In a world where Amazon Prime and Shopify stores reign supreme it may seem easy to set up and operate an online store. But a great product and amazing marketing will only take you so far. Order fulfillment is also very crucial to the success of any online business. 38% of customers say they won’t shop at an online store again if they have a negative fulfillment experience. Whether merchant fulfilled or using a third party logistics (3PL) partner– to the customer it doesn’t matter. What does matter is price, accuracy and timeliness. These may seem simple, but in a time of an online shopping boom many warehouse labor forces are stretched thin, lack technology to keep up and are running out of physical space. Here are the basics you need to know to have a successful e-commerce fulfillment solution.
Having an accurate live inventory count at all times should be very important to your online business. Receiving inbound freight in a warehouse is the process of unloading, counting pallets or cases, and checking for damages. Any damaged items should not be put into inventory or they may accidentally make it to your customers’ doorsteps. Also, a Warehouse Management System (WMS) can typically integrate with your backend website platform (Shopify for example) and sync up continually to reflect accurate on hand quantities at all times. This is important so you are not accepting orders when stock is unavailable.
Many WMS platforms allow you to sync orders across many marketplaces as received. ShipHero integrates into more than 100 different carts including the aforementioned Shopify, WooCommerce, Big Commerce, Amazon, WalMart, eBay and many more. Having transactional data and accurate inventory across wherever you may be selling is paramount. Nothing turns a customer off quicker than ordering something and then receiving an email stating it is now on backorder as the receiving process wasn’t done correctly.
After product is received it is organized and put away while it waits for your customer orders. It can be in forward pick racking or on a pickable pallet location. What matters is the ability to quickly and accurately find it when it is ready to be picked, packed and shipped. All of your items should have a license plate location that can be easily accessed physically and digitally.
Storing is just as critical as receiving. If not done correctly, you will have items in the wrong location which can lead to incorrect picks. If items are stored correctly and the WMS platform used is sophisticated enough the picker will be placed into systematic picking waves that ensure accuracy while cutting down the time needed to pick e-commerce orders.
Pick and Pack
After receiving an order, a warehouse worker will then pick the order from the storage location and pack it into a shipping box. Picking is the system of taking orders from locations and organizing them to be boxed and shipped. Picking lists are used for multiple items in an order to make sure these are shipping together for both cost and efficiency purposes. The evolution over the past 10-15 years has seen warehouses picking with software vs. physical pick tickets. A lot of WMS providers also have built in voice picking as an additional layer to help confirm accuracy.
Inventory storage should be well-organized and logged to decrease picking time, and the overall time it takes to fulfill an order. The more checks you have built into the picking and packing process the better. At Lessgistics, we are proud to use a triple confirm system: (1) scan location license plate, (2) scan item when picked, (3) scan item when packed for outbound shipping. This helps lead to a 99.9% pick and pack accuracy across our warehouse.
In order to compete, brands will need to consider location in picking a fulfillment center partner. Whether using in house, 3PL or merchant fulfilled shipping options and practices will vary. If fulfilling in house or using a 3PL network the closeness of proximity of your warehouse to your customers is key. This will minimize transportation cost and cut down on valuable shipping times.
Ensuring you have a carrier network solution that fits your customers needs is important, as well. There is no reason to be shipping Express services if Ground services can make the same or similar transit at a much cheaper rate. Some industry folks have a false belief that everyone needs to compete with Amazon for 1 and 2 day deliveries. The important thing is to clearly state and hit your shipping expectations as communicated to your customers.
As much as online stores might despise them, returns are a necessary part of the business. Multiple reverse logistics solutions may need to be in place depending on type of product. Ease of use, cost and where these returns are being shipped is also important to map out prior to starting out. Many 3PL partners won’t handle returns so make sure you are asking the right questions if this is a need for your business when researching solutions.
Again, messaging and communication on your returns policy is paramount. 96% of consumers stated they would shop with a retailer again if the returns process was a good experience. Make sure your policy is easy to find on all customer touchpoints and then execute against your policy.
Choose the Right Partner
If you are thinking of making a change in your fulfilment strategy consider reaching out to Lessgistics. We offer more than just the basics of a successful e-commerce solution. We have expertise in e-commerce fulfillment, subscription box kitting and other specialized kitting projects (Amazon FBA prep, etc). With over 20 years of supply chain and logistics experience we are ready, willing and able to be an extension of your team and wow your customers every step of the way.