Fulfilling E-commerce orders at pace – what’s the best way?
By Ben Kaye, E-commerce and OMS expert at Mintsoft
With the recent rise in online shopping, many retailers will have seen an influx of new orders and are likely to be feeling the effect of the rising demand of order fulfilment. Combine that with customer expectations rapidly evolving with the requirement of some sort of value at every touch point – easy payment options, cheap and convenient shipping and returns, and a seamless shopping experience, there’s a lot of pressure on online retailers to fulfil orders alongside offering a great customer experience. Whether you’re an E-commerce business with your own fulfilment warehouse, or rely on a 3PL partner for logistics, you might be wondering what the best ways to fulfil at pace are.
With reports showing that consumers plan to keep shopping online, despite stores reopening, enhancing customer experience must be at the top of online retailer’s priorities. Here are the items to add to your to-do list to ensure you’re fulfilling orders at quickly as they are coming in.
Gain a true understanding of your inventory
When we talk about speed and customer satisfaction, your first response probably isn’t to go and get a detailed stock breakdown and complete an inventory overview. Having said that, by proactively controlling and managing your stock, you prepare yourself for peaks – both expected and unexpected. It’s hardly an exciting job, but it is critical, and this is even more vital if you sell your products on multiple platforms as it eliminates the risk of over-selling.
Anticipating peaks, becoming aware of lead times from suppliers and getting a handle on the data behind inventory saves you time later down the line – preparation is key after all. Do you encounter multiple errors being made in the picking and packing process? Are there common causes to order fulfilment issues? Without order management solutions in place to compile customer information and filter data into one place, there are more opportunities for error. An Order Management System (OMS) supports you in managing your online shops across multiple E-commerce channels from a single platform and is the best solution to keep on top of your inventory.
If your inventory isn’t synced, it is likely you will exceed order capability and you won’t be able to deliver. You can take advantage of a range of management reporting for inventory by using the right software. By using an OMS, automated reports can be set up and sent every day, week or month and can be teamed with critical alert notifications for out of stock, low stock and general stock movements – meaning you’ll never oversell again.
Ensuring pick and pack areas are built for success
Picking and packing is all part of the business, and if it’s not speedy and accurate, it costs more money. Today, customers expect to be informed every step of the way across the buying journey which means things like regular email updates, tracking information, delivery status alerts and prompt payment options and a 24/7 service.
You might have delved into automation and even considered robotics to reduce manual errors, but these are interim solutions. Simple tweaks to aspects such as your warehouse layout can begin to ensure maximum efficiency. For example, bestsellers and fast selling items should be all close to hand, while SKUs need to be clear, well labelled and distinct. (Many warehouses are organised by SKU because it’s easy to create sequential picking orders, but when IDs are vast and new items are unknown to the team, it’s easy to jumble numbers and letters meaning it may be time for a new process.)
If you rely on a 3PL or fulfilment house for your logistics, it’s worth investigating how they create their pick lists. Many warehouses still rely on printed lists, whilst those that are ahead of the game have this activity streamlined by using automated software. One example of this is through the use of smart tech, such as mobile barcode picking. By using voice assisted picking commands and product images, more intelligence can be gathered before the item comes off the shelf, leading to 100% accuracy. By using a scanning app, stock can also instantly be stored straight to relevant warehouse locations from Purchase Orders/ Advanced Shipment Notices (ASNs) – another area where accidental errors can quickly become an issue. The major benefit to this is that stock is updated in real time and then automatically transmitted to any connected sales channels for inventory sync.
Opting for a logistics partner that has invested in automation software might cost more initially, but you’ll save money in the long run with enhanced order accuracy.
Improve customer experience
Customer service sounds like ‘business as usual, with a smile’ – but of course, it’s far more complex than this. It’s about getting ahead of what customers want, anticipating delays and issues, and meeting them head on.
When things get busy, even managers with the best intentions can let things slip, and strategic customer communication can be one area that suffers. With so much on your mind; from your team’s general health and safety, to the deliveries to get out the door, it is very easy for data to start to live in spreadsheets and for you to work in response to a customer, rather than staying ahead of their needs.
Nowadays, many 3PL businesses have evolved their offerings by transitioning into tech first entities, so using a 3PL which has invested in technology means you can deliver a more responsive and consistent service. A good question to ask yourself if you use a 3PL is whether they have invested in technology to provide automated processes as this can have many benefits for online retailers – including enhanced customer experience. In a world where online shoppers choose convenience over brand loyalty, where and how orders are picked and packaged, delivery costs and timings, and ease of returns all matter. In fact, according to Retail Insight Network, 78% of consumers say they value convenience more today than they did before the pandemic.
A big part of customer experience and meeting their expectations comes in the delivery of their orders. Customer experience continues to be the main differentiator for the top E-commerce brands, and where delivery is concerned, this means choice and transparency. In order to provide multiple shipping options to meet customer’s needs (time, price etc.), it’s important to use multiple couriers. By investing in an OMS, you’re able to integrate with multiple couriers from one centralised platform, making it easier to select the best courier for the job – with pricing and timescales in mind. Logistics technology also allows you to send customers real-time updates on their order.
Shipping and fulfilment play a major role in the customer journey, especially when you consider that the point of delivery can often be the only face-to-face interaction customers will have with your brand. Therefore, speed of delivery and the accuracy of orders is pivotal to creating long lasting relationships with your customers and gaining loyalty over your competitors.