Retailers who’ve spent decades trying to perfect their in-store experience are now re-imagining their entire order fulfillment process, thanks to the rising tide of e-commerce. Since managing inventory and order processing for brick and mortar stores shares almost no common ground with fulfilling online orders, it’s every retailer for themselves in this dynamic, uncharted territory.
While the final version of your online order management process may vary, there are some basic steps you need to get just right to keep your customers smiling and new orders rolling in.
1. Seamless Supplier Integration
It’s one thing to ship products straight from your factory. But few online sellers manufacture the goods they sell. More often than not, products sold online are sourced from distributors, drop ship suppliers or the brand itself. In each of those cases, setting up a seamless connection between your own order management system (OMS) and that of your suppliers is a must.
A best-in-class platform (like CommerceHub’s OrderStream) integrates your suppliers’ OMS with your own so that missed orders, endless supplier coordination, invoicing errors and other such aggravations become things of the past.
2. End-to-end Order Visibility & Tracking
It’s not enough to use the same order management system as your suppliers. What’s more important is the degree of visibility you have into your suppliers’ catalog, inventory and order fulfillment process. Is your supplier running low on stock? Update inventory levels right away on your website too. Does it look like an order that was placed is stuck in transit? Inform the buyer right away to expect delayed deliveries.
The ability to track supplier orders and update customers in real-time helps you manage customer expectations better and improves the overall credibility of your brand. Another benefit of inventory and order visibility is the ability to showcase inventory availability to shoppers on your e-commerce site. As the UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper study confirms, 58% of shoppers believe that the ability to view inventory availability as they search for products online is important to the purchase decision.
3. Exception-Based Order Management
End-to-end visibility into your order management process has another benefit that’s even better. You could simply tell your customers that their orders will be delivered late and try to salvage a bad user experience. A better alternative would be to upgrade delayed shipments to a faster shipping method so you still meet the original delivery promise. Though a shipping upgrade would cost you slightly more to fulfill the order, at least the customer has a smooth shopping experience, increasing the likelihood of a repeat purchase.
Exception-based order management ensures that all your order fulfillment processes proceed as per plan when it’s business as usual. You get alerted in advance only when there’s a risk of an order getting delayed, misplaced or otherwise experiencing a problem. This means your order fulfillment runs smoothly on auto-pilot with the alarm bells sounding only when necessary.
4. Smart Warehousing Strategies
With the rising popularity of Amazon Prime, online shoppers have come to expect 2-day deliveries as standard. Many are even ready to pay extra for next-day or same-day deliveries.
Realistically, there are two ways your products can reach shoppers within such tight delivery windows:
- Ship all products by air. That way everyone gets next-day delivery. The problem with that idea? Your business will go broke really quickly.
- Ship products from a warehouse really close to your shoppers’ locations. That way, even with low-cost ground shipping, same-day or next-day deliveries are a possibility.
Assuming you go with the smart option (read option 2), it’s not feasible for all online sellers to have warehouses spread across the length and breadth of the country. So what’s the practical way out? Integrate with a Third Party Logistics (3PL) service provider that has a nationwide network of warehouses to achieve the same results at a fraction of the cost.
5. Pick the Right Shipping Method
We discussed earlier how online shoppers expect fast shipping. We also discussed that shipping all orders by the fastest ship method available is not a viable way of fulfilling orders. What if you could pick the right ship method to achieve your delivery promise based on the customer’s location, the warehouse location, transit time between the two and the time taken to actually pick, pack and ship the item? Too much to ask?
Not really. Smart shipping algorithms help you do exactly that and more. By picking the optimal ship method, you not only make sure you deliver products on time, you also ensure that you don’t spend unnecessarily on shipping upgrades.
6. Consistent Customer Communication
Unlike in traditional retail, for e-commerce businesses, the order fulfillment process starts when the customer completes a transaction. This means every step of your order fulfillment process – supplier coordination, picking and packing the right items, dispatching them via the right delivery method – all happen while the customer waits (often impatiently) at the other end.
Keep your customer engaged and informed by sharing details about their order with them every step of the way. A good order management system will give you updates about when a customer’s order was received by a supplier, when it was dispatched, where it is in transit, and so on. Leverage this wealth of information by sending out regular email notifications to keep the customer satisfied and encourage repeat purchases in the future.
7. Smooth Returns & Refunds
Sometimes, even the best laid plans don’t work out as you’d hoped. An estimated 30% of all online orders result in returns, compared to 9% of brick and mortar sales. This means you need an equally efficient process in place to manage reverse logistics and payment refunds.
Manage returns smoothly by spelling out your return policies clearly on every product page and on your order confirmation email. Collaborate with only those suppliers that accept returns, refunds and replacements. A minimum 30-day return window, free return shipping and zero restocking fees help smooth the way for repeat purchases.
They call it retail therapy for a reason. As a retailer, you’re not just in the business of accepting, processing and dispatching orders; you’re in charge of fulfillment. Time to step from order fulfillment to customer fulfillment!