It’s no secret that the e-commerce industry is booming. Even before the pandemic, customers were increasingly ordering merchandise and household goods online with the expectation that they could have a product delivered in a matter of days, if not hours.
Even so, the pandemic had a significant impact on the growth of e-commerce, which grew 50% between 2019 and 2021, reaching an all-time high of $870 billion in sales.
E-commerce is here to stay, which means that many businesses have to shift their focus to e-commerce fulfillment in order to attract and retain loyal customers.
The Basics of E-Commerce Fulfillment
E-commerce fulfillment is your ability to deliver products to customers after they have ordered online. It might sound simple, but there are lots of steps along the way, including processing online orders, monitoring inventory to ensure you have enough merchandise on hand, selecting products from the warehouse, packaging, and transporting items to the correct location.
In reality, as hundreds of online orders come through, it can be tricky to quickly and accurately prepare and ship merchandise so that customers get exactly what they ordered in the timeframe they were expecting. Add to that the logistics of tracking returns and transporting merchandise to retail stores and other venues/events, and it’s easy to see how fulfillment mistakes might happen.
However, to compete in today’s e-commerce industry, it’s crucial to eliminate error and increase efficiency as much as possible, which will strengthen your reputation and increase revenue. Here are three basic strategies to help make that happen.
Track Every Order
Implement a management system that lets you quickly and easily look up information on products that have been ordered so that you can see exactly where they are in the fulfillment process. This helps prevent delays and product loss. It also provides helpful data that you can use to analyze your fulfillment process as you continually make improvements.
Many companies make this tracking information available to customers as well, so they can also see the status of their order in real time and know when to expect delivery. It also provides a level of transparency and accountability to customers, which helps to create trust and repeat business.
An important aspect of product tracking is efficiency. You want your employees to be able to easily input data, print labels, and retrieve tracking information. This increases both efficiency and accuracy, and it will save your company money in the long run. Many companies are investing in mobile industrial carts that have a computer monitor and printer so that employees have access to a fully-equipped workstation wherever they go.
Think Strategically About Location
When it comes to e-commerce fulfillment, location is crucial when it comes to warehouse organization and location. A recent study revealed that online consumers prioritize delivery speed and low shipping costs, both of which depend on the strategic placement of products and services.
One way to think about location relates to the way products are organized in the warehouse. Each unique product or stock-keeping unit (SKU) should have its own storage location, whether that be a shelf or a specific bin, which will make it easy to locate the right product quickly when you need it. Typically, an electronic packing slip will give important details to employees about a product’s warehouse location, quantity, and packaging instructions.
Location also relates to the positioning of your warehouse. As opposed to placing a warehouse near business headquarters, it usually makes more sense to put warehouses near your customers to reduce shipping costs and delivery times. In fact, some businesses have several small fulfillment centers strategically located near consumer hubs, which extends their reach to specific markets and simplifies the shipping process.
Prioritize Customer Service
Compared to customers at brick-and-mortar stores, online customers are more likely to return merchandise. They are also more likely to continue to order from businesses that make it easy to return unwanted products.
It’s therefore important that your warehouse be ready to process returns quickly to finalize refunds and potentially restock or repair the product for resale. Return processing is a significant aspect of customer service, but it’s also crucial to the reverse logistics of your business to help minimize waste.
Many companies have automated basic tasks such as return processing and product tracking, which increases efficiency and accuracy and decreases employee labor costs.
E-commerce fulfillment is the product of hard work and strategic thinking that stems from a variety of departments and personnel. Whatever you can do to improve warehouse workflow to ship merchandise and process returns will be well worth the effort to increase efficiency, customer satisfaction, and revenue.