Order fulfillment in ecommerce has always been a significant area of focus for retailers, but never more so than in the past 18 months. Even businesses with well-oiled fulfillment operations have seen established processes thrown into disarray thanks to global supply chain issues. While fluctuating stock levels and unreliable shipping times may be out of your control, all is not lost. By following the tips and best practices below, online retailers can continue to thrive during a challenging time for ecommerce order fulfillment.
What is order fulfillment in ecommerce?
At its most basic definition, order fulfillment in ecommerce is the process by which your products are delivered to your customers. However, this is a misleadingly simple explanation for what is, in fact, a wide-ranging process that affects multiple facets of your business.
By the time a product reaches your customer, it has already undergone a long and complex journey. In most cases, it originates with your supplier or manufacturer. From there, it could ship via multiple international locations before it arrives at your warehouse or fulfillment center. Once received, it is carefully sorted into organized shelves where it can be quickly located when an order comes in. And finally, when an order is placed, it is picked, packed, and shipped to the consumer.
The logistics involved in ecommerce order fulfillment are mind-boggling, and each step presents an opportunity for things to go awry. To minimize friction and ensure the entire process runs smoothly, retailers should keep certain best practices in mind.
Best practices for order fulfillment in ecommerce
Order fulfillment in ecommerce has a huge impact on your overall customer experience. Shoppers expect their orders to be delivered fast and, usually, for free. In fact, unexpected shipping costs or longer than anticipated delivery timelines are among the top reasons for shopping cart abandonment. Whether supply chain issues are causing havoc for your business, or you’re simply looking for opportunities to further streamline your ecommerce order fulfillment, these tips will serve you well.
1. Be upfront about inventory levels
Don’t mislead shoppers about stock availability. If certain products are out of stock, or likely to take a long time to be delivered, then make it clear on the respective product page. In the event that you’re currently experiencing delayed shipping across the board – such as during busy periods like Black Friday – consider displaying banners throughout your site with details of what to expect, along with an apology for any inconvenience caused. By avoiding last minute surprises, you’re more likely to garner understanding from your shoppers. Don’t wait until they have reached the checkout stage to inform them shipping will take six weeks if they’re accustomed to receiving orders in a matter of days.
2. Keep shoppers informed post-purchase
The need for transparency doesn’t end once a shopper has made a purchase. If possible, it’s always a good idea to offer shipment tracking so customers can monitor their expected delivery date. Even during times of delay, shoppers will appreciate the assurance that their order is at least en route. And, as an added bonus, this will likely eliminate a significant volume of irate calls to your customer service team, who would otherwise be tasked with tracking down packages and communicating the latest updates.
3. Use merchandising to your advantage
Nothing is more frustrating for a shopper than scrolling through seemingly endless pages of unavailable products. However, with some simple tweaks to your merchandising strategy, it’s possible to draw customers’ focus back to the items you do have available. Use automated rules to dynamically move out-of-stock products to the bottom of category pages while boosting products that are in stock and ready to ship. If shoppers are searching for products you don’t have in stock, don’t send them to a “no results found” dead end, suggest a similar alternative instead.
4. Use reliable technology for order fulfillment in ecommerce
If you built your online store from the ground up, there may have been a time when you processed and packed each individual order by hand before dropping it off at the post office. While this lends a personal touch in a small business, it’s completely unsustainable as your store scales. Reliable technology that integrates across every stage of the fulfillment process is crucial, and cuts down on delays that cost you money. Whether it’s scanning newly received stock to auto-update inventory levels on your website, or instant alerts sent directly to your warehouse when new orders come in, effective technology ensures quick turnarounds and reduced margin for error.
5. Make returns easy
You may not think of returns as being part of order fulfillment in ecommerce, but it’s essential that they are factored into your process. Seamlessly accepting returned products at your fulfillment center, and instantly updating online inventory levels accordingly, will ultimately get those products shipped out the door again as quickly as possible. What’s more, shoppers often seek out your return policies before making a purchase, and 51% of US consumers say they won’t shop with retailers that don’t offer free returns. Streamlining the returns process helps order fulfillment run smoothly and keeps customers happy, what’s not to like?
Order fulfillment in ecommerce doesn’t have to be a headache
With the complex logistics involved in ecommerce fulfillment, it’s understandable that many retailers consider it a burden. Throw in supply chain issues, global shipping delays, or even something as simple as overstretched resources during holiday sales, and you have a recipe for potential disaster. But, this is all the more reason to invest in your order fulfillment processes. By following these best practices and staying in control of all the moving parts, you’ll improve customer satisfaction and dramatically improve business efficiencies.