In the world of fast-paced, rapidly evolving eCommerce, order fulfillment is a bit of an afterthought for merchants. Sales and marketing efforts often take precedence over more operational components like order fulfillment and, as a result, fewer eCommerce brands invest in solutions to optimize their fulfillment strategies. But having a viable eCommerce fulfillment approach that strives for efficiency and minimizes risks is essential to a brand’s long-term commerce success. Deploying intelligent order fulfillment software is fundamental to implementing and delivering against an overarching fulfillment strategy.
Online shoppers are impatient. Thanks to the explosive growth of Amazon Prime and its coveted two-day delivery option, consumers now expect swift, timely fulfillment timelines from all eCommerce brands—and they won’t settle for anything less.
According to a study from Voxware, 69% of consumers say they are less likely to shop with a brand in the future if their order is not delivered within two days of the promised date. Additionally, 14% of consumers say they would give up shopping from a brand altogether if they receive a late delivery just once.
When it comes to Black Friday/Cyber Monday (BFCM) and the entire holiday season, shoppers are even more demanding. In that same Voxware survey, 86% of respondents said that their expectations for correct and on-time delivery of purchases are higher during the gift-giving season. This underscores the importance of following through during the fulfillment process, even during the busiest time of the year for online retailers.
The order fulfillment process is complex, with only some of its components being visible to the customer. In an ideal state, these components—both internal and customer-facing—work together to deliver a truly superior customer experience that establishes a personal connection to your brand and encourages customer loyalty. And the first step to a streamlined fulfillment process is the implementation of reliable order fulfillment software.
In this blog post, we’ll define the order fulfillment process, going in-depth to outline how it operates inside of a successful eCommerce business. Then, we’ll give an overview of the three main components of order fulfillment and explain how good order fulfillment software introduces efficiencies. Finally, we’ll take a look at some of the leading order fulfillment software providers and explain the benefits of their offerings. Read on to learn how your business can harness the power of a reliable, powerful order fulfillment solution.
WHAT IS ORDER FULFILLMENT?
Order fulfillment refers to the collective tasks that eCommerce businesses must complete to successfully deliver products to customers. The order fulfillment process begins when a customer first clicks “complete order” and ends when the customer receives that order on their doorstep.
Different eCommerce retailers have different fulfillment needs—especially B2B brands—so order fulfillment processes can vary greatly depending on the products being sold. But generally, the eCommerce order fulfillment process looks like this:
- A customer places an order through an eCommerce website, app, social media profile, or another touchpoint; the customer receives confirmation that their order has been received.
- A picklist, or a document explaining which item(s) need to be pulled from inventory to complete the order, is sent to the business’ warehouse; here, an employee retrieves the item(s) for packaging.
- The item(s) are packed and shipped to the customer; shipping confirmation is sent to the customer.
- The item(s) are delivered to the customer and the order is completed.
Some eCommerce retailers handle the entire order fulfillment process in-house. Others elect to outsource order fulfillment to a third-party logistics provider (3PL). These companies are experts at running warehouses, managing a high volume of orders, and ensuring timely delivery. Many eCommerce retailers choose to partner with a 3PL to free up time and resources internally to focus on improving products, expanding marketing efforts, and boosting customer satisfaction.
However, 3PLs are costly, and numerous eCommerce retailers—especially startup brands—choose to forego those costs in favor of fulfilling their orders. In addition to saving money, this approach also gives eCommerce businesses full visibility into their entire fulfillment process, exposing any challenges that need to be remedied.
Successful eCommerce businesses maintain order fulfillment processes that run like well-oiled machines. A well-defined and streamlined order fulfillment process helps eCommerce companies continue to satisfy their customers and create brand loyalty.
THE THREE MAIN COMPONENTS OF ORDER FULFILLMENT
Order fulfillment is a complex series of steps and processes that must work in perfect harmony to ensure customer satisfaction. The entire order fulfillment process can be broken down into three distinct phases.
Proper inventory management is fundamental to the long-term success of any eCommerce business, no matter what size. In order to grow and scale, it’s vital that eCommerce merchants understand how to effectively manage, monitor, and maintain their product inventory.
If you don’t have full visibility into your inventory and a solid understanding of your customers’ shopping habits, you can potentially run into supply and demand issues. You may have too much product on hand that just sits on shelves (known as dead stock), or you have too little product to meet customer orders.
Additionally, if you don’t keep proper tabs on your inventory, you risk overselling products—or allowing customers to complete orders for products that you do not have in your inventory. This can create significant customer service challenges and could damage your brand image in the eyes of consumers.
Numerous eCommerce businesses also face challenges with scale when it comes to inventory management. When starting, many eCommerce companies elect to track and manage inventory manually, often through spreadsheets—or even old-school pen and paper. But as eCommerce businesses begin to grow and their sales increase, these outdated methods of inventory management just aren’t sustainable.
Managing inventory manually is difficult and tedious, and comes with a significant risk of human error when it comes to data entry. As eCommerce businesses grow sales and expand into new channels, it becomes increasingly important to adopt technology solutions that ensure data consistency, automate processes, and provide real-time status updates and visibility into all the products you have on hand—wherever they’re stored.
Order processing encompasses all of the steps that occur in the time between when a customer places an order online and when that order is ready to ship. In successful eCommerce businesses, order processing runs without a hitch. It’s the last set of hurdles to complete before shipping—when products are completely out of your hands. An efficient order processing approach means your orders get out the door and into the hands of satisfied customers faster.
Order processing steps are numerous and can vary between different eCommerce merchants depending on size and other factors.
Payment processing is a deceptively complex part of the overall order processing flow. ECommerce merchants use payment gateways to analyze and transmit transaction data—like credit card numbers—as well as authorize the actual transfer of funds between customers and merchants. Some eCommerce companies maintain their payment gateways using in-house servers.
Others use third-party payment gateways like Stripe and Adyen. These providers process payments on their back end, meaning all sensitive customer payment information is handled externally by a trusted partner. This ensures that your site is not liable for customer payment data, but can create a disjointed user experience.
Picking refers to the process by which employees working in a company’s warehouse or a 3PL fulfillment center physically retrieve products to package for customer orders. It’s crucial to have a defined picking methodology that embraces automation to speed up employee picking speed and avoid picking errors.
After items have been accurately picked for order fulfillment, it’s time to package those items for shipping. In the packing stage, items must be prepared to reach their final destinations safely. Preventing items from arriving damaged is crucial to ensuring a positive overall customer experience.
Employees need to smartly pack items, considering factors like item weight, shape, fragility, and more. Additionally, packing employees need to be mindful of costs. A larger package means higher shipping costs, so ensuring you pack items in such a way that they take up the least amount of space possible is extremely important.
Shipping represents the final stage of the order fulfillment process. It’s the follow-through, the last challenge in delivering a superior customer experience. Unfortunately, it’s also the stage where eCommerce businesses have the least amount of influence. As a result, shipping can prove to be a massive headache for many eCommerce merchants.
If you partner with a shipping company that frequently delivers late or damaged items, your customers are going to get frustrated. This frustration will lead to negative impressions of your brand and decreased customer loyalty. Partnering with a trusted, reliable, and transparent shipping company should be top of mind for all eCommerce businesses.
Shipping services come in all shapes and sizes for eCommerce merchants. For smaller companies, shipping orders may be as simple as printing postage and dropping packages off at the post office. Larger or more specialized online retailers have infinitely more complex shipping demands, and as a result, must entrust shipping services to an outside party.
These shipping companies are also responsible for providing timely tracking and status updates to both customers and eCommerce businesses.
WHAT IS ORDER FULFILLMENT SOFTWARE?
Order fulfillment software automates all the individual processes that encompass your order fulfillment strategy. This includes inventory management, pick, pack and ship, tracking, and more. Also referred to as order management software (OMS), order fulfillment software constitutes a collective set of automation tools that help companies streamline and improve their order fulfillment strategies. These tools include:
- Inventory control software
- Warehouse management systems
- Order processing software
- Supply chain management software
- And more
When integrated with your eCommerce tech stack, these tools can provide complete visibility into your order fulfillment process, offering real-time updates while relying on automation to increase efficiencies and improve overall processes. Order fulfillment software is a game-changer for eCommerce businesses, including those who handle order fulfillment internally, as well as those who contract with a 3PL.
WHAT IS AN ENTERPRISE RESOURCE PLANNING (ERP) SYSTEM AND HOW DOES IT RELATE TO ORDER FULFILLMENT?
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems are technology solutions used by companies to manage all of their day-to-day business activities. Think of an ERP system as the brains of a business’ entire operation. ERPs connect to a central database that collects data from multiple departments across the businesses—including sales, accounting, supply chain, marketing, and more—then feed this data to all relevant systems and tools, like an eCommerce website.
Using this data, ERPs automate different business processes, provide real-time status updates, and offer feedback and insights to improve efficiency. ERPs help to unify disparate parts of a business and refine processes.
EFFECTIVE MULTICHANNEL SALES
If your eCommerce company sells through multiple digital channels, ERP systems can be extremely beneficial. Because an ERP system effectively serves as a single source of truth, it allows you to process sales from multiple channels. For example, in addition to your own eCommerce website, you might sell on marketplaces like Amazon like Walmart.
As a result, you’ll need to fulfill orders from each channel quickly and according to their unique specifications. An ERP system can ensure accurate and up-to-date inventory data to facilitate multichannel sales without significant manual work.
ERPs make it easy for multiple teams to access order and inventory information. As a result, your fulfillment team can access order information from each channel quickly and easily. This enables your fulfillment department to ship orders as quickly as possible. An ERP that is integrated with your commerce network will be able to push shipment notifications back to your eCommerce platform.
ACCURATE INVENTORY MANAGEMENT
Without an ERP you are left at the mercy of your eCommerce platform’s inventory ticker. As a result, inventory counts are only updated when a product is purchased or when the count is manually adjusted. Due to the reliance on human data entry, your eCommerce operations are vulnerable to data entry errors and not having the most up-to-date inventory levels. This can cause a data backlog for high-volume and multichannel merchants.
Eric Zegarski, Digital Marketing Manager at eBridge Connections, outlines the key benefit of ERP integration with your eCommerce platform:
“Imagine this scenario: You’re a popular clothing label that sells branded T-shirts. Your eCommerce store is your bread and butter, but you’re also listed on Amazon and other marketplaces. To your horror, you discover that all the size large T-shirts have a misprint on them.”
“Done the old school way, you would have to manually adjust this inventory in your ERP and then in each point of sale you offer that product on. With integration, the inventory update in your ERP would be almost near real-time on each platform.”
THE TOP ORDER FULFILLMENT SOFTWARE SOLUTIONS
In order to prepare for next year’s Black Friday/Cyber Monday influx of orders, consider modernizing your approach to order fulfillment using the software offerings outlined below. These tools embrace powerful automation, warehouse management, and shipping tools to deliver next-level order fulfillment experiences to eCommerce companies of all shapes and sizes.
Specializing in direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands, ShipBob is a “tech-enabled” 3PL that helps eCommerce businesses improve customer experience through superior logistics. ShipBob combines cutting-edge software with in-house fulfillment to effectively manage inventory, and pick, pack, and ship products.
ShipBob’s web-based fulfillment software serves as your primary logistics solution, allowing you to manage and edit orders, track inventory, and more. With powerful built-in reports and analytics, as well as seamless integrations with leading eCommerce platforms, ShipBob helps eCommerce companies make better supply chain decisions and gain a leg up in order fulfillment.
Brightpearl is a retail operations platform designed specifically for omnichannel merchants. A comprehensive order fulfillment solution, Brightpearl provides an extensive hub of tools to automate the entire order fulfillment process, including order management, warehousing, shipping, accounting, and more. Brightpearl even offers customer relationship management (CRM) and point of sale (POS) functionality.
Brightpearl’s strength lies in its ability to seamlessly integrate all of your sales channels, both online and offline. This ensures customers across channels are housed in one system, reducing costs and saving time. It’s truly cutting-edge technology built for the future of omnichannel commerce.
Built for eCommerce businesses looking to grow and scale quickly, Veeqo is a leading inventory and shipping platform. A web-based application, it provides an environment for eCommerce merchants to manage orders, inventory, shipping, and even returns.
Veeqo integrates with your existing eCommerce platform, marketplaces, and even in-store POS to pull all relevant order fulfillment data. Using this data, eCommerce businesses can easily print shipping labels and arrange for shipping thanks to Veeqo’s 17+ carrier integrations. The platform even offers a built-in warehouse management system to help merchants streamline shipping, receiving, picking, and packing—the crucial order processing phase of the fulfillment process.
Zoho maintains an impressive suite of enterprise technology solutions. From its HR platform to its IT management tools, Zoho technologies are built to stand up to the toughest technology challenges facing enterprises today. Zoho Inventory, its inventory management offering, is no different.
This cloud-based software helps eCommerce businesses easily create and manage purchase orders, as well as track inventory. Zoho Inventory integrates with digital sales channels like Amazon, eBay, and Etsy—as well as eCommerce platforms like Shopify—making it a truly powerful solution for brands leveraging multichannel sales strategies.
Billing itself as, “the ultimate eCommerce operations platform,” Skubana is another powerful tool in the realm of order fulfillment technology. Skubana collects all of your products, fulfillment centers, and sales channels and brings them online in a single, unified platform. This allows you to sell through DTC, wholesale, marketplaces, or any other sales avenues while providing a consistent customer experience across channels.
Skubana’s platform also incorporates powerful automation tools that can proactively generate product orders and find areas for driving down costs. This allows you to harness the power of automation not just to reduce manual labor and save time, but to save money as well.
Orderhive hangs its hat on its best-in-class automation. The platform makes it incredibly easy to set up workflows to generate invoices, create picking and packing lists, track and manage inventory, and so much more.
Featuring over 500 integrations leading eCommerce applications including Quickbooks, Amazon, WooCommerce, and more, Orderhive can be a powerful addition to your overall eCommerce tech stack. Orderhive’s platform reduces your operating costs, so you can focus more on developing and marketing superior products instead of getting bogged down with dull order fulfillment tasks.
Cin7 is another valuable tool for eCommerce businesses looking to get a more holistic order fulfillment experience. The platform enables effective multichannel fulfillment strategies by integrating with several eCommerce platforms and marketplaces. Cin7 simplifies the fulfillment process, helping you to get your products in the hands of customers faster. Cin7 is what truly efficient, fast, and automated order fulfillment looks like.
PREPARE FOR THE BUSIEST TIME OF THE YEAR BY INVESTING IN ORDER FULFILLMENT
Constituting the busiest, most stressful time of the year for eCommerce merchants, Black Friday/Cyber Monday is a true test of your business’ order fulfillment process. If you struggled to get orders out on time this past year, it’s likely that Black Friday/Cyber Monday exposed some serious inefficiencies in your order fulfillment strategy.
Embracing cutting-edge order fulfillment software can ensure you get the order out the door in a timely, streamlined manner, ensuring your customers receive packages as quickly as possible during the busiest time of the year.
The holiday season is incredibly competitive for eCommerce merchants, and an effective order fulfillment strategy could be your advantage over the competition. It’s the last stage in the eCommerce journey to deliver value to the customer, so why pass up this opportunity with lackluster fulfillment?