Providing customers with fast and budget-friendly shipping is one of the biggest challenges for many small or medium sized ecommerce businesses. From warehouse management, to inventory processing, to shipping costs, the order fulfillment process requires coordination and communication to run smoothly.
Whether you’re new to ecommerce or have an established business, it’s time to make your order fulfillment process easier. After all, saving time on order fulfillment gives you the freedom to expand business and achieve long-term goals.
What is Order Fulfillment?
Let’s start with some basics. Order fulfillment is the process of acquiring and storing inventory, picking products, packing orders, and shipping to customers. From inventory selection to delivery, the order fulfillment process encapsulates multiple tasks, all of which need to be organized and executed efficiently.
In general, the stages of order fulfillment include:
- Stocking inventory from multiple suppliers.
- Storing inventory in a company-owned or third-party warehouse location.
- Processing online orders by selecting items from stock and packaging items for shipping.
- Shipping orders to customers.
- Processing returns and restocking items.
Order fulfillment is typically either handled by an in-house team, or by a third-party logistics provider (3PL). Some businesses also elect to use dropshipping, which outsources inventory management to the manufacturer and the online merchant merely acts as an intermediary between customer and manufacturer.
How to Improve Your Order Fulfillment
#1 Prioritize Customer Service
Customer service is essential for any business, but it’s especially important when customers don’t have access to in-person salespeople while shopping. Customer service should provide support, answer questions, and resolve issues as quickly and effectively as possible.
If hiring 24/7 customer service reps isn’t feasible within your budget, start by implementing a chatbot service to field frequently asked questions. Chatbots are an excellent way for customers to get immediate answers to common questions and receive referrals for additional resources.
#2 Organize Your Inventory
Organizing your inventory will transform your fulfillment speed. Many ecommerce businesses organize their inventory by how fast stock moves, placing popular products in more accessible areas and having a system to track their location. This way, it’s easier to monitor stock levels for frequently-purchased products and fulfill orders at a faster pace.
#3 Reduce Shipping Costs
Demand for inexpensive shipping poses a huge logistical and financial challenge for many ecommerce business owners. With online retail giants offering 2-day delivery and free shipping, smaller businesses are struggling to keep up with competitive prices.
Find some inexpensive shipping solutions by negotiating with different carriers in the market and choosing the best options. Amazon FBA and Walmart’s WFS can provide much better shipping rates if you are selling on their platforms. There are some shipping consolidators that provide SMBs a better pre-negotiated rate than the normal carrier rate. Integrating with all these carriers or platforms to automatically download and print shipping labels is also an important way to reduce your labor cost and speed up the shipping process.
#4 Consider Your Returns Policy
Customer returns are a significant part of the order fulfillment process. Although the goal is for the majority of orders to be successful, returns are an inevitable part of running a business. Offering a comprehensive, low-hassle return policy may actually encourage customers to make an initial purchase. Including return packaging in the shipment, offering pre-paid shipping labels, and exchanging returns for store credit are all great strategies for improving returns. Having a return processing module in your WMS can also play a key role in making the internal return process much more efficient.
#5 Integrate Technology
Last but not least, update your order fulfillment process by integrating the latest technology. Integrating your ERP with all digital selling channels can automate many steps in order management including order download, ATS inventory upload and shipment tracking info updates. Integration with your own WMs or 3PLs can send the shipping instructions and automatically update inventory without manual intervention. These are 2 valuable tech solutions that will help increase order fulfillment accuracy and minimize workforce needs.
Partner with Digitbridge
Digitbridge is an all-in-one ecommerce platform designed to help businesses thrive. With Digitbridge’s unique interface, you can buy, sell, and fulfill orders all on one platform. Our cloud-based platform offers access to essential operation features like mobile device-equipped warehouse management, channel integration and an omni-channel ERP with real-time business insights. Interested in getting started? Contact Digitbridge today to request a demo!