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Drop shipping is a streamlined form of retail business wherein the seller accepts customer orders but does not keep goods sold in stock. Instead, in a form of supply chain management, it transfers the orders and their shipment details to either the manufacturer, a wholesaler, another retailer, or a fulfillment house, which then ships the goods directly to the customer. As such, the retailer is responsible for marketing and selling a product, but has little or no control over product quality, storage, inventory management, or shipping. This eliminates the costs of maintaining a warehouse – or even a brick and mortar storefront, purchasing and storing inventory, and employing necessary staff for such functions. As in any other form of retail, the seller makes their profit on the difference between an item’s wholesale and retail price, less any pertinent selling, merchant, or shipping fees accruing to them.
A drop shipping business model does not require a brick and mortar store. It may be eliminated entirely, or combined with drop shipped order fulfillment. A physical retailer may keep potential drop-shipped items on display, provide details on mail order items via a catalogue, or maintain a website with information available only online. A virtual retailer only has a website.
Drop-shipping retailers are not required to disclose the practice, nor, as with any other retailer, the wholesale source of the products they offer. This can be achieved by “blind shipping” (shipping merchandise without a return address corresponding to the seller), “private label shipping” (having merchandise shipped from the wholesaler with a return address customized to the retailer), or utilizing a fulfillment house. The ultimate order fullfiller might also include a customized packing slip, including details such as the retailer’s company name, logo, and contact information.
In unusual circumstances drop shipping can occur when a small retailer (that typically sells in small quantities to the general public) receives a single large order for a product. The retailer may arrange for the goods to be shipped directly to the customer from the manufacturer or distributor.
Drop shipping is common with expensive products.
Sellers on online auction sites such as eBay also use drop shipping as way of distributing products without handling the stocking the items sold. A seller will list an item as new, and have purchased items shipped directly from the wholesaler to the customer. The seller’s profit is the difference between the selling and the wholesale prices, minus any pertinent selling, merchant, or shipping fees accruing to them.
Products may be listed by a drop-shipping retailer as available but actually be back-ordered either with the wholesaler or the item’s manufacturer. Such potential delays in order fulfillment are not always known, or even when known disclosed, by a seller. They also can be extended, beyond the control of the seller. Likewise order fulfillment and shipping delays are beyond the seller’s control, yet can reflect badly on the purchaser’s ultimate satisfaction with their transaction. This puts a premium on timely and accurate information provision by the seller on both sides of the purchase, both before and after it is made.