Ecommerce Strategies to Fulfill Online Orders
Customers require a simple click – buy experience, but mastering the strategies to fulfill online orders behind the scenes is a complex puzzle, learn how to do it right.
Generally, the less we as consumers know about your order fulfillment process, the more successful your process is.
Placing an online order should be the last thing you do before your product arrives in the mail – a hassle and worry-free process in an ideal world. But the actual process of online order fulfillment is complex, with an array of moving pieces and targets, with the goal of getting as many products routed and delivered as possible, for the least cost, and with the most accuracy.
What is order fulfillment?
Order fulfillment is the entire process of storing, picking, and packaging an inventory of products, and shipping these orders to customers. B2B, or business to business orders, are fulfilled in large, bulk shipments, as those received by a big box store. B2C, or business to consumer orders are typically shipped to an individuals’ home or office. There are 5 primary elements of a good order fulfillment process, each contributing to achieve a finished product, and each presenting their own unique set of challenges.
- Receiving is the first step in the process. You must first receive inventory before you can disperse it to buyers. Here you can choose to either handle this process in-house, or outsource this step to a professional provider who will handle this for you.
- Inventory Storage is the process of taking the products you have received, and storing and organizing it in a central location, most often a warehouse. This step also requires detail-oriented organization, as improper inventory storage will slow down the process and dramatically raise costs.
- Order Processing involves fulfilling an order by retrieving the correct products and packaging them for shipping. This step involves materials like boxes, bubble wrap and tape, all at an additional cost, and the printed labels that direct the package to its final destination.
- Shipping is the penultimate step in the order fulfillment process, and most likely to involve a third-party, as with a visit to the UPS office or local post office. As you can easily imagine, this step can get quite complex, resulting in many enterprises relying on third-party enterprises or software to fulfil online orders.
- Returns are unavoidable. If an order is returned, you must have a system in place to determine where the returned product will go, why it was returned, and if it meets the specifications of your individual return policy.
What is self-fulfillment in eCommerce?
Fulfillment in eCommerce starts when the buyer lands on your website and ends when they are holding your product in their hands. You have a few options when it comes to order fulfillment. You can either opt for in-house order fulfillment (or self-fulfillment), where you handle every step of the process, third-party fulfillment where you work with a trusted partner, and drop-shipping, where you never actually touch the products you sell, and they are shipped directly from the manufacturer to the customer.
How to determine your order fulfillment strategy
Determining your order fulfillment strategy is critical, and there are a few elements to consider when making plans. First, think about where your work-places and warehouses are, and estimate the speed and cost of delivery to each area serviced. Will you be shipping domestic or international? Is it cost effective to ship to certain areas, or should you restrict your customer base? You must also consider what technology you’ll be using to fulfil your orders, to ensure your eCommerce platform, online marketplaces and social media pages and listings are all seamlessly connected. Now it’s time to set standards for shipping, and be ready to invest to maintain them. Working with trusted shipping partners is a great way to take the pressure off and meet expectations without much additional cost.
How to manage order fulfillment
The best way to manage order fulfillment, especially if you plan to do it in-house, is to leverage technology. For a very small (or no) investment, you can use open source software to manage your fulfillment processes. Many businesses choose to invest in paid-software or third-party experts to streamline everything from simplifying shipping, to tracking and implementing digital payment trends and tools.
Logistical challenges with self-fulfillment
Maybe you don’t have the in-house expertise you need, or you aren’t able to keep up with demand at peak times of year, like around the holidays. You also might outgrow your factory capacity, develop a profitable customer base beyond your normal area or region, or you could even experience issues due to ransomware or malware attacks, like the one that closed down Colonial Oil earlier in 2021. There will be logistical issues and challenges associated with your new order fulfillment strategy – so take some time to plan carefully!
Order fulfillment is arguably the most important element of eCommerce. If orders are not filled, products don’t reach customers and a business fails. It’s critical that you prioritize your planning of this all-important element of your business, and take full advantage of the benefits technology and forward-thinking can provide.