Behind every successful online shop is a dedicated e-commerce fulfillment team that ensures customers are satisfied with shipping times and order packing. But what do these valuable team members do day-to-day? Let's learn about e-commerce fulfillment and what goes into this crucial job.
What Is E-Commerce Fulfillment?
E-commerce fulfillment is a term that encapsulates a wide range of job activities starting the minute a customer places an order on your website. The process doesn't end until your products arrive at your customer's door. Let's walk through a few of the steps that e-commerce fulfillment teams follow in this step of the supply chain.
- Order processing
- Order picking
- Order packing
- Communicating order statuses to customers
- Order transportation
- Order receipt documenting
The best part is that this process is easy to outsource. It isn't cost-effective for all companies to have their own fulfillment system and team, especially since team members need to display a high level of expertise in the fulfillment aspect of the supply chain. For this reason, many companies opt to work with an e-commerce fulfillment team, also called a third-party logistics (3PL) company.
By partnering with a 3PL like Smart Warehousing, you can reduce the financial burden of e-commerce fulfillment on your business.
How Do E-Commerce Fulfillment Centers Work?
E-commerce fulfillment centers must be well-organized to provide value to their customers. With the huge advancements in warehouse technologies, equipment, and automation that we have seen over the past few years, warehouse workflow and storage have improved dramatically. The processes of e-commerce fulfillment centers vary slightly between companies, but they generally follow something that looks like this.
1. Receiving Inventory
You can't sell products without inventory. The first step for any e-commerce fulfillment center is receiving inventory at the warehouse or fulfillment center. When you are working with a third-party service, you will want to make sure that your products are labeled properly to ensure that the processing of your products is speedy and accurate.
2. Inventory Storage
Organizing and storing your inventory is the next step for your fulfillment team to tackle. When stored properly, your products are protected from damage and are easy for pickers to find on warehouse shelves. Proper inventory management also helps you see exactly what products you have available to ship at any given moment.
A well-run inventory management team requires people trained to operate equipment that can move large pallets full of merchandise and shelve them within a day or two of arriving at the warehouse. Once the merchandise is stocked, it needs to be logged into your inventory management system to ensure that you know exactly how much of each item you have in stock at any given time.
3. Order Processing
When an order is placed through your website, it needs to get processed. The steps of processing an order include picking and packing products.
Order picking is the stage where the items that were ordered are found and pulled from warehouse shelves. After the items are retrieved, a packer will take the products, put them in an appropriately sized box or bubble mailer, add any protective materials and inserts, and box everything up. The packer will then apply a shipping label.
4. Order Shipping
The shipping process typically involves someone delivering the packages to a shipping carrier or handing the packages over to a carrier who stops by to pick up packages.
5. Returns Processing
While you hope that most of your customers are 100% satisfied with their orders, you will inevitably deal with returns. When a return comes through, you need to be able to process it. When working with an e-commerce fulfillment center, the products may be sent directly to you or the fulfillment provider you work with. At this point, it needs to be evaluated to determine if the quality is high enough to be restocked on the warehouse shelves or disposed of.
Should You Outsource Your E-Commerce Fulfillment Needs?
Not every company needs to outsource e-commerce fulfillment, but many businesses could benefit from the service that Smart Warehousing provides. An e-commerce fulfillment company can be an economical solution for companies that don't have the means or ability to operate their own warehouse operations.
The main benefits of outsourcing e-commerce fulfillment include:
- Flexible warehouse space that can scale as you do
- Orders picked and packed by order fulfillment professionals without you spending time and money hiring and training them
- Extra time and energy to spend on business development
- No expensive warehouse mortgage or lease
- Ability to choose a fulfillment warehouse in a convenient location to allow for faster order shipping
How to Find the Right E-Commerce Fulfillment Company
At Smart Warehousing, we know that you have many e-commerce fulfillment company options. There are a few things you should consider when trying to find an e-commerce fulfillment company to work with, including:
- Fulfillment Center Location: Most businesses need a fulfillment center somewhere near to where their customers live. This allows for faster shipping times. If you are going to distribute your products nationally, you might need more than one fulfillment center, which a third-party company can typically offer.
Using a large network of fulfillment centers can also reduce shipping costs, as most carriers determine shipping prices based on zones. This means that the further orders have to travel, the more expensive it is to ship.
- Specialization: The main benefit of working with an e-commerce fulfillment provider is getting expert guidance and work they can offer. An e-commerce fulfillment team knows how to handle the challenges that present themselves in a warehouse. Some e-commerce fulfillment providers also specialize in certain types of products, such as perishable goods. These providers can offer the best service to those within their industries.
- Shipping Times: Most customers expect shipping to be fast. Gone are the days where customers are willing to wait over two weeks for their items to arrive from your warehouse to their homes. The faster your orders can ship, the faster you can grow your business and earn the trust of new customers. It will benefit your business to find a fulfillment provider that can offer great shipping times.
- Customer Support: Any time you work with a third-party provider, you need access to a customer service team that can answer questions and put your requests through to the rest of the team. Some of these providers even offer customer service to the end-consumer. Those are the e-commerce fulfillment providers who stand above the rest, as customers can track their packages, answer customer service calls and emails, and take more off your plate.
Smart Warehousing is a full-service e-commerce fulfillment provider that can assist in every area of the supply chain. With 38 warehouses nationwide, we can ship quickly, and our team of experts knows exactly what you need to be successful. If you are interested in learning more about what the Smart Warehousing team can do for your business, please contact us.