eCommerce is definitely booming and many new businesses are joining the bandwagon. Across the world, the past year saw a continuation of the impressive growth of retail e-commerce around the world. Sales increased more than 20 percent worldwide in 2014 to almost $840 billion, as online retailers continued expanding to new geographies and physical retailers entered new markets through e-commerce.
However, as the industry grows, so do the challenges of keeping afloat in this ocean of opportunities. The simple process of fulfilling orders successfully and in a timely fashion, becomes more and more complex as an online business grows, and takes on a bigger customer base. Owing to the increased competition in the consumer sector, companies and businesses are under pressure of delivering quick and good quality products while keeping the costs low. One of the areas of eCommerce that needs to be very responsive is the area of order fulfillment of existing and new product launches. Business owners have to have a solid strategy in place to help fulfil orders successfully, no matter the size of their business.
The Process of Order Fulfillment
Order fulfillment consists of obtaining and processing orders and delivering the completed order to the customer. Receipt of the inventory from the producers or suppliers is the first step in the order fulfillment process. Once the inventory has been received, counted, inspected, labelled, and added to your warehouse management software, it is time for it to be shelved.
For enhancing the speed of the order fulfillment process, the following stages needs to be taken into account:
- Order Processing
- Preparation of Order
- Moving the order to shipping station for delivery to then end customer
- Ensuring that returns are easily facilitated.
For online sellers, the ability to effectively handle those returns is critical to their fulfilment operations, and to their overall businesses.
Strategies to Fast Track Order Fulfillment
Essentially, new entrants in the industry start small, and use manual processes to fulfil their daily orders, adding staff and resources, as and when required. However, as the pace quickens, it gets tough to manage higher space requirements, more people and increased shifts. The need for upgrading this model becomes inevitable to run the business productively and profitably. The key, therefore is to understand when to start the change
Here are some key strategies online business can implement to ensure that order fulfillment no longer remains a hassle.
Establish Order Profiles by Complete Analysis of Business Data:
Every business has to deal with a great deal of data for their fulfillment operations, whether manually or through an automated platform. This data is important and should be collected and thoroughly analysed to establish seasonal and peak demand patterns and be prepared accordingly. This data can be a window into order profiles, customer preferences, profitable SKUs and categories of fast and slow movers. This process is tedious but can be fast-tracked. It is advisable to engage an experienced eCommerce support service provider who can provide the expert assistance for speeding up your order processing.
Analyse and Choose an Order Fulfillment Solution:
As an online business grows, it can receive more than 3000 orders on a daily basis and store inventory in over 500 SKUs. An automated solution in this case will prove to be a great investment that is easy to use, and offers seamless communication with other management systems and direct picking solutions, including paper-based, pick-to-light, pick-to-cart, or voice-directed equipment, as well as quick integration of temporary workers to handle peak and seasonal order demand. Getting an automated order fulfillment solution for your business will also be beneficial for real-time notifications and adjusting to process anomalies, shortening walk times, improving order accuracy, simplified training, supporting multiple languages, real-time performance and work load reporting, as well as data profiling for daily fine tuning of system performance and future planning. With an automated and dynamic solution, you can promptly respond to velocity and profile changes, while optimizing order batching and dynamic slotting so you are prepared for seasonal or flash sales as well.
Cross Train Employees for Throughput Demands:
Correct and efficient management of an online business is a challenge as product demands fluctuate rapidly and are almost impossible to anticipate by your workforce. There will be times when businesses have to give priority to full system capacity utilization over efficiency and productivity of their individual employees. This is why cross training all your employees, including those in your back office is always a wise step as they can help fill orders to meet throughput demand and reduce the cost and impact of adding seasonal contract labor. All hands on deck will definitely have a positive effect, as cross-training also helps to remove silos within an organization by exposing employees to learn about all the different facets of the business. This way you will also ensure that, your labor and assets are not under-utilized.
Push the Delivery Window:
An online shopper can decide to shop at any time of the day, depending upon his convenience. Extend the daily order cut-off time and accommodate more last minute orders on your store. A first step is to frontload the morning with replenishments and to pre-stage fast movers in order to free resources for afternoon or evening picking.
Ensure and Manage Order Accuracy:
Using an automated order fulfillment system over a manual one will give your business an added advantage over competitors, as this way you can achieve almost 100% order accuracy. You need to determine the impact of inaccuracy in a manual fulfillment system, by determining the ratio of error-free orders over the total orders shipped. This creates useful performance metrics that can be used to help keep you one step ahead of your competition.
Product Returns Can Be Positive:
Returns, though necessary, can cause the growth of a business to stagnate, as it requires extra costs for reverse logistics, shipping, lost revenue and customer dissatisfaction. However, a business cannot survive without a solid return policy in place. However, if you play your cards right, and preempt these costs, you can build them into your product pricing strategy and minimize the impact on the bottom line. Also, identify non-performing SKUs and take a decision to discard them rather than incur restocking costs. You can also reduce the chance of returns by have a quality inspection before shipping the product. This way you can create a win-win situation for you and your customer.
Get Expert Guidance for Better Growth:
Every online business needs to understand that success is not just defined in terms of a great web design and a fixed marketing strategy. Innovating along the way and adapting to change is a sign of a robust business, and at the end of the day, you need to fulfil your customer’s orders. However, if you believe automation might be too much at this stage of your business, you can seek help from specialized advisors who can evaluate your growth trajectory to determine the best time to automate and recommend a modular, just-in-time approach to successful technology adoption.
The process of order fulfilment is central to the success of any eCommerce enterprise. It is important that effective and efficient processes are in place for this happen. Taking the help of an experienced and reliable ecommercen support and BPO service provider would surely help your organization achieve success on the eCommerce front.