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To your customer sitting at home, your order fulfillment process is probably the last thing on their mind – all they want to know is that their item will arrive when and where it should, in the condition they had hoped for.

But, to the typical e-Commerce business owner, the order fulfillment process is anything but simple!

From that initial check-out completion to the moment your customer decides they are happy with their item, there are multiple steps and groups of people involved. Getting them all co-ordinated is a process that often takes constant refining and improving to keep costs down, customers happy and employees working at their most efficient.

Are you looking for ways to improve your e-Commerce order fulfillment process? Take a look at our guide for our top tips….

What are the steps to a good order fulfilment process?

Before you get to work on improving your order fulfillment process, think about what you want to achieve. Typically, a good procedure would follow these steps…

  • A customer places an order and receives immediate confirmation and an accurate delivery time
  • Your warehouse receives that order quickly and has the resources to pick and pack it smoothly and efficiently
  • The package is shipped through the most suitable and cost effective courier service
  • The customer is notified that their item has been dispatched and will arrive by their delivery date
  • The item arrives at the customer’s door on time, with no damage and with the correct invoice or receipt

Orders that meet all of these requirements are sometimes referred to as the ‘fill rate’ – this is the number of orders that have been successfully fulfilled with immediate stock, without backorders or losing sales.

To achieve this, there is even more going on behind the scenes. Inventory will need to be tracked and data will need to be collected while you maintain visibility over each step.

5 Ways to Improve Your Order Fulfillment Process

Unfortunately, it’s hard to guarantee that every single order you fulfil will be perfect – mistakes do happen.

However, there are things you should be doing to ensure your fulfillment process minimises these risks as much as possible…

1. Manage Your Inventory Properly

The place to start when looking at improving your order fulfilment process is right at the beginning. Before you have even received an order, make sure you are well prepared for controlling and managing your stock inventory properly. If you don’t, you leave yourself vulnerable to all kinds of issues.

First of all, stay on top of your demand forecasting. It’s essential that you know when to anticipate those peaks in demand so you can order the right level of stock accordingly. Keep an eye on the lead time from your suppliers well in advance so you know you will be able to meet seasonal sales fluctuations.

To be able to do this, you also need to know exactly how many products you currently have in your supply chain – so, those you have on order from your supplier and sitting in your warehouse, as well as any that are being sent back from customers as returns.

If you don’t know how many products you have available, you could end up taking orders for products you don’t actually have, leading to a difficult blockage in your supply chain and unfilled orders on your plate.

To find out more, read our complete guide to managing and keeping control of your stock inventory.

2. Embrace Automation

If you are new to automation, it might sound intimidating – is it really safe to hand over control of your business to a computer?

Many businesses stick to what they know, even if they are aware of the inefficiencies and sticking points it causes. The idea of a drastic change can be daunting, leading to a ‘better the devil you know’ kind of attitude.

But, automation doesn’t mean your warehouse will be run by robots. Rather, it means all of those time-consuming manual steps that are susceptible to simple human errors can be eliminated.

For example, when your warehouse operators receive an order, an automated system can let them know exactly which packaging option they should use, the most efficient order in which to pick the items and the optimum courier service to use.

When you have orders coming in from different channels, fulfilling them can start to get complicated. Having a standardised, automated fulfillment process avoids confusion and allows your warehouse staff to get orders shipped as quickly as possible.

3. Be Prepared for Picking and Packing

This leads us well onto our next point. Picking and packing is essentially a non-profitable part of your supply chain. The more time it takes to find, pack and dispatch an order, the more it will cost you.

Automation can help to keep the time spent on picking and packing to a minimum while also reducing errors. But, there are some other things you can do in your warehouse to improve the efficiency of your order fulfilment process, too.

Consider how your products have been slotted into your shelves. If you haven’t already, keep your best selling and fastest moving items in the most easily accessible spot. If you have any items that are frequently bought in the same order, group them together.

While you are at it, make sure that your SKUs are clear, unique and easy to understand. Errors during the picking and packing process are easy to make if your warehouse is complicated and badly organised – which can lead to more returns from customers, in turn adding further strain to your fulfilment process.

4. Remember Reverse Logistics

It’s easy to focus all of your attention on getting your products to the doors of your customers. But, how much thought do you put into the reverse process?

When customers return an item, they are adding a whole new chain to your order fulfilment process – reverse logistics.

Returns are an inevitable part of any e-Commerce business, but it can be something of a pain point if not handled correctly.

Getting returned products back into your inventory as quickly as possible should be one of your main goals. The longer it sits unaccounted for, the more problems you will cause in your fulfilment chain – whether it leads to you over-ordering on stock, or rejecting orders because you think the item isn’t in stock.

Stay on top of quality control, too. Make sure your warehouse team is properly prepped on what to do about damaged items. If a customer receives an item which isn’t in perfect condition, they may well send it back, adding easily avoidable pressure to your supply chain.

We have a guide on how to best manage returns for your e-Commerce store with more information.

5. Visibility & Scalability

Finally, it’s important to realise that you can’t find ways to improve your order fulfilment process unless you have a good level of visibility over it.

If you have data that is hidden away on spreadsheets, you will struggle to identify key areas for improvement and growth. Instead, use inventory management software and order management software to your advantage.

Delve into the insights you have available to allow yourself to make the most effective decisions around the areas we have mentioned – for example, are most of your errors being made in the picking and packing process? Or, are you finding a certain supplier isn’t delivering stock fast enough? You need to be able to identify the real, root cause of any order fulfillment issue.

As you are putting new systems in place to improve your fulfillment process, always ask yourself – “is the way I am doing this sustainable and scalable?”

Many small businesses start out lean in their early days to allow their profit to grow. But, once you are ready to take the next step, you will need to put some investment into your order fulfilment process to make the most of new opportunities.

P.S, if you are looking for ways to improve your order fulfilment process, contact us at 3PL for a chat about how you can start to grow your business.

Find more e-Commerce order fulfilment advice over on the 3PL blog

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Barry Ryan

Barry Ryan is Marketing Manager at 3PL. He researches and writes everything you need to know about eCommerce fulfilment and logistics.