Ecommerce order fulfillment is the process by which online retailers get their goods from the warehouse to their customers, once an order has been placed.
The process includes a number of steps, each of them with its own series of best practices. That’s why we’ve broken down the process of order fulfillment into five basic steps, with some recommendations for how to maximise efficiency in each.
For an ecommerce company, there are basically two options for handling inventory received from manufacturers and suppliers. First, if you have access to a warehouse, you could receive and store inventory in-house. Alternatively, you could make use of the services of an ecommerce order fulfillment outsourcer.
If you opt for the first model, your business will be responsible for all of the tasks associated with receiving inventory, including the following:
- Counting every item received from the factory or supplier to make sure it matches what’s been listed on the order form
- Examining carefully all the inventory to make sure it hasn’t been damaged or dirtied in transit
- Investing in inventory management software so that you can keep an eye on order while it’s on site
- Labelling all items to be stored on site with bar codes, so that you can keep track of them during storage and find them when an order comes in
If you decide to outsource your order fulfillment, on the other hand, all these tasks will be handled for you. You’ll pay one lump sum, and the ecommerce order fulfillment company will take care of your inventory receiving needs.
If you’ve chosen to keep your order fulfillment in-house, you’ll have another slate of tasks awaiting you once the inventory has been received, inspected, labelled, and input into your inventory management software. Namely, you’ll have to shelve the inventory, and keep track of it so that you can ship it without delay when customer orders come in.
Veeqo now offers an inventory management app so you can scan your items as soon as they arrive from your phone
Experts agree that getting this step right is one of the biggest factors in decreasing costs and saving time during the order fulfillment process. Mistakes with regard to storage of inventory can lead to major lags in the distribution process and can cost you money, time, and customer satisfaction if you’re not exactly sure what you’re doing.
If you decide not to, however, you should consider the following:
- The first rule of storing inventory is the last rule of receiving it, and it bears repeating. Label your items. This helps you differentiate items that look similar, but it also is the key to keeping track of what’s come in, gone out, and what’s still in the warehouse.
- Put similar products in the same place. This will help warehouse staff remember exactly where they need to go when an order comes in.
- Keep aisles clear and make sure the warehouse is neat and tidy. It greatly improves efficiency if it’s easy for your warehouse workers to get around. They’ll also have an easier time spotting the items they’re looking for.
PROCESSING THE ORDER
Once you’re set up to distribute inventory, the next step is order processing. This stage of the ecommerce order fulfillment process needs to be a well-oiled machine otherwise you’ll lose valuable time and money. As with other steps, if you use an order fulfillment provider, the nitty-gritty of efficient order processing is another thing you won’t have to worry about. If you keep it in house, however, there are some things you’ll want to consider:
- First, you need to streamline your communication. The warehouse should know as soon as an order comes in. The best way to do this is with a top-notch order management system and processing software, which will transfer new orders to the warehouse automatically and allow you to have full information at hand in the case of customer queries. Automation at each step in the order process is key.
- Second, orders from all channels—your website, stores, 3rd party websites and apps, etc.—should be consolidated into the same order management system. This will allow you to keep afloat even while customers place orders in the most convenient manner for them.
- Third, the order management system should be synched to your inventory. This will allow you to keep away from backorders and refund situations when you run out of items in your warehouse. It’s highly damaging for a new business when they can’t make good on promised orders, especially when it happens multiple times.
SHIPPING THE ORDER
Contracting with the experts in moving your inventory is especially worthwhile when you’ve begun to ship 10-20 parcels per day. Once your volume gets up that high, it’s important to find a multi-carrier solution to your shipping needs.
This will save you loads of both time and money, since often the key to efficient and cost-effective shipping is deciding which carrier and service is best for each individual order, and there are endless carriers each with multiple services.
A clear and efficient returns policy is an often-overlooked component of ecommerce order fulfillment. For many buyers the prospect of being able to return an item easily is a major factor in the purchase. Zappos, for example, has long claimed that its best customers are also the ones who return the most items.
The returns policy at your ecommerce company needs to be crystal clear to the buyer, but also to your staff and fulfillment provider, if you have one. That means that you need to have designed, not only clear criteria for returns, but also a straightforward process for receiving, replacing, and reimbursing returned items.
Ideally this process will be automated and tied in to your order process management system and fulfillment software.
This is a post from Simon Wright who is the marketing manager of Parcelhub
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