Getting to grow your eCommerce business may be something you have always dreamed of doing. But getting to the point where you have a successful business, you have hired a few employees, and you are growing every month means that you have new responsibilities and more responsibilities.
New items still need to be made. Orders still need to be filled and shipped. Customer inquiries still need to be responded to. It can be very challenging to navigate the world of a growing business while hitting each step along the way promptly.
When it comes to filling orders for your customers, it is important to do it accurately and correctly. Order fulfillment needs to be quick because the customer expectations in this day and age are fast shipping so they can begin to use the new items they purchased from your online store. But getting this done with a growing business where you process many orders each day can be a challenge. That’s why many eCommerce shops partner with fulfillment centers for their logistics needs.
Find out what you need to know about fulfillment and how a third party might be able to help you grow your business even more in our new online world.
In logistics, fulfillment is the section of the supply chain management process in which inventory is received, orders are processed, and items are delivered to the end-user. The entire fulfillment process starts with a customer placing an order and ends once they receive it.
The fulfillment process in logistics can extend a little further, though, in the event of a return – fulfillment also handles the return and inventory upon receipt of returned items.
There are many steps and tasks involved in order fulfillment, including:
A fulfillment center operates to help complete the process of eCommerce fulfillment for your logistical needs. It receives the order from your eCommerce shop’s platform (WooCommerce, Amazon, Shopify, etc.), prepares the order by picking the items from the warehouse shelves, and packages and ships them to the customer.
Why is a fulfillment center a good idea for many eCommerce stores to partner with? Because many small and midsize businesses just do not have the time or staff to do this type of work themselves.
To ship all the orders promptly, dedicated staff is needed. Beyond the cost of time and labor, you would need storage space for your inventory – which fulfillment centers have plenty of but many businesses just do not.
A fulfillment company will receive your inventory, store it in designated areas of their warehouse, assist with inventory management, and process orders and returns for your company. They help to manage and streamline order fulfillment for your eCommerce shop.
While order fulfillment and logistics are related, they are not the same. Order fulfillment is a part of the overall logistics for your business. We’ll go into this in a little more detail later in this article, but fulfillment is the part of logistics that primarily happens after a customer places an order.
Within order fulfillment, there are three key steps to ensure a successful fulfillment process. Within each step, several elements will make that step a success and keep your customers happy. The three steps are receiving, processing, and shipping.
The first step of order fulfillment is receiving. This is when the fulfillment center receives your inventory from your business and inputs it into their warehouse management system (WMS). Receiving also includes organizing and storing inventory on shelves, in bins, on pallets, and in the specified area of the warehouse your company uses.
The warehouse management system helps you and the fulfillment center know where everything is located, and how many of each item (and in which sizes, colors, or variations) are available. This lets you know when you need to restock, and it lets them know which bin to find items for an order.
It also helps with returns processing, as you will be able to keep track of what is being returned so you can spot trends and identify potential issues with products.
The second step of order fulfillment is processing. This step is triggered when an order comes into your eCommerce shop. Your eCommerce store and your fulfillment center should be linked so that this process can begin automatically upon an order being placed.
A packing slip – whether that is a digital or physical slip – is generated, and a warehouse fulfillment worker is assigned to that order. They pick the items for the order, and then package them in a box or envelope, ensuring that the items will be safe and secure throughout transportation.
The third step of order fulfillment is shipping. After it has been picked and packed, it is ready to go out the door. Fulfillment centers often have carriers they work with, and they have negotiated rates for their clients to have the best pricing possible.
Many fulfillment centers offer great tracking capabilities, as well, so both your business and your customer can know when the item went out and where it is in the shipping process. This lets customers know when they can expect their order, so both the customer and you can solve any challenges as they arise like delays or lost packages.
This is typically when the fulfillment process ends. However, it’s not always the end. If someone needs or wants to return an item they purchased, the fulfillment center helps with processing that as well. The ultimate goal of order fulfillment is customer satisfaction, so an easy returns process can help achieve this goal, too.
When it comes to logistics and fulfillment, there comes a point when the do-it-yourself approach does not work anymore. Once your business starts processing a certain number of orders in a given month, it can be too challenging to manage yourself. This is when bringing in a professional fulfillment partner to help you scale your business is needed.
Here are the benefits you can gain when the time comes to outsource your order fulfillment:
When you handle your order fulfillment, your staff needs to be the ones keeping up with processing orders in addition to all of their other tasks. But when you use professional fulfillment services, your staff can focus on your products and sales, without needing to take time for packaging up the orders.
An order fulfillment company and staff have the experience and skills to effectively and efficiently process orders for your business, so you and your employees can focus on the other parts of the business.
When it comes to a customer’s order, you want them to be satisfied. To get to that point, they need to get their item in good condition and in a short amount of time. In the world of free two-day shipping, having a quick turnaround and fast shipping is almost a necessity.
By using a professional fulfillment staff, items will be packed securely and you can have more options for faster shipping at lower costs.
You understand the importance of inventory management, and it may seem a little scary to send off your inventory to someone else. You may feel like you will not know what the status is, how many of your top sellers you have left, or what to expect as far as communication goes.
But with professional logistics, you will have just as much – if not more – information in your inventory than before. One of the specialized technologies fulfillment warehouses use includes inventory management that automatically reflects accurate levels live on your website so that you and your customers know what is available.
It can also send you notices when levels are below a certain threshold, so you can restock as needed.
You want your business to run efficiently, and your customers need accuracy when orders are shipped out. You get both of those things when you work with a third-party logistics (3PL) company.
With technologies and processes in place, fulfillment centers understand the best practices of how to efficiently, and accurately process orders.
When outsourcing fulfillment logistics to a 3PL, you can increase your revenue. A 3PL can be a strategic business partner, helping you find new ways to work and giving you more options to grow while helping you to negotiate costs in logistics.
Here are a few of the ways a 3PL can help your eCommerce shop increase your revenue.
Two-day shipping. Free shipping. These options speak to what customers are looking for these days. With a 3PL, you can offer faster shipping speeds by having your inventory stored in their network of warehouses. This means your goods are closer to your customers, no matter where they live in the country.
In addition to shortening shipping speeds, this can cut shipping costs, as you are no longer regularly shipping small packages across the country to customers in another state.
Order fulfillment errors happen, especially when the person or people filling orders do not have the right tools or expertise. The wrong size or the wrong item could be grabbed, or the wrong box could be labeled with a shipping label when prepping the order for the carrier. To get orders filled quickly and accurately, it takes the right setup and the right technology to help fillers get it right.
Error rates are much lower with 3PLs because they have all the right tools and systems in place. With fewer errors, you can save on the costs associated with returns, reshipping an accurate order, and losing customers to the competition.
Logistics are just a natural part of running an eCommerce business, but it is probably not your only task (and definitely not your favorite task). You are passionate about your business and your products, but all of the steps involved in logistics are just something that must get done so you can grow your business.
As you scale an eCommerce business, these tasks can become more challenging and complicated. When you outsource to logistics and fulfillment providers, you can focus on the other important aspects like developing new products, and leave the logistics tasks to someone else.
This can reduce errors and save you money in the long term, as fulfillment companies have established relationships and the skills to negotiate rates for you.
If you have reached the point in your business that outsourcing eCommerce order fulfillment will allow you to continue to grow, it’s time to find the right partner to fit your needs.
At Rakuten Super Logistics, we provide order fulfillment services with a 100% order accuracy guarantee to grow businesses just like yours. Our order fulfillment services help you provide quick, accurate service to your customers while giving you the time to develop new products and expand your business.
We want to be a true partner for your eCommerce store. Our warehouses are conveniently located across the country, so you can offer faster shipping at lower costs for your customers, and our experienced staff will help keep them happy from the time their order is placed to when their order is at their door.
To learn more about our fast, accurate, and cost-effective order fulfillment, contact us for a quote today.