All successful e-Commerce businesses have one thing in common: Terrific e-Commerce fulfillment.
You might have an epic website, a shopping cart that is capable of sliding your customers effortlessly to check out and most importantly, the best products in the world. But if your e-Commerce fulfillment operation fails to run smoothly, your web-based business will be all show and no go.
e-Commerce fulfillment isn’t exactly the most pleasant part of running a business. But at the same time, it could very well be the one thing that catapults your e-Commerce business to success. Punctual and accurate fulfillment equals happy customers and positive feedback, and a robust e-fulfillment system can save you valuable time and money to expand your business.
What is e-Commerce fulfillment?
Probably without you even noticing it, e-Commerce fulfillment is all over the place. It has been an integral part of your business all along. You were your own e-fulfillment provider when you were packing boxes in your garage or sticking labels onto your packages. Now that your business has grown, you probably should outsource your fulfillment to a third-party logistics (3PL) service to ease all the logistics hassles and focus on growing your business.
e-Commerce fulfillment is also the part where you actually deliver your product to your buyers. It includes everything from getting product onto fulfillment center shelves to picking, packing and shipping orders.
To break it down, there are four basic components of an e-fulfillment process:
- Storing and fulfillment center integration
- Receiving and inventory management
- Order fulfillment (Pick, Pack & Delivery)
- Returns handling
- Storing and Fulfillment Center Integration
When you think of a warehouse, you probably imagine rows of shelves filled with products. At its core, however, every good e-Commerce fulfillment center is a whole technology company.
Your e-Commerce store should integrate seamlessly with your fulfillment center, so orders flow directly to the people who are responsible for sending them out. Specifically, if you are an omnichannel seller, your 3PL company should help you sync with every platform on which you sell, and do so cost-free is most ideal.
- Receiving and Inventory Management
Receiving and inventory management are the parts where many fulfillment warehouses fall short. A single backlog of pallets sitting on a loading dock means your products aren’t in inventory, and no inventory means no sales. This, of course, is not a good thing. A top-notch e-fulfillment services company should be able to move your goods from the loading dock into inventory within one to two days at most.
Another aspect related to inventory management is shrinkage – in other words: Loss, theft, and breakage. Some fulfillment centers make inventory management a top priority and will take responsibility for any items that are lost or broken while on their shelves. In this case, you don’t have to account for shrinkage when you are calculating ideal stock levels.
- Order Fulfillment: Pick, Pack, and Ship
When an order comes in, fulfillment warehouses will pick the right items to put in different boxes, pack them carefully, and ship them to your customer. That’s how the pick, pack, and ship process goes.
It’s important to look for a 3PL provider that offers next-day turnaround, or even same-day shipping. Since if your orders are turned around quickly at the warehouse, you won’t lose the benefit of that saved shipping time.
- Returns Handling
Ease of returns is crucial from the shoppers’ perspective and can be a major factor in driving your sales. On the other hand, receiving returns and putting items back into inventory for you is also a crucial component of e-Commerce fulfillment.
The faster returns are handled, the quicker your customer will get a refund. Efficient returns processing also puts your stock back on the shelf as soon as possible, making it available again.
Returns are kind of a hate-it-or-love-it part of e-Commerce – troublesome but ultimately rewarding. A good e-fulfillment center is expected to make returns as easy as possible for both you and your customers.
Deciding factors for a reliable e-commerce fulfillment service provider?
Location is all that matters to those who run e-fulfillment services. Your business headquarter may be tucked into one of the more remote corners of the country, but your inventory should always be centrally located.
Shipping times of seven working days or more may be acceptable for, say, a cosmetics e-Commerce company. However, if you’re selling on one of those big platforms like Amazon or Lazada with a wide range of products, fast delivery is a must.
When you aim for nation-wide distribution, things get more complicated as one warehouse is probably not going to get you close enough to all of your customers. An extensive e-Commerce fulfillment strategy with a strategic network of warehouses will allow you to ship to almost every part of each and every country within approximately (and ideally) two days.
The other benefit of well-placed fulfillment centers is lower shipping costs. Carriers calculate shipping fee based on zones; the farther an order has to travel, the more expensive it is to ship.
High shipping cost is one of the top reasons for e-Commerce shopping cart abandonment. Fast, cheap shipping is critical to e-Commerce success for most businesses. So make sure you have projected market expansion carefully before choosing a 3PL company. Review the zone chart for all the warehouse locations of each e-fulfillment services company you consider to make sure that you’re getting the coverage you need.
Auto-processing has become a norm among 3PL fulfillment companies and is usually the very first thing customers consider as well when waging between provider names. Once you receive orders from all of your sales channels, look for a reliable 3PL who will pick-up, store and pack your orders, then proceed to fulfill your orders automatically.
Once orders are fulfilled, whichever 3PL that had caught your eyes should also ship them directly to your customers and perform the necessary practice of helping you collect cash on delivery.