Ecommerce order fulfillment, or the order processing of physical goods sold on an online store to the final delivery of a product in your customer’s hands, can make or break the customer experience for online sellers.
Thus, for the up-and-comer and - even the established ecommerce business - getting your order fulfillment right must be a top priority for both customer satisfaction and retention.
For the newbies here, we will quickly define, ‘What is order fulfillment?’ and then get into some of the nuances of global order fulfillment for the more advanced readers and those looking to take action on improving their ecommerce order fulfillment.
What is Order Fulfillment?
The order processing of physical goods sold via an online store to the final delivery of a product in your customer’s hands.
Order Fulfillment - Shipping Orders: Pick, Pack and Ship
Triggered once an order is received to your fulfillment provider, often a 3PL, from your online store. The product ordered is located in the warehouse and brought to the packing station.
A packing slip generated from the fulfillment system directs the picker to the products location and how many units of the product are to be included in the shipment.
An order can require multiple products. Once all products have been picked from their storage locations in your distribution center they are brought together at a packing station and packaged for shipment.
Packing can take many forms based on how you have directed your fulfillment team to ship your goods.
Many ecommerce sellers use this opportunity to generate a positive unboxing experience for their customers by using branded boxes or other customized shipping materials.
The keys to keep in-mind at this step, outside of a branded unboxing experience, are practical:
a) securely protect products from breakage during shipping; and,
b) package to limit dimensional weight to reduce shipping costs.
Often called the the last mile, ‘a term originating in the telecom industry and now applied to the supply chain to denote…’.
The shipping starts with a shipping label based off of the courier.
Examples of couriers used by many order fulfillment companies include:
Your fulfillment provider should have integrated shipping optimization in their software so you can automatically have your labels ready based on shipping time and cost optimized to the geography your order is destined.
Order tracking is then output so your customer can track the shipments progress to their door.
Note: On the internet you will find many companies that include receiving inventory from suppliers as one of the steps that define the order fulfillment. We disagree. We see that the existence of inventory in a warehouse or in your home, storage or garage as a given and a prior step composing total supply chain management that goes beyond what our focus here - optimizing your order fulfillment for ecommerce.
Even Wikipedia, when addressing the question, 'What is order fulfillment?, defines the order fulfillment narrowly, as we do, limiting the phrase to, "the way a firm responds to customer orders."
So, for ecommerce that means order fulfillment starts from the moment you get a sale in your shopping cart forward; and thus, this does not include the activity of stocking inventory, nor shipping inventory to your storage facility or warehouse.
The Only Ways to Optimize Your Order Fulfillment
Getting your products from the warehouse to the customer is the “last mile problem”. Today their are numerous instances of startups and scale ups attacking this space.
A few examples you may be familiar with include:
So far, in the e-commerce space, the best examples are:
- Cargo Chief
And, what do all these fulfillment providers have in common, process and technology along with a network of carriers.
What are common problems encountered and how does that affect an ecommerce store owner when evaluating a provider.
Nightmares occur when a order fulfillment provider does not communicate, has untold hidden fees, damages goods, loses inventory, and holds inventory hostage during a dispute.
Moreover, upstarts trying to enter the fulfillment space often have processes they claim to be automated and are not, or the tech is buggy. You are running a business not looking to get involved in a ‘startup experiment’ the incentives are misaligned with the client and the provider. Do a quick search of fulfillment providers reviews and you'll find "It’s criminal" as some have noted.
On the flip side, to toot our horn a bit, because Fulfillment Bridge development was built in reaction to poor experiences with disastrous companies: With a background in Fintech, an industry with huge compliance and money on the line, Fulfillment Bridge's tech has been developed to high standards of Banks. No outside money was taken and the product was bootstrapped for some years while refining the technology before opening it to other online entrepreneurs as a way to optimize their global ecommerce fulfillment.
How to improve your order fulfillment process:
Order Fulfillment Software
As part of a successful ecommerce order fulfillment strategy, order fulfillment software that automates the tedious order fulfillment process steps for the seller, from receiving your containers to final delivery of your products, is the backbone of any world-class ecommerce store that wants to consistently maintain high levels of customer satisfaction.
Order fulfillment services that integrates with multiple ecommerce platforms and your online store. Automates everything around order processing from creating packing slips to real time update when receiving inventory at your chosen distribution centers.
Warehouse run the gambit from manual picking solutions to robot enabled picking.
Questions to ask when choosing an order fulfillment company:
What is their process for receiving inventory?
What are the fixed and variable shipping costs?
Do they integrate with popular ecommerce platforms?
What happens if there is an error in a customer's orders?
A well run fulfillment company will have dialed in warehouse management via and integrate WMS or other system that enables you to have full transparency into your inventory levels and the stages in the shipping process when an order is receiving processing.
Typical Order Fulfillment Services Offered by the Best Fulfillment Companies
- Pick orders
- Pack orders into boxes if they are not “shelf ready” to ship.
- Ship the order out the door, for you; this means they handle the order fulfillment from an order on your online store seamlessly to your customers door.
- Product return operations (reverse logistics)
- Custom clearance
- Fulfillment guarantee
Often overlooked, and where many beginners run into trouble with their fulfillment company is they missed the fine print or completely missed a solid order fulfillment guarantee
Conclusion: Optimized Fast and Efficient Order Fulfillment Wins Customer Satisfaction and Sales
Defining what is order fulfillment as a separate activity distinct from receiving inventory, storage and returns management is the first step to knowing where to focus so you can begin to optimize your online order fulfillment.
For ecommerce store owners, ecommerce fulfillment begins when your customer makes a purchase on your website, which triggers fulfillment operations to start.
Your order fulfillment strategy should include software to connect your sales channels to your order fulfillment services warehouses
With the right order fulfillment strategy supporting your product sales you will gain more sales, quicker delivery, fewer returns and greater customer satisfaction. A win - win - win for all parties.
Now you know what order fulfillment means and where to begin to start optimizing your order fulfillment.
There is one thing your fulfillment company needs to do without fail. Ship orders. Many ecommerce fulfillment services still can’t do this well on a global level. Caveat Emptor. That is why I’ve created Fulfillment Bridge because shipping ecommerce orders, whether across the street or across the world shouldn’t be hard with the technology available in 2020 and beyond.
Forget the Hassle of All the Other Order Fulfillment Companies: Make Shipping and Order Fulfillment Easy on Yourself with the Help of Fulfillment Bridge
Once you have your site optimized, from guests checkout options and pricing to images and user generated content, your sales will start to climb. Prepare to keep your customers happy and yourself sane by taking advantage of the full suite of Fulfillment Bridge Ecommerce solutions.