Retail Distribution Order Fulfillment: What is Fulfillment in business?
Handling B2C order fulfillment is an exercise in meeting customer expectations. They want to have a certain type of delivery experience with their orders, which is influenced by large companies such as Amazon and other giants in the industry. You don’t have the same shipping resources and infrastructure as these organizations, but you still must live up to the expectations that they established with retail consumers.
It’s easy to stretch your company’s budget too thin when you try to do everything on your own, from processing orders to delivery. Scaling your operations becomes difficult or impossible, depending on the volume of orders, the demand that comes in and the number of manual processes in place. If you find yourself featured in a viral campaign, you could end up processing thousands or millions of orders. It’s all too easy to fall apart during this type of situation and ending up with a lot of angry people rather than a massive influx to your customer base. Retail product fulfillment services offer you exactly what you need to ensure a seamless process for your business and a delightful experience for consumers, from start to finish.
A retail product fulfillment vendor, typically categorized as a third-party logistics company, has the technology, staffing, and infrastructure in place to support retail order processing, from packing to shipping. These companies have the capability to take on your order load and get it delivered efficiently and within your specifications.
They use an order fulfillment center for their shipping operations. This center is more than just a warehouse for your inventory. It also includes advanced systems for tracking an order as it ships through the location, a variety of packaging materials for your products, and highly skilled staff members whose duties revolve entirely around shipping and order fulfillment. Your inventory management is handled in the right way.
It’s common for a smaller ecommerce company to have people taking on multiple roles. You could end up with the owner also doing packing and shipping duties. This type of inefficiency makes it difficult for members of the leadership to make strategic decisions.
If you do have the resources to have dedicated employees and infrastructure for order fulfillment, you often aren’t operating at the same scale as a 3PL company. Your warehouses may be in unfavorable locations that add delivery time onto your orders, or you could be using a basic fulfillment solution that doesn’t truly meet your needs.
When you work with retail fulfillment companies, you’re opening access to a range of specialized solutions to help ship your products. If you have products that need particularly custom handling, then you would want to work with the highly experienced members of this service provider.
It can’t be overstated how important the customer experience is to your business. A poor customer experience means that your shoppers end up being one-and-done, with no repeat customers or referrals coming in. That's one way of going out of business.
When the customer experience exceeds their expectations, their social circle is going to hear all about it. Not only do you get the opportunity to turn shoppers into a repeat customers by getting their orders out to them quickly, you also get to enjoy the word of mouth recommendations that they’ll bring in. Online reviews can make or break a company, especially in a crowded marketplace. When you nail the customer experience, you will see that reflected in the way prospects and existing customers talk about you online.
The retail product fulfillment center will quickly become one of your most valuable partners when it comes to completing orders. While they handle all of the basic tasks that you would expect as part of your order processing workflow, such as picking and packing from a warehouse, preparing the shipments, getting great shipping rates, and sending them out for delivery, there are many other ways that a 3PL can assist your company.
Product assembly: If you have products that need final assembly before going to their destination and you ship them, it may make sense to send the individual parts to the order fulfillment center for the last part of the process.
Custom packaging requirements: Do you want to include special inserts, custom packing slips, and other materials into the orders so that your customers remember you? The product fulfillment center works with you to ensure that your branding is properly in place before the delivery happens.
Creating kits: Some products sell better as part of a kit, and the 3PL provider can make that happen with custom packaging and kitting ideas.
Sending out retail displays: If you’re distributing your products to retail storefronts, you may need to use an eye-catching retail display to go right along with it. The order fulfillment center can put these together and send them along with the store shipments, so everything is in place.
Preparing and fulfilling promotions: If you have large sales throughout the year to your B2C audience, you want to be prepared with extra shipping support. A common high-volume need concerns free samples, which get the attention of plenty of consumers.
Local, regional, national, and international retail product distribution: Get your products shipped all over the world with the best possible delivery options. Distribution and fulfillment services can connect you with bulk rates that are more favorable than your own negotiated rates.
Create and maintain SKU database: If keeping up with the product SKUs has been an issue, the center can also take over these duties. If they find a product without a corresponding SKU, then they can assign it one before it starts shipping.
Sync data with your retail inventory: Real-time data integration between the fulfillment center’s backend systems and your own shopping cart solutions means that you never have to worry about your inventory levels being reported inaccurately.
Centralize your inventory at key locations: Get your products closer to the people who buy them the most. You can go with a 3PL business that has warehouses and fulfillment centers near your shipping hubs or use one that is centrally located to your common destinations.
Get expert eyes on every package going out of the fulfillment center: You don’t want the wrong products or orders going out from your warehouse to your customers. Quality assurance and control gets expert eyes on everything that’s going on in the order fulfillment process to ensure that it’s a seamless and enjoyable experience for the customer.
It may be difficult to decide whether you should enlist the services of a 3PL provider or continue process orders in-house. It’s hard to give up that kind of control over your products and an important part of the customer experience.
Ultimately, only you and the other leaders in your company can decide whether a retail fulfillment center partnership makes sense for your current process and future needs. Consider your growth rate, the access to supply chain logistics infrastructure, and the cost of warehouse space in your area as you make this decision.
You pay for the resources that you use, rather than investing in the infrastructure to support your maximum order throughput. That alone is often a reason that organizations choose to outsource their order processing and shipping duties to a 3PL solution. While the cost savings are excellent, the time savings offer an even more compelling reason to use or choose this type of service. Evaluate each retail product fulfillment center and see whether they have the functionality that you need to grow your business. The right partner will empower your company with support for rapid growth and a lot of flexibility.