The order fulfilment process is the product’s journey from the seller to the customer. As the term suggests, it is the fulfilment of the order placed by the customer. The efficiency of this process directly affects the delivery time of the product.
Research by Shopify suggests that delivery time is the second most important factor, after price, that influences buyer decisions.
Earlier, eCommerce platforms offering free delivery had an edge over the competition. But post-pandemic, rapid delivery has become a key factor for customer satisfaction. 34% of online shoppers link fast delivery with the purchase experience and 37% of them have expressed frustration with longer delivery time.
Hence, a rapid order fulfilment process is crucial for sales and customer satisfaction.
How does the Order fulfilment Process Work?
The order fulfilment process begins when the customer places an order. It is then up to the seller to live up to their end of the bargain by delivering the product on time, as promised. This process involves inventory management, supply chain management, storage, and logistics.
Order fulfilment process steps:
- eCommerce receives products from the supplier.
- The received products are sorted, catalogued, and stored.
- Products are picked and packed by warehouse staff based on the customer’s order.
- The packed products are shipped to the customer’s location.
- The customer receives a product completing the order fulfilment process.
The speed and efficiency of this process is designed for customer satisfaction. If a customer receives the right products in the committed time, they are more likely to buy again from your eCommerce brand.
12 Tips to Improve your Order fulfilment Process
1. Forecast Demand Accurately
Efficient order fulfilment processes rest on a delicate balance between supply and demand. If you can anticipate the demand, you can better manage the supply. Based on past data, you can predict demand for particular products during different months and manage your stock accordingly.
Past data will also tell you about the locations of the customers. Based on this information, you can improve your logistics in those locations or store relevant products closer to those locations.
You can also use demand forecasting to employ cost-saving measures. If your data predicts a decline in demand in specific regions or during certain months, you can divert your supply chain resources to high-demand areas or reduce resources for low-demand months.
Information about demand and customer locations can help you define fulfilment strategy with accuracy.
2. Choose Warehouse Location Strategically
Analysing data will tell you where most of your customers are located. Based on this information, you can decide on ideal locations for product storage. You can use a combination of small and large product fulfilment warehouses to improve the efficiency of the delivery process and reduce delivery time.
It will also enable you to provide same-day or two-day delivery options for many of your customers. Fast delivery options will help your brand provide a better customer experience. It is also crucial to attract new customers in a competitive market.
Fast shipping has a significant influence on buyer decisions and you get an edge over your competitors. Same-day or next-day delivery are great selling points to bring in new customers.
3. Create a Sound Inventory Receiving Process
This process is the reverse of order fulfilment. Here the eCommerce business is the customer and the product supplier is the one to deliver the package. So you should follow all steps that your customers would follow to ensure they have received the right products.
The easiest way to optimise the warehouse receiving process flow is to prepare guidelines for your staff and for the suppliers. These guidelines should include best practices for every step of the process, starting from pre-receiving preparations to storage.
You will need to ensure that your suppliers deliver the products on time. You should cross-check the condition, quality, and quantity of the products. Then the warehouse staff will need to unpack and catalogue the received items for storage.
4. Streamline Inventory Management
You don’t want customers to order a product and find it out of stock, nor do you want to overstock products.
There are a variety of manual and software-supported inventory management systems which you can employ to streamline the process. You will need to recognise the shortage in stock, estimate inventory receiving time, and probable demand for the inventory.
Each of these requires accurate information. Otherwise, you might end up overstocking or understocking. You can use demand forecasting to better predict inventory requirements. Based on that data, you can develop a process that can ultimately help you cut down order fulfilment cycle time.
Keep in mind that inventory management systems require investment in technology. If you want to streamline this process, every gear in the clockwork should be in sync with the rest of the system.
Finally, the products are organised for storage in such a way that it becomes easy to find them for picking, packing, and shipping.
5. Improve Picking, Packing, and Shipping Accuracy
Once you have your inventory in place, focus on having the product reach the customer as fast and as efficiently as possible. With picking, packing, and shipping, you will need to balance speed and risk.
You can use technology, equipment, and training to tip the scales toward speed without compromising on safety.
The efficiency of this process also depends on inventory management and integration of warehouse management systems (WMS) with your eCommerce website. If you WMS link to the website, it will generate a picking list that is in sync with the inventory catalogue of the warehouse.
This integration can speed up the picking process by including information about the product’s location in the product fulfilment warehouse. Efficiency in packing depends as much on the method as it does on the equipment. You can also aid the warehouse staff with software and technology to accelerate the packing process.
Out of all the stages of the order fulfilment process, you get the highest control at the picking, packing, and shipping stage. Hence, you can significantly reduce the delivery time by optimising this phase and you don’t have to rely on external parties to do so.
6. Recheck Orders Before Shipping
Rechecking orders cuts down the risk of delivering the wrong products. Though it also slows down the process, the implications of shipping incorrect products or damaged products are worse. 23% of eCommerce customers return products because they received the wrong items.
proper return policies in place, but damage to your reputation is almost irreparable. Just by adding a checkpoint before packing, you can safeguard brand integrity and the trust of your customers.
7. Ensure Thorough Order Visibility
Any order fulfilment strategy requires harmonious teamwork between different departments in the supply chain. For the team to work efficiently, everyone needs to be on the same page. All parties involved should be aware of the entire process, especially the steps before and after their own.
Order management systems can help you establish consistent visibility for product catalogues, inventory management, and inventory receiving. You will need access to items available, stock volume, and locations. You can then reflect this information on your eCommerce website for your customers.
Before an order is placed, the customer can see whether the product is in stock and how long it will take to reach them. Thorough visibility will make life easier for you, your suppliers, and your customers.
8. Work with Reliable Shipping Services
It can be frustrating for eCommerce businesses to do everything right only to have the shipping company drop the ball at the last minute. The worst part is that the customer will associate the bulk of the blame with the seller rather than the shipper. That’s why you need a reliable shipping partner in order fulfilment.
As with other parties involved in the supply chain, your shipping partner should help shrink down order fulfilment cycle time without compromising efficiency. Your shipping partner should have a robust presence in all the places where your customers are located. They should also enable you with information regarding each step till the order reaches the customer.
9. Build Relationships with Shippers
Shipping companies control the endgame of the order fulfilment process. Having an amicable relationship with your shipping partners can take you a long way. You can get better pricing, preferential treatment, higher priority, positive feedback, and efficient communication.
The first step is to treat people with trust and respect. You may be dealing with a shipping company, but it is run by people. You can strengthen relationships with your vendors by making their jobs easier with early warnings, accurate information, proactive communication, and streamlined operations.
If you treat your shipping partners better, they are more likely to take care of your customers. That is the end goal of order fulfilment processes.
10. Automate fulfilment Processes
Robots and software can work tirelessly with no breaks. They can also be calibrated for optimisation with only a few changes. Machines can also learn from data, so you can seamlessly synchronise demand forecast and order fulfilment processes.
Although several order fulfilment process steps can be automated, you should begin with inventory management, communication, and task management. These 3 aspects are crucial to an efficient order fulfilment strategy and offer the most flexibility for automation. These are also the areas where the margin of error is highest.
Automation can recognise shortages in stock and place orders. It can also generate a relevant task for several departments as soon as the order is placed. You will also be able to keep track of the process and everyone can get notifications regarding their respective roles. You can do all this and much more by introducing automation to your eCommerce order fulfilment strategies.
Automation and digital integration can also help your customers track their orders.
11. Keep your Customers Informed
As software informs your employees, vendors, and suppliers; it can also keep the customers in the communication loop. Once an order is placed, the customer also becomes a part of the order fulfilment process.
You need to keep your customers informed at every step of the process. From the moment their order is placed to the moment they receive it. The communication with your customers at each stage should also include the estimated time till the next step and the estimated time of delivery.
These messages are especially important when there are delays in the eCommerce order fulfilment process. Alongside, your sincerest apologies for the inconvenience, you should tell the customer how you are fixing the problem and when they are likely to receive their product.
Timely communication is as significant for customer satisfaction as timely delivery.
12. Plan a Backup Strategy
Order fulfilment depends on several external factors, many of which are outside your control. Still, the customer would expect you to deliver their product on time. It is the measure of a great eCommerce company to deliver despite all odds.
That’s why you need a backup plan for every stage of the process. You should be able to deploy the backup strategy at short notice. For instance, if one of your vehicles breaks down, you need to have a vendor who can either lend their vehicle to you or carry out the deliveries in your stead.
A well-laid backup strategy for the order fulfilment process will help you achieve customer satisfaction despite mistakes, accidents, and unforeseen emergencies.
Ensure Seamless Order fulfilment with 3PL
Order fulfilment is a long and complicated process. eCommerce companies work tirelessly to get customers to place orders on their websites. It seems unfair that they are left stranded when it comes to delivering those orders. Everyone can use a helping hand, especially when handing out products to customers.
Third-Party Logistics (3PL) can help you at various stages of the order fulfilment process. You can choose which stages you want to control and the ones where you want someone else to take the wheel. You will only need to manage the inventory and the rest you can leave to your 3PL partner.
PACK & SEND offers order fulfilment services for eCommerce businesses with no upfront capital cost and you only have to pay for the services you use. While you focus on selling more products, PACK & SEND will store, pick, pack, and deliver products to your customers.
Image Sources: Shopify