For e-commerce businesses, the online order fulfilment process needs to be a well-oiled machine in order to meet the high expectation of the average online customer today.
Upon completing the online checkout, the only thing you want to be on the mind of your hard-earned customer is pure excitement to receive that purchase quickly and in perfect condition.
However, the order fulfilment process for many e-commerce businesses can be a severe drain on resources if all involved in this process are not committed to constant refinement for cost efficiencies and ways to continuously improve customer experience.
The good news is, you’re here and taking the first step in ensuring your e-commerce order fulfilment process is crafted to meet (and possibly exceed) the expectation of your customers. So here it is…
HOW CAN YOU PROVIDE A GREAT ORDER FULFILLMENT PROCESS?
First, consider what success looks like, not only for you as the business owner but the end consumer too. Typically, you would expect the below processes to be in place as the bare minimum:
Upon completing the online purchase, the customer receives immediate confirmation with details of the delivery timeframe
Your 3PL warehouse receives the order directly from the e-commerce platform
The order is picked and packed accurately and efficiently on the same day the order is received by the 3PL provider
The parcel is shipped through the most suitable and cost effective courier service available
The customer is automatically notified that their item has been dispatched and will arrive by their delivery date
The item arrives at the customer’s door on time, with no damage and with the correct invoice or receipt
EVEN WHEN YOU THINK YOU HAVE THE ORDER FULFILLMENT PROCESS NAILED, NOTHING IS CONSTANT AND CUSTOMER PREFERENCES CHANGE!
Since Covid ramped up the online shopping behaviours of many and even pushed those who were once reluctant to buy online to purchase from e-commerce stores, even the largest global brands are seeking out the advice and services of third party logistic suppliers.
Some of the most well-established brands are finding that their existing, large scale logistics warehouses are just not able to accommodate the granular focus required to pick, pack and despatch singular consumer orders that contain one or more products. Not to mention the added care and attention required to use minimal packaging materials, card inserts or even gift wrapping!
Ever received one small item packaged in a large box with lots of filler? That is a perfect example of a large scale logistics company handling products and order quantities that they cannot cater to.
This has a damaging effect on the customer experience that a brand may not be able to recover from. Sustainability is a significant concern to most online consumers and an order fulfilment process that is unable to reduce the use of unnecessary packaging will lose the race!
Before heading on to our top 4 tips for improving the online order fulfilment process, check this simple order fufilment explainer video.
4 ACTIONABLE TIPS TO IMPROVE THE ORDER FULFILLMENT PROCESS IMMEDIATELY:
INTEGRATION & AUTOMATION
Automation is critical in reducing the risk of error within the order fulfilment process. Luckily, with e-commerce platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce and Squarespace (plus many more!) integrations have been made super simple. If a direct integration with your e-commerce platform is not provided by your 3PL warehouse it would pay to start looking for a new one.
A fully integrated fulfilment process should include:
- Auto transfer of online purchases from the e-commerce platform to the 3PL fulfilment system
- Auto deduction of stock held at the warehouse with real time visibility of current stock on hand levels so you can effectively avoid selling out of stock items
- Information of the order’s fulfilment status feeds back to the e-commerce platform to mark the order as fulfilled
- Email alert triggered within the e-commerce platform to notify the customer that their product has been despatched and includes link to the tracking information so they can track the parcel to their door.
Automation is the most important factor in decreasing e-commerce operational costs and greatly reducing the risk of human error.
2. QUALITY CONTROL
This is a crucial step that many e-commerce businesses forget. Take a pro-active approach to ensuring your products are free from damages and defects by enlisting your storage warehouse to check the products on arrival. Quality control can be managed in a few ways:
Inspection: Involves opening and checking every shipper to ensure the contents have no damage to be reported. For high volume deliveries of small items, it may be best to allocate an extra step in the pick, pack and despatch process so that each item can be inspected on it’w way out to the customer. This can help spread the cost of quality control to a per order basis.
Spot check: You may choose to spot check every other shipper or only shipper boxes that sit on the outer of a pallet. This is a cost effective solution for high volume deliveries where it is safe to assume that should the outer boxes be in good condition, the inner boxes will be also.
3. RETURN MANAGEMENT/REVERSE LOGISTICS
A good quality control process will minimise the requirement for returns, however there will always be a small percentage of returns for any business and it is important that this process is easy and free from error to encourage repeat purchases. It may sound counterintuitive but the reverse logistics process is a huge opportunity to delight customers. We call this reverse logistics and when treated as a reverse purchase, with all the same care and oversight that goes into managing the original purchase, you can ensure buyers are filled with confidence in purchasing from your e-commerce store over and over again.
Be sure to include a clearly explained return policy on your website. It is best practice to cover the return steps, terms and conditions for a refund as well as way to return the item.
Varying options are available to handle returns, ensuring the right return management process is used to suit your customers’ needs while balancing resource requirement and ultimately costs. Depending on your order volumes and product costs, some brands choose to work the below solutions into their reverse logistic strategy:
Offer for the customer to keep/try/enjoy the item they received while the correct item is shipped out to them as a priority
Send the customer a new item and enclose a prepaid courier bag so they can return the faulty/wrong/damaged item easily
4. THIRD-PARTY FULFILLMENT
When starting out, it can be tempting to handle eCommerce fulfillment in house. Having 100% control of the fulfillment process while possibly making small savings by doing the pick, pack and despatch yourself and storing small amounts of product in your office or garage without the added storage costs are obvious benefits to your business’s bottom line.
However, these small savings up front can set you up for failure in the long run. Handing off order fulfillment to a third party early on will ensure that the fulfillment costs can be entirely or partially worked into your desired margins. Typically, a third party fulfillment center will also have substantially discounted bulk shipping rates (especially when shipping globally!) purely due to the volume that they ship out each day. So while you might pay more for the pick and pack of your products, this can be made up by in the distribution side.
Costs aside, enlisting the help of a 3PL also allows you to scale your business to limitless potential.
Each 3PL is different, but a good one will be able to tailor both their pricing structure and order fulfilment processes to meet the demands of an e-commerce store from infancy through to maturity. You can expect a fulfilment centre to receive, pick, pack, label and despatch orders via the most appropriate courier or freight channel. Handle returns/reverse logistics, quality control and other specialised projects to fit in with one-off promotions and/or events.
All-in-all, enlisting the help of a team with expertise in the online order fulfilment process will benefit your e-commerce business and strategy in ways that go beyond increasing profitability. Outsourcing order fulfilment will free your team from daily processes so that time can be spent on building brand presence and optimising the online relationships with customers. Contact Mailshop today for your ecommerce order fulfilment solutions and ensure you are set up for success from the get-go!