) have extensive experience and skill in expiration date tracking and prioritization and helping consumables win online. It’s key to find a 3PL that can offer your brand accurate and timely fulfillment data for visibility into how much inventory you have, as well as what expires and when.
In this blog, we’ve outlined the basic Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) rules you’ll have to follow as a seller of products with a shelf life. Thankfully, these rules can be helpful in selling on your own site as well. Amazon uses these guidelines for a reason, and implementing them may increase the consistency of your own processes.
Since Amazon takes into account both the shipping of items and the consumption of items by customers, this means “Best By” and “Sell By” are considered one and the same. It also means that any item within 50 days of its expiration date will be disposed of (or a removal order will need to be created by the brand for these items before that point is reached). What’s more: should the inventory not be removed by the time it reaches 50 days of expiration, this inventory is subject to disposal and may not be returned to you. Did we mention there’d be an impact to your bottom line? You’ve already paid for your inventory, so that’s cash you’re not recouping.
You should also keep in mind that if you are selling an item like vitamins, you must consider the time it takes to consume the product. So, if it’s a bottle of 60 pills, Amazon’s disposal date would be 110 days before expiration (60+50=110). Anything less than that should be sold through other Amazon fulfillment methods like Fulfilled by Merchant (FBM).
The best fulfillment partners will help you combat this tough timeline with a first-expiration, first-out (FEFO) approach, shipping out to Amazon what expires first. This differs from the more common first-in, first-out (FIFO) approach, so be sure to check with your fulfillment partner when discussing the management of your products with a shelf life.
It goes without saying that you’ll always want to aim to send items to FBA with plenty of time before they expire so that you don’t end up losing your window to sell. Think: time to ship, time to be checked in, time to split and transfer to other fulfillment centers, and time to sell. Your time-sensitive products aren’t available to sell on Amazon until that process is completed. Do you still have 50 days remaining of shelf life once accounting for all of these lead times? You can see why time to market is critical for products with a shorter shelf life.
The lead time to get inventory into the Amazon network can also mean that without careful planning, you’re at higher risk of being out of stock. Once that stock-out occurs, Amazon will remove your offer on the product listing, resulting in loss of sales. Modern commerce approaches, like Whitebox, enable the same inventory to be used across multiple channels. At Whitebox, we don’t differentiate a pallet of goods, so you won’t find us waiting on your FBA inventory to arrive. We’ll make sure your products get to Amazon with plenty of time to spare.
Amazon always wants to make its processes more efficient, and part of this means being sticklers for easy quality control. When it comes to time-sensitive items, expiration dates must be printed clearly on outer boxes (font size 36 or larger), as well as on each individual item. If you have outer packaging, like separate boxes or shrink wrap, the date must be visible on this outer packaging rather than only the item inside. This means that all multi-packs must have the expiration date on the bundle as well as individual items inside. Just to complicate things further, Amazon also requires that items with different expiration dates be shipped to them in separate boxes (with expiration dates clearly marked on their carton content labels as well).
Since expiration date items do require an additional labeling and attention to detail during prep, finding a fulfillment partner, like Whitebox, that specializes in FBA preparation will save you time and money. Your 3PL should handle all FBA guidelines, such as verifying inventory is compliant and ready to sell and ensuring it arrives following all of Amazon’s requirements.
Whitebox creates a quality control checklist for each and every product leaving our warehouses. Check with your third-party logistics provider to see how its team ensures the same quality and care.
Amazon also requires a particular arrangement of expiration date formats — MM-DD-YYYY or MM-YYYY — on all of their items. If you have a different way of printing, you’ll have to cover that with a label that matches Amazon’s desired format. Depending on the volumes you sell on Amazon, it may be worth shifting your format to match theirs to save time. It’s also important to note that any manufactured date on the product must be covered with a label with the expiration date (in the correct format), or you’ll expect delays — or worse, disposal of perfectly good products.
Also, while you may read MM-YYYY as expiring on the last day of the month, Amazon always considers it to be the first day of the month. So, just be sure that you consider this as you (or your fulfillment provider) schedule your shipments to the Amazon warehouse.
Yes, the devil is in the details, but the truth is that FBA is a fantastic Amazon fulfillment option with lots of perks, and leveraging this type of fulfillment with time-sensitive products doesn’t have to be so complex. Here are some of the ways the right fulfillment partner can help you stay in control of inventory management and fulfillment of products with a shelf life on Amazon.
You already know that demand forecasting can prevent significant loss by appropriately scaling production, but timely analysis further minimizes losses from expired goods. An ideal third-party logistics provider can offer you help with demand planning. Whitebox, for example, delivers a holistic way to connect sales and inventory in one central place, so you can take action on the insights provided. These insights include everything from what’s in stock and where to how many days of cover you have — all while taking into consideration product expiration dates.
Whitebox will help you develop the right Amazon fulfillment strategy and that includes more than just managing your FBA prep for time-sensitive products. We’ll offer consultation on how to stay in stock, such as running FBM backup listings, so you can dynamically shift to a different SKU and ensure you’re always in business on Amazon.
Our ecommerce software yields access to inventory data, so your brand can easily forecast and demand plan, track order fulfillment and manage expiration date prioritization in one place. When brands know what’s moving and how close inventory is to expiring, they can easily respond with a campaign to push those additional sales through coupons, bundles and other tactics.
Since everyone knows that Amazon is all about streamlining and consistency, selling time-sensitive products through FBA requires both an eye for detail and a process that emphasizes efficiency. Whether you’re selling gourmet ketchup or herbal supplements, you’ll have to build expiration dates into your processes.
More than half of Whitebox’s clients sell consumable goods, so we’ve worked with a variety of clients who’ve faced challenges with expiration dates. We’re always working towards more efficient and reliable methods to help you manage your products with a shorter shelf life. If you’re interested in learning how, reach out for a demo today.