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Smart Warehousing Aug 11, 2021 12:43:59 PM 24 min read

The Comprehensive Guide to E-Commerce Fulfillment

As an e-commerce supplier, you must have complete confidence in your order fulfillment capabilities. Consumers expect flawless, quick delivery at the touch of a button, and when your fulfillment process is unable to meet those expectations, your bottom line suffers. That becomes especially true in the modern buying environment where so much business is conducted online.

This is where e-commerce fulfillment services come into play. By teaming up with a third-party logistics provider (3PL), you can confidently outsource order fulfillment to a reliable partner.

Whether you are looking to begin an e-commerce fulfillment partnership or need to improve your current process, you’re in the right place. This complete guide will walk you through every crucial piece of e-commerce fulfillment so you can properly assess your optimal solutions. Keep reading to learn more about:

  • What Is E-Commerce Fulfillment

  • The Evolution of E-Commerce Warehousing and Fulfillment

  • How the Right Product Fulfillment Solutions Help You Scale Revenue

  • How to Choose the Right E-Commerce Fulfillment Services

  • Low vs. High-Volume Fulfillment Solutions

  • B2C vs. B2B E-Commerce Order Fulfillment

  • Order Fulfillment for the Holidays

  • Custom Kitting and the Order Fulfillment Process

  • The End-to-End E-Commerce Fulfillment Process

What is E-Commerce Fulfillment

E-Commerce fulfillment is a crucial part of the supply chain that allows businesses to complete online order transactions and deliver products to consumers. The fulfillment process encompasses everything from stocking warehouse shelves and managing inventory to picking, packing, and delivering products.

3PLs are essentially the invisible third-party connecting a business to its consumers. They operate in the background, and when done correctly, consumers don’t even realize that the 3PL exists.

The Evolution of E-Commerce Warehousing & Fulfillment

In order to understand the current state of the fulfillment industry, it’s first important to revisit how e-commerce fulfillment even became possible. While the first online purchase didn’t occur until 1994, the idea of teleshopping actually began in the 1970s.

The early forms of online purchases were more focused on the B2B sphere as a means of information exchange and electronic invoice management. The invention of the World Wide Web spearheaded possibilities in the B2C space as businesses began to notice the possibilities of e-commerce.

With the technology in place and businesses wanting to dabble in online sales, the need for early warehousing popped up. Companies began recognizing the ability to position their goods in warehouses along popular e-commerce trade routes to be able to meet the growing online shopping needs.

At the turn of the century, it came full circle with the boom of e-commerce throughout the 2000s. This has continued to grow steadily and has recently been expedited further due to COVID-19, resulting in the modern state of fulfillment and warehousing.

For an in-depth dive into the history of e-commerce fulfillment, read the full article here.

E-Commerce Fulfillment & Revenue Scale

Every decision you make as a business owner is through the lens of revenue. If your fulfillment process is not optimized, your revenue will suffer. It’s really that simple.

Fulfillment partners allow you to outsource a time-consuming yet imperative aspect of your e-commerce operations. What’s more, they do it better than you could in-house, freeing up time and resources for more lucrative business-growth initiatives. Here are three ways that e-commerce fulfillment solutions help businesses scale revenue:

Automation

Inventory management, data entry, and other time-consuming tasks don’t have to be completed manually. By using automated systems that e-commerce fulfillment partners provide, your team is able to remove these tedious tasks from their workload and instead focus on more dynamic tasks.

Plus, automated software reduces the likelihood of human error, helping you improve your data management and make more accurate deliveries.

Efficiency

An end-to-end e-commerce fulfillment partner (more on that later) has the ability to handle every aspect of the fulfillment process. So what does that mean for you and your business? Simply put, you spend less time worrying about how consumers get their products and more time winning over those consumers in the first place.

Customer Experience

Ultimately, the right e-commerce fulfillment partner exists to do one thing — make your consumers as satisfied as possible with your product. From communication to quick, accurate delivery, every part of the order fulfillment process should work towards ensuring sound customer experience.

To learn more about e-commerce fulfillment and revenue scale, read the entire article here.

How to Choose the Right E-Commerce Fulfillment Services

Have you decided you need e-commerce fulfillment services, but still aren’t sure exactly what you should be looking for? With a number of 3PLs available to pick from, it’s crucial that you find one who can work with your unique needs.

Order fulfillment should not be a cookie-cutter template; different businesses deserve special attention and customized solutions. When deciding between e-commerce fulfillment partners, consider these three crucial aspects:

  1. Monthly Order Minimums and Maximums — Many 3PLs have a certain threshold of monthly orders that you must meet. Similarly, some 3PLs will not fulfill more than a certain monthly maximum. The threshold differs based on low- vs. high-volume 3PLs, but finding a partner that meets your needs in terms of monthly orders is a must.
  2. Technology and Integration — We already mentioned how important automation is in the overall fulfillment process, and it’s worth noting that this technology can make or break your fulfillment process. Your 3PL must provide easy-to-navigate technology that provides real-time insight into your operations. Additionally, that software must be able to integrate with the most common e-commerce platforms, including Shopify, WooCommerce, and more.
  3. Warehouse Location — Amazon has completely changed the way consumers buy, most notably in their expectations with product delivery. Nowadays, consumers expect 2-day delivery on nearly all orders, with some even requiring 1-day delivery. Your fulfillment partner’s national footprint matters, as it is the difference between successful 2-day delivery and upset, impatient customers.

For three more tips to remember when selecting an e-commerce service provider, check out the rest of the blog post here.

High-Volume Fulfillment Solutions

If you are experiencing consistent growth month over month, you are likely in a position to partner with a high-volume fulfillment partner. This should be viewed as an exciting opportunity along your path to success, not a stressful transition!

Typically, high-volume fulfillment constitutes 1,000 monthly orders or more. If your e-commerce operations are reaching this scale, there are many benefits of transitioning to a high-volume 3PL.

  • Kitting — Kitting is a crucial aspect of fulfillment that not only improves the 3PL’s efficiency but also allows you to bundle products together that improve customer satisfaction. High-volume distributors are more likely to need kitting services as they continue to grow.
  • Real-Time Insights — While it might have been easy to manually track orders when your volume was lower, that is no longer the case. High-volume distributors must have real-time access to their inventory management, order tracking, and other crucial aspects of fulfillment.
  • Brand Representation — When working with a high-volume 3PL, you can ensure that your partner understands the ins and outs of fulfillment better than anyone else. In turn, this allows them to act as an extension of your brand — your success becomes their success, ultimately encouraging them to prioritize your customers’ experience above everything else.

Read the full article to dive deeper into e-commerce fulfillment solutions for high-volume distributors.

B2C vs. B2B E-Commerce Order Fulfillment

Remember, no two fulfillment solutions are ever the same, and that’s especially true when it comes to B2C vs. B2B e-commerce fulfillment. Partnering with a primarily B2B 3PL for your direct-to-consumer fulfillment needs can get messy, and vice versa. 

Because of that, it’s crucial to find a fulfillment partner that can do it all. Here are some of the main differences to remember when it comes to B2C vs. B2B fulfillment:

Order and Unit Volume

Unit volume, or order quantity, is another piece of the order volume puzzle. Typically, B2B fulfillment orders will include a higher quantity of products but happen less frequently throughout the year. B2C orders, on the other hand, are much more frequent, but typically only contain a handful of items at most.

Shipping Methods

Because businesses order more quantity, their shipping and logistics solutions tend to be more complex, often including freight and palletized shipping options. Orders direct-to-consumer can be delivered via common carriers, such as UPS and FedEx.

Regulations

As part of the B2B fulfillment process, businesses must learn how to navigate stringent rules and regulations in regards to their supply chain process. These rules and regulations are far stricter than those that B2C fulfillment orders must adhere to.

Fulfillment Cost

Large, bulky B2B shipments typically require more people, more time, and more resources to complete. Because of this, these fulfillment solutions are often more expensive than B2C.

Read the rest of the article here to learn about five additional differences between B2B and B2C e-commerce fulfillment.

Order Fulfillment for the Holidays

We can’t create a comprehensive guide to e-commerce fulfillment without touching on the most important time of the year for e-commerce companies — the holidays. No matter how long you’ve been selling online, you understand just how crucial the holidays are for your success. From electronics to sporting goods, the holidays are the perfect time to boost your fulfillment process.

Holiday order fulfillment may seem like a daunting task, especially if you are growing above the 1,000-order monthly threshold. However, when you take the proper steps at the proper time (mid-summer is the best time to begin preparing for the holidays), you can meet the demands of consumers when it matters most. Here are some things to consider to get your holiday order fulfillment prepared:

  • Website Optimization — Too many e-commerce websites neglect frequently updating their navigation, and it hampers user experience. Shoppers want to quickly find what they are looking for, complete their order, and receive their product before the holidays, and your website goes a long way in ensuring that happens. Optimizing your website in time for the holiday shopping season may be beneficial to you and your customers.
  • Stock Enough Inventory — The last thing shoppers want to see when they get to your website is an “out of stock” label next to that perfect gift. Get ahead of this problem by stocking surplus inventory that you can always sell after the holiday season.
  • Use Inventory Tracking — With the volume of orders placed near the holidays, it’s crucial to have real-time insight into your inventory to stay ahead of potential problems like the one mentioned above. Inventory tracking software allows you to review stock counts, inventory turnover, and daily order performance.

For additional holiday fulfillment tips, read the entire guide to holiday order fulfillment here.

Custom Kitting and the Order Fulfillment Process

We touched on kitting above, but there’s so much more to it than that. When it comes to fulfillment efficiency and improves sales, kitting is a  must for high-volume distributors. 

Building on our definition above, kitting allows businesses to group separate items together and bundle them into one SKU. Rather than shipping each individual item to the customer, the entire order is then packaged as one SKU, picked, packed, and shipped. There are two formats of kitting to consider:

  • Pre-Built Kitting — This form of kitting analyzes the past purchase history of your consumers and groups items together that are often purchased in the same order. For instance, a person making home improvement purchases may buy an outdoor dining table, set of chairs, and string lights together. Pre-built kits allow you to group those items into one new SKU.
  • Custom Kitting — This form of kitting allows consumers to build their own kit within one purchase. The most common example of this is purchasing a bundle of custom shirts. Rather than buy five separate shirts, you can offer a custom bundle on your site that allows your buyers to select their five colors. From here, the kit is assembled in the fulfillment center, assigned a new SKU, and shipped to the buyer. Over time, businesses can identify common custom kits and turn them into pre-built kits.

For more information on the benefits of custom kitting and how it improves the e-commerce fulfillment process, read the full post here.

The End-to-End E-Commerce Fulfillment Process

As you can tell, finding the right e-commerce solutions is not as simple as A vs. B. There are so many things that go into the fulfillment process that makes finding an all-in-one solution difficult.

It’s not impossible, though, and when you do find an end-to-end fulfillment partner, don’t let them go. The truth is that many 3PLs offer great singular services. You might find one that fulfills e-commerce orders but not retail; ambient orders but not frozen; B2B orders but not B2C.

When this is the case, you are forced to spread your resources across multiple different partners, ultimately creating a disjointed fulfillment process and unreliable results. Each 3PL provides different software and insight into your inventory and orders, making it nearly impossible to stay on top of all orders across multiple providers.

Those problems are all eliminated when partnering with an end-to-end omnichannel provider that fulfills orders of various types. To learn more about what end-to-end fulfillment is and Mart Warehousing’s specific approach, read the full guide here.

Transform Your E-Commerce Fulfillment

Have you realized you’re ready for an upgraded e-commerce fulfillment experience? Smart Warehousing exists to simplify e-commerce fulfillment by becoming a true extension of your team.

In fact, we don’t really believe in the term 3PL at all. Logistics and fulfillment can’t be a “third-party” approach — your partner must intimately understand you, your products, and your clients in order to produce the most beneficial results for both parties.

Ready to learn more about our capabilities? Request a quote today to get started.

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