E-commerce order fulfilment essentially describes the entire process an online retailer will go through to get their product to the consumer. This will start with an order being placed by the consumer, through to warehousing and finally managing shipping, including returns.
The following five sections will shine some light on the ins and outs of e-commerce order fulfilment, with some recommendations for how to maximise efficiency in each of the components.
For an e-commerce company, there are essentially 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 e-commerce order fulfilment outsourcer.
If you opt for the first, your business will be responsible for all of the tasks associated with receiving inventory, including stocktakes and the labelling of all inventory with individual barcodes.
If you decide to outsource your order fulfilment on the other hand, all these tasks will be handled for you. You’ll pay one lump sum, and the e-commerce order fulfilment company will take care of your inventory receiving needs.
If you’ve chosen to keep your order fulfilment in-house, you’ll then have to label and shelve the inventory, and keep track of it so that you can ship it without delay when customer orders come in.
Experts agree that getting this step right is one of the biggest factors in decreasing costs and saving time during the order fulfilment process. Mistakes with regard to storage of inventory can lead to major lags in the distribution process and can cost you time, money, and customer satisfaction.
PROCESSING THE ORDER
Once you’re set up to distribute the inventory, the next step is order processing. This stage of the e-commerce order fulfilment process needs to be a well-oiled machine, otherwise you’ll lose valuable time and money. As with the other steps, if you use an order fulfilment provider you won’t have to worry about this part. If you keep it in-house, however, there are some things you’ll want to consider, such as investing into an order management system and processing software; this will help you manage your warehouse, streamline warehouse-related communication, and sync all orders from various sales channels into one centralised platform and thus help you stay on top of your inventory.
SHIPPING THE ORDER
When you’ve begun to ship around 10-20 parcels per day it’s becoming more and more crucial to ensure your shipping is managed properly. Once your volume gets up that high, it may be a good idea to find a multi-carrier solution to your shipping needs. This will save you 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.
Signing up with a multi-courier platform provider takes the hassle out of shipping; not only do they look after the relationships with your chosen couriers, but more importantly will be able to negotiate better rates for you than you could yourself, due to the large volume of orders they process on a daily basis.
A clear and efficient returns policy is an often-overlooked component of e-commerce order fulfilment. 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.
Ideally this process will be automated and tied into your order process management system and fulfilment software.