In the early stages of your ecommerce business, you’re often hands-on with everything—marketing, customer service, even photo editing. But knowing how to delegate and outsource tasks is critical to sustainably growing your business.
Outsourcing doesn’t need to be some forbidden word. Many of the most successful entrepreneurs outsource to help them focus on what they do best.
In this article, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about how to outsource your ecommerce business tasks and which areas are best to hand off to a qualified third-party professional.
What is ecommerce outsourcing?
Ecommerce outsourcing is when an ecommerce business pays a third-party vendor to manage various aspects of the business. Many ecommerce businesses outsource tasks to increase bandwidth, move more quickly, or get expertise in an area they lack resources. As many businesses look to be more efficient and keep costs low, more are turning to ecommerce outsourcing given the many benefits outsourcing provides.
Deloitte reports global spending on outsourcing could reach upwards of $731 billion in 2023. And a 2022 survey found that over one-third of businesses are actually increasing the amount of work they outsource. Nearly half of businesses were already in the process of outsourcing or looking to improve their outsourcing strategy at the time the survey was taken.
Editor’s note: Outsourcing isn’t to be confused with automation. Automation is when you use tools to automatically fire off specific actions, according to established variables or prerequisites.
Outsourcing is less of a “set it and forget it” deal. Instead, it requires more trust due to a hand-off of certain business functions to an external resource to handle independently. Just like with hiring the right employees, the vendors you choose will have a direct impact on what you’re able to accomplish.
Of course, outsourcing isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy, there are different types of outsourcing each of which may be best suited for your specific needs.
Types of ecommerce outsourcing
Here are the types of outsourcing you’ll need to be aware of to make the best decision for your business.
Local ecommerce outsourcing
Local outsourcing is when you work with vendors at a local level. For example, you could hire an advertising agency in your town to help drive traffic to your ecommerce business, an especially strategic move if you’re targeting people who live in the area. You could also hire a local social media firm to help assist in getting the word out about your products.
Benefits of local outsourcing
- Close proximity to your vendor: While businesses have benefited massively from a global economy, being able to meet with your vendors in person can bring peace of mind and create more rapport.
- Localized expertise: Your vendor will deeply understand the challenges and pain points of your local market. They can even advise you with insights about your target audience.
Nearshore ecommerce outsourcing
Nearshore outsourcing is when you work with a vendor located in your greater surrounding area. For example, if you’re in the United States and work with an outsourcing vendor in Canada, that would fall under the nearshore outsourcing umbrella.
Benefits of nearshore outsourcing
- Similar time zones: When working with a nearshore vendor, you can communicate during your regular business hours. While this can be convenient, it does have the downside in that you don’t get the added benefit of having work done overnight.
- Similar culture and working environments: Working with a vendor who shares similar culture and work environments can help save time on communication and outsourcing processes. That said, as the world has become more globalized, this benefit can often be overstated. Many outsourcing firms from all over the world have capable and talented employees who can work with you on your every need.
- Predictable costs: Working with a nearshore outsourcing firm can be helpful when budgeting because you’re more likely to be familiar with how much a particular service is supposed to cost.
Offshore ecommerce outsourcing
Offshore outsourcing is when you work with a vendor located in a different country, typically overseas—hence the term “offshore.” As business becomes more globally connected, offshore outsourcing is becoming increasingly common. According to data shared by Microsourcing, some of the most common offshore outsourcing tasks include IT, finance, and payroll, with many businesses using offshore outsourcing to assist.
Benefits of offshore outsourcing
- Cost effective: Working with an offshore vendor is one way to keep your costs low. That isn’t to suggest you should take advantage of your vendors to get the absolute lowest quote—you still need quality work, after all. But there can be some pretty significant cost benefits to using offshore outsourcing.
- 24/7 coverage: Having someone work on your tasks overnight can give you a serious advantage. If you need a design request fulfilled overnight for an important presentation in the morning, waking up to it can be a game changer.
Why should you outsource? 3 major benefits of ecommerce outsourcing
Businesses turn to outsourcing for many reasons. For some, it’s a purely cost decision. For others, being able to outsource an important component of business can help a business scale. As a business owner, knowing certain tasks are completed like clock-work can help keep you focused on your biggest-win opportunities.
Here are some of the major benefits of ecommerce outsourcing.
1. Outsourcing can save you money
According to Deloitte, 88% of businesses said they were able to save money by outsourcing. Outsourcing can help you control costs by allowing you to strategically invest in the services you need, rather than having to spend money on hiring new full-time employees as well as additional equipment, software, and tools.
Many businesses find themselves in the place of needing help, but not quite ready to make an additional in-house hire. Because outsourcing vendors handle all the logistics of the given tasks, you can get quality expertise at a fraction of the cost.
2. Ecommerce outsourcing allows you to focus on your strengths
Instead of spending time on tedious and time-consuming tasks, ecommerce outsourcing allows you to focus on your strengths. For example, if you’re good at marketing, but it takes two hours to create and edit a product image to use on social media, you could use our clipping path photo editing service to take the cut-outs completely off your plate.
You can then use those extra hours to drive awareness to your business, a much better use of your time. Growing a business is difficult, outsourcing can help you stay on track and avoid burnout.
3. Outsourcing helps you scale your business more quickly
Perhaps the biggest and most obvious benefit of ecommerce outsourcing is how it allows you to grow your business quickly. According to a survey conducted by Clutch, over 90% of small businesses have plans to use outsourcing in 2022 to help them grow.
You can focus on the revenue-generating aspects of your business rather than being bogged down by the necessary—but not big picture—needs of your business.
Which tasks to outsource in your ecommerce business
The benefits of outsourcing are clear, but what should you outsource? Let’s take a look at some of the specific tasks you can outsource.
Photo editing is one of those tasks that can be incredibly time-consuming but also essential to virtually any product-based business. The last thing you want is to use low-quality and poorly edited images, which ultimately reflects the quality of your brand.
If your images aren’t high-quality, will your products be?
Editing photos can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour per shot. This time adds up, especially if you’re not a photo editing expert. Photo editing can often take away valuable hours that can be used to focus on the essential—which is why it often makes so much sense to outsource.
Here are some of the photo editing tasks you can consider outsourcing:
- Clipping paths and image masking for background removal
- Color variants to launch new prints or add more color to your photos instead of holding a whole new photoshoot
- Ghost mannequin to bring your apparel product photos to life
- Photo retouching to remove wrinkles from fabric, smudges on your product, glares, and other imperfections
We handle your tedious and time-consuming edits so you can focus on more important tasks or your advanced edits done in-house.
Photo editing isn’t the only photo-related task you should consider outsourcing. Using ecommerce outsourcing for product photography can save you even more time and money.
Product photography is essential to your ecommerce business because your product photos are how your potential customers get to know about your product—product images replace that in-store product experience. In fact, one Weebly survey found that more than three-quarters of people find quality product images to be “very influential” to their purchase decision.
White background product photos are perfect for outsourcing. If you plan on using white backgrounds for your product photos, it’s not as simple as just taking a product photo and removing the background. For the highest quality images, you have to customize the lighting for every shot and angle if you want to get your photos right. Let the product photography experts handle it.
Silk dress brand VAUGHAN outsources simple photo retouching jobs. It was a no-brainer, as the brand didn’t need to waste money on an in-house graphic designer when a basic knowledge of Photoshop will do the trick. VAUGHAN outsources tasks like background removal and change so it can sell on Amazon.
If you want the highest quality product photos, it almost always makes sense to hire outside professional photographers to help you with your shoot. Here are some places to start your search for expert product photographers:
- Products on White Photography
- Slack’s professional photographer channel
- Fstoppers, The LawTog, or Ladies Behind The Lens Facebook groups
Marketing and social media
Marketers are feeling more spread thin than ever. According to Semrush, nearly 64% of marketers said they wish they had more time and resources to focus on their core tasks in marketing. Ecommerce outsourcing can not only help support your marketing team, but it can help keep costs low by not having to hire additional full-time employees.
Here are a few of the things you can outsource within marketing:
- Social media: While social media can be an incredibly powerful tool, keeping up to date with the latest trends, best practices, not to mention time spent posting can get time consuming, quickly. Working with an ecommerce outsourcing vendor to tackle social media is one of the easiest ways to free up time. From editing images to the right dimensions for a specific social media platform or even the actual posting itself, there’s no shortage of tasks you can outsource for social media.
Motif Concept Store, an apparel brand for women, uses outsourcing to help with both its product photography and social media marketing.
- Content creation: Not only does posting on social media take time, but so does creating the actual content itself, not to mention your other content marketing tasks. Whether you need help with blog posts optimized for SEO or strategic marketing campaigns that require specific images or assets, outsourcing your content creation can, again, help save you significant amounts of time and money.
- Community management: You can use an ecommerce outsourcing vendor to help you stay on top of questions and inquiries across social media and your standard support channels. Having a team available to answer support-related inquiries around the clock can help you provide a world-class customer experience.
When outsourcing marketing and social media tasks, consider vendors who have experience in multiple social media platforms as well as experience with community management.
Web development and IT
Website maintenance is a never-ending process. Using a vendor specializing in web development can be invaluable in helping keep your site secure, technically optimized, and help take basic web development tasks off your plate.
Here are a few things you can outsource to a web development firm.
- Maintaining your ecommerce store: You can outsource the maintenance of your ecommerce store including, updating plugins, security patches, resolving server downtime and more.
- Running site speed and technical SEO audits: Your site speed is incredibly important when it comes to conversions. A slow site is detrimental to your bottom line. Additionally, having an outsourcing vendor audit your site for SEO improvements can go a long way in ensuring your site ranks well in search.
- Uploading images and product photos: Send over your images and product photos to your outsourced web development and IT team and let them handle the rest.
- Publishing blog content: Creating content is time consuming no matter how you slice it. Use an outsourcing partner to take that final draft and upload it to your website. A 2020 report by the Content Marketing Institute found that 84% of businesses have outsourced at least one aspect of their content marketing efforts.
- Building landing pages for new product launches: Stop wasting time building the perfect landing page and instead outsource the task to a vendor that has marketing chops.
- Setting up new email accounts: Have a systemized process for creating new email accounts and other important software you use to run your business.
What’s great about outsourcing your manufacturing is you can focus more on brainstorming new product ideas and then letting your vendor take care of the rest. “We put the entire operation on our 3PL partner and now I don’t even think about it. It ended up costing less than paying for everything we need to keep doing self fulfillment,” says Allen Walton, founder of surveillance gear company, SpyGuy.
Outsourcing vendors that specialize in manufacturing have the systems, tools, and resources to help you create your products at scale. Manufacturing and fulfillment vendors can help with:
- Product development: You can hire a partner to help develop your product concept and bring it to life.
- Holding raw materials: Your outsourced manufacturer can hold all the raw materials needed for production so you don’t have to invest in renting additional space.
- Manufacturing expertise: A strategic vendor can help provide improvements on the overall production process and introduce ways to decrease costs and improve your bottom line.
There are some truly incredible virtual assistant companies that operate all over the world that can help take those mundane tasks off your todo list. Using virtual assistants you can have them:
- Manage email: Keep track of important emails and stop being overwhelmed with your inbox.
- Answer and make calls: A dedicated virtual assistant can help screen your calls and answer any incoming calls related to your business.
- Customer service: Use a VA to respond to basic customer service inquiries or requests.
- Data entry: With a virtual assistant vendor you no longer need to spend hours of your time entering basic data into a spreadsheet.
- Slide decks: A VA can also help put together a deck for an important presentation as well.
- Research: Your VA can be a great resource to help you do research on potential product ideas, competitors, and best practices to grow your business.
Pro tip: When choosing a VA vendor, remember to account for timezones, so you know exactly what to expect for your outsourcing workflow.
VAs are often available at an affordable rate. Wise Advise virtual assistants, for example, have VA services available for just $25/hour.
As your company grows, don’t let the increase of admin tasks bog you down. Outsourcing some of the operational aspects of your business can help you focus on your core strengths.
Here are some related tasks you can outsource:
- HR documentation: You can outsource everything from standard employee contracts to creating onboarding documentation for new hires as well as standard operating procedures (SOPS) for your company to follow.
- Shipping: Stop wasting your time going to and from the post office. Find a third-party logistics (3PL) vendor to take care of shipping and fulfillment.
- Data analysis: Your vendor can help you with data analysis regarding your business’s performance and more.
If finances and accounting isn’t your strong suit, you should definitely consider outsourcing this critical part of your business. Even if you enjoy accounting, it may not be the best use of your time.
Keeping track of your sales, customers, and metrics can get pretty chaotic, pretty quick. An outside vendor can help you with your accounting to ensure you have an accurate and up to date picture of your finances.
Vendors here can be especially helpful in saving you money on taxes and other other accounting best practices.
3 tips for successful ecommerce outsourcing
Now that we’ve covered all the things you can outsource, here are some extra tips to help you get the most from your outsourcing.
1. Get clear on your goals
Know from the start what you’re hoping to accomplish through outsourcing. Having a clear goal in mind will help ensure you’re getting the best bang for your buck. If you can’t clearly articulate your outsourcing goals, chances are an outsourcing vendor won’t be able to either.
Are you looking to improve your customer service? Are you wanting to optimize your manufacturing and product development process?
Being able to communicate your challenges and goals clearly with your potential vendor will help set you up for long term success.
2. Communication is everything
Open and strong communication with your vendors is a must. Setting communication guidelines and expectations up front is critical for getting the most out of your working relationship. Get in the habit of over communicating across the board to ensure you and your vendors are on the same page.
You should also negotiate with your vendors before signing anything. Make sure the terms are something both you and the vendor are happy with.
In addition, while working with your vendor (and even before you start) get everything in writing. Not only can this help you legally in a worst case scenario, it can also help keep everyone aligned.
3. Choose a flexible outsourcing partner
Businesses are complex and always evolving. Sometimes you may only want an outsourcing partner for a short time. Other times, it makes sense to find a partner long term.
Choose a vendor that is flexible to your needs, both now in the future. For example, if you’re outsourcing manufacturing, can they handle a 10x increase in volume as you expect in Q4? Can your vendor assist in other areas of your business as well?
At Path we have 300+ designers and has been in business for nearly 15 years so you know we’ll be here for a while. Whatever your photo editing needs, there’s a good chance we can handle it.
Looking to outsource your photo editing?
While there’s no shortage of tasks you can outsource, photo editing is the perfect place to start and it can truly be one of the best investments you ever make.
Your talent and creative energy are best spent doing what you love—not fiddling in Photoshop for hours. With Path, you can have professionally edited photos in under 6 hours.
FAQs about ecommerce outsourcing
What is ecommerce outsourcing?
Ecommerce outsourcing is when you choose to work with outside vendors to take care of a specific set of tasks related to your ecommerce business. You can use ecommerce outsourcing for anything from marketing, to finance, to project management.
What are the benefits of outsourcing in ecommerce?
Keeping costs low as you scale. Freeing up time to focus on more strategic initiatives for your business. Utilizing expertise outside of your domain.