Back to Insights

5 Ways to Innovate CX in the eCommerce Order Fulfillment Process 

Blog Post
See how retailers can innovate CX in one area of the customer journey — the eCommerce order fulfillment process — a crucial phase of the customer experience.

Customer experience (CX) has always been at the forefront of retail. People shop at brands that make them feel good and leave brands that don’t. Today’s retail market is more competitive than ever, with eCommerce providing every customer the option to buy from sellers around the world. Automation has more or less evened the playing field when it comes to the retail shopping process, and most retailers find that CX is the last true differentiator.  

But how do you make that CX stand out? Especially when every retailer is attempting to do the same?  

Let’s take a look at how retailers can innovate CX in one area of the customer journey — the order fulfillment process — a crucial phase of the customer experience.  

What is Customer Experience?  

Before we can innovate on CX, let’s take a closer look at it. The words “customer experience” are used so often that they’ve lost much of their weight; yet few words mean more to strategy, action, and outcomes than CX. Customer experience is the sum total of every touchpoint a shopper has with your brand. Their impression is made by personal experience and by your brand’s reputation. CX is influenced by every single aspect of your brand: from marketing, advertising, the look and feel of your store, the type of products you offer, the checkout process, the order fulfillment process, returns, customer care, your brand’s social media presence, and your expressed and demonstrated values. Nothing connected to your brand’s presence escapes a shopper’s CX.  

So, CX is as much influenced by what the brand looks and feels like, as it is by what it does and doesn’t do, and by what brand leaders say or don’t say. That’s the big CX picture. The one that needs to be orchestrated from the top down and funneled out to every business unit so that everyone owns the customer experience.  

Baseline Customer Expectations Are Established 

Nearly every eCommerce retailer uses the same shopping systems and processes. We can anticipate that shopping online will involve a website or app that flows smoothly, with easy to find information, and a hassle-free checkout process. We expect order status and shipping notifications and that our order will arrive intact, on time. We have expectations about payment options, when and where we’ll be asked to open an account, and that we’ll get an email confirmation of our order.  

The eCommerce shopping process is relatively standardized and customers expect to follow that process when they shop. The same thing is true for in store retail experiences. Though this is where store layout, product placement, and overall ambience can really be customized to provide a very unique brand experience.  

What Makes a Positive Order Fulfillment Experience 

Customers expect a brand to provide a positive CX. Which means the brand lives up to baseline expectations in a way that feels good, and ideally, exceeds those expectations. Brands can get all of the pre-purchase and checkout process right, but if the eCommerce order fulfillment process fails in some way, the entire experience will sour. Many brands feel as if they have little control over the order fulfillment part of their CX promises. Unless they own and operate their own fulfillment centers and logistics, this aspect depends on partners and carriers.  

So what makes an order fulfillment experience positive in the mind of the customer?  

  • The product is available 

  • The delivery time frame fits their needs 

  • The shipping options are acceptable 

  • The tracking information is real-time 

  • It is clear who to contact if there is a problem 

  • The carrier delivers the right order, in tact, on time 

  • Returns are easy 

Note that nearly all of these, with the exception of the carrier, are within the retailers’ control. The customer does not have visibility into distribution or fulfillment center operations.  

What makes order fulfillment positive in the retailer’s mind?  

  • The product is available from one or more vendors, ideally located close to the customer 

  • It’s picked, packed, and handed over to the carrier in the determined timeline 

  • The customer receives appropriate tracking data

  • The carrier delivers the right order, intact, on time 

  • There is no return, or if there is, it’s efficiently handled 

The aspects out of the retailer’s control are the part that has maximum impact on the customer — making sure the right item is picked, packed, shipped, and delivered to the customer without error and on time. So, how can retailers innovate CX on this part of the process?  

Here are 5 ways:  

  1. Gain real-time visibility into your supply chain. Without visibility, you’ll be blind to what’s happening in the ecosystem, and ultimately, won’t have answers for your customers. Start by ensuring you have technology that provides real-time inventory visibility and can be integrated into your suppliers’ and vendors’ systems so you all work from the same data. Make sure it integrates or is part of a robust order fulfillment management system. Visibility will give you the power to know when there’s an issue before it becomes an issue to the customer. With a resilient supply chain, you’ll have multiple vendors that can provide the product, so if an out of stock or delay happens, you can switch to another vendor. The customer will never know there was an issue. Or, if it must be brought to the customer’s attention, you’ll be confident you have the data they need to move forward.  
  1. Take control of delivery management. With visibility and technology in place to monitor orders, you can gain more control over delivery management. Even if you do not have control over suppliers, vendors, and shippers, you can take control of monitoring and of communication. Staying on top of where orders are at can ensure that nothing gets missed, it reduces human errors, and can help contain costs more effectively. This will require investments in technology and relationships with your suppliers and shippers. The benefits are worth it.  
  1. Partner with experts. Few eCommerce retailers own their own logistics and order fulfillment operations. Those that do, often see the value in partnering with a third-party logistics (3PL) expert, like Radial, that has deep experience in their field. Leading 3PLs invest in technology, automation, AI, skilled labor, and infrastructure at a rate and level that makes it hard for retailers to compete in-house. Drawing on a 3PL partner’s expertise can significantly uplevel your order fulfillment CX experience for customers.  
  1. Communicate clearly and often. There are many moving parts to order fulfillment. The more clearly and more often you communicate, the better everyone will stay on the same page. Be sure that your suppliers and partners are informed of your major sales dates and of any forecasted demand. The more prepared they can be to scale, the better experience your customers will have. Clear communication ensures issues are addressed early and can prevent many issues from snowballing.  
  1. Customize. Rethink your customer communications and packaging options to see where you can add a personal touch that will make the unboxing moment stand out. This is one of the primary ways you can differentiate your brand experience from the others who seem to toss items into any brown box and ship it out. Marketplace retailers have learned to do this well with hand-written notes, coupons, and attractive packaging. One Etsy retailer includes copies of his child’s artwork with a short story about the child’s artistic vision, making the unboxing experience uniquely personal.  Keep in mind, too, that packaging becomes the customer’s burden to dispose of or recycle. How can you impact that experience? See where you can add value.  

Innovating on the eCommerce order fulfillment process takes strategy and collaboration with partners. Meet with your core partners and brainstorm ideas that might benefit all involved, and make getting a delivery from your brand a memorable experience for every customer.  

Follow Radial on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter.

Learn how Radial can improve your CX.