The Process of Ecommerce Order Fulfillment and Choosing the Best Strategy for Your Business
You have many responsibilities when it comes to running your ecommerce business. And it gets more challenging when you have ecommerce giants like Amazon as your competitors. You have to have the advertising and online marketing strategies in place to bring in customers, the staff and support to handle inventory, packaging and ecommerce fulfillment services, an IT team to keep the website up and ready to accept orders online, a customer service team to handle questions, emails and complaints related to shipping delays, and countless other duties, both offline and online. Consumers have many choices in most marketplaces, and if they read bad reviews or have a bad experience with your company, someone else is a click away with attractive discounts on an offer. You need to have a quality customer experience to really stand out, as it’s considered one of the most important differentiators that a company can have.
Sometimes maintaining or improving the customer experience requires more resources than you have in-house. One of the most common areas that get outsourced in ecommerce is the order fulfillment services, which include inventory management and shipping. Prompt order processing and delivery plays such a key role in giving the customer the best possible experience. It makes sense to partner with one of the shipping and inventory management experts that have the specialized skills and the right tools in place to take that order from processing through when it is ready to ship to delivery. This is something businesses like Amazon do to scale their operations.
You work with a third-party logistics provider, also known as ecommerce fulfillment companies, to get access to these types of services. The 3PL has the capabilities to handle part or all of your ecommerce fulfillment process. If you’re happy with parts of your ecommerce order fulfillment workflow, but you want to outsource the problem areas, then that’s an option.
In some cases, it makes more sense to have the 3PL fulfillment provider take over that entire shipping operation, so you can be stress free and focus on the areas that have led your business to success thus far. When less of your time is taken up by an area that you’re not as familiar with, you have more resources to focus on your primary business functions.
A warehouse is simply a storage facility that holds your inventory prior to shipping. You may have warehouses set up for your inventory currently or are planning on acquiring this space as you begin scaling your business. 3PL companies or fulfillment services provide an order distribution and fulfillment service center, which does hold inventory like a warehouse, but it does so much more for your organization so you can ship better.
Your orders get handled end-to-end at the ecommerce fulfillment center, with the 3PL handling all parts of this process from the time the order data gets sent to them to the moment it gets delivered to the buyer.
You receive many services through the 3PL fulfillment service center that you wouldn’t at a basic warehouse. Here are a few of the most common options that you’ll find when you start looking for 3PL solutions online.
Freight management: The 3PL fulfillment provider uses specialized tools to more effectively manage freight operations. They can see how inventory and orders are allocated quickly and make adjustments as needed throughout the shipping process to make sure your products reach your customers in great shape.
Pick and pack: You need a way to get your products off of the warehouse shelves and into the shipping box. With pick and pack services, you will be able to get the manual labor needed to pick the orders, choose the appropriate packing material and send it down to the loading dock to ship without delays. Since shopping around for packing materials can be daunting, choose a 3PL partner to have it taken care of for reasonable fees.
Supply chain logistics systems: An e-commerce logistics and inventory management company has access to all sorts of cutting-edge order fulfillment technology that is typically reserved for the biggest ecommerce companies, like Amazon, to expedite their logistics operations. You don’t want to lose a competitive edge by your shipments going out too slowly, so having this backend technology supporting your operations is critical.
Shipping services: The 3PL has existing relationships with different shipping companies, which give them the leverage for acquiring better rates, have access to specialized services, and makes it possible to speed up the delivery and order fulfillment process for your customers.
The 3PL provider also has additional e-commerce services that may be relevant to your both big and small order fulfillment needs.
Customer support: Do you have enough customer service representatives on-hand to handle questions related to orders or return of products? If you have hold times that constantly go higher and bad reviews complaining about the time it takes to get in touch with you, despite having a functional website, consider outsourcing order-related calls and online queries to the 3PL’s support resources. This way you can manage product returns better and significantly reduce the number of unhappy customers.
Instant access to data: Get real-time updates as orders come in, get processed, and go out the ecommerce fulfillment center’s doors. With up to the minute information, you don’t have to worry about overselling your inventory or running into other stocking issues as a result of old fulfillment data.
Warehousing: If you need more space for your inventory, the 3PL service offers cost-effective, pay for what you need warehousing available for your items. In many cases, the cost to work with the 3PL’s warehouses is better than trying to find a good deal on a space on your own. Hence, low overall shipping costs.
Fast fulfillment: If your 3PL provider has warehouses located near your largest shipping locations, then you’re able to drastically reduce the time it takes for orders to get to the customers. Faster fulfillment means more success for you. If people are spread throughout the country, then look for ecommerce fulfillment centers that are centrally located to move your items quickly.
Expert packing: An impeccable fulfillment process is never possible without expert packing, you don’t want to sell first and then deal with returns from broken products later. The experts at the 3PL fulfillment centers have plenty of experience with safely packaging and transporting your products. Returns and recall management: Get a better way to handle product returns – have the 3PL handle that entire part of the shipping process too.
You see several direct and indirect benefits when you start using order fulfillment centers for your ecommerce companies.
The cost savings is one of the most apparent benefits when you switch over your retail fulfillment solutions. You cut out administrative overhead, property overhead, and more by using a fulfillment company that specializes in this area.
Scaling business growth becomes possible with a 3PL fulfillment partner at your side, as you decrease the complaints from customers unhappy with how their orders are processed and delivered. You won’t have to fear sudden spikes in demand. Instead, it becomes an opportunity to sell more and make a great first impression with every new customer coming on board.
The 3PL service has a full staff dedicated to ecommerce fulfillment, so the quality and costs control is done by people that are dedicated to the task. They don’t have to help with other parts of the business after they get done with the order processing and fulfillment, so their attention isn’t being split between two different functions. Making a good first and repeat impression on customers is critical to scaling your business and improving sales. As you build a customer base full of happy people, you’re going to see the benefits to your bottom line.
Avoid employee overhead by working with the existing fulfillment staff in-place at the 3PL provider. It takes a lot of time to recruit, hire, and train new employees. When you encounter turnover, that sets the entire ecommerce fulfillment process back significantly. Avoid all that hassle with the help of a 3PL provider.