Getting the order fulfillment process right is essential to delivering exceptional eCommerce fulfillment customer experiences. While this process is often thought to start when a customer places an online order and end when the package is delivered to their location of choice, the customer’s experience of the eCommerce fulfillment process actually starts even sooner—before they click the “buy” button.
The components of the process throughout a customer’s journey include what they expect:
- Before they buy. Customers want to know item availability, amount in inventory, estimated delivery time and shipping costs, and the return policy before they make their purchase decision. Many buyers make purchase decisions based on product availability, how fast they can get their order delivered, and the return policy.
- During checkout. Here they want to make sure that the shipping and delivery costs and timeframes match up and are still valid before they complete their purchase. They may still abandon their cart if the shipping options and speeds do not align to their preferences, or if there are unexpected costs involved.
- After checkout. Customers expect to receive an order confirmation, a clear outline of next steps, and a way to track the status of their order.
- During the wait for delivery. They expect to receive real-time updates on order status, be notified when it ships, receive a tracking number, and be informed when delivery is made—or of any unexpected delays.
- Post-order receipt. Customers want to be able to provide feedback/reviews and return items easily if necessary. They also want to be able to easily reach customer service.
As you can see, the order fulfillment process from the customer’s view begins before they decide to buy. This is why eCommerce retailers need to be sure to think holistically about their order fulfillment strategy and ensure that it is providing a seamless, omnichannel experience all the way through. The order fulfillment model you choose will impact customer satisfaction and loyalty, so be sure it is one that reduces friction and focuses on improving the overall customer experience.
That said, let’s explore best practices for fulfillment operations to help online stores meet and exceed customer expectations.
9 Order Fulfillment Best Practices
- Integrate your data and apps. It is nearly impossible to deliver a great order fulfillment experience today without connecting data from multiple sources and accessing it in real time. In fact, customers assume eCommerce businesses have the capacity to do so (if Amazon can, many believe every retailer can). Being able to see inventory availability and quantity in real time requires connected data. True omnichannel experiences cannot be built and executed without integrating data, applications, and systems across the supply chain ecosystem.
- Provide order fulfillment information before customers click the “buy” button. Retailers that still make customers wait until they add an item to their cart to view shipping and delivery information frequently lose customers to competitors who transparently share this information earlier in the shopping process.
- Make it easy for customers to reach their desired goal. This adage applies across every aspect of the buyer’s journey but is especially true once a customer starts engaging with your brand. Provide as much information upfront, offer alternative locations that may have the item if it’s out of stock at one store, provide options to get notified if an item is out of stock, and make sure that all the fulfillment data is provided before they get to their cart. Keep customers notified in real time about the status of their order through the communication channel of their choice and ensure that processing returns is hassle-free.
- Optimize your order fulfillment system. Whether you own and run your own fulfillment centers or you outsource order management and fulfillment to a third-party logistics provider, you need to optimize each part of the process to be able to meet demand, speed, and order accuracy. Review how each part is working and ask how you can make small changes or introduce automation that would enhance it. If you’re outsourcing to an order fulfillment partner, be sure to vet their operations and historic ability to meet service level agreements (SLAs).
- Upgrade to a modern cloud-based order management system (OMS). It should provide a comprehensive view of your supply chain ecosystem that integrates with your key systems (e.g., enterprise resource planning systems) and syncs with third-party providers.
- Gain real-time inventory visibility. This is a critical component of a modern OMS to accurately match supply with demand, make data-driven decisions, and ensure your operations are as efficient and streamlined as possible. Visibility into inventory levels, status, and location is the linchpin for seamless omnichannel experiences and for accurate order picking, packing, and shipping.
- Automate where it makes sense. Retail robotics for picking, packing, and shipping can help your retail business scale dramatically while cutting down on the propensity for errors. It can also assist your employees in being more efficient while reducing the amount of rote, repetitive work required. Aside from robotics, evaluate where automating workflows and processes could create a smooth flow of data that would eliminate bottlenecks or transfer information without having to utilize multiple systems or data entry.
- Streamline reverse logistics. The returns process is integral to a positive customer experience. Making returns easy, convenient, and free helps customers feel confident in their purchases. However, reverse logistics can be costly with added warehousing, inventory storage fees, and processing expenses. Improving efficiency and making sure return policies are clear and obvious for customers is important to help contain costs.
- Build strong relationships with shippers. The delivery experience is a key component of the customer experience and yet eCommerce retailers must depend on third parties for this last part of the order fulfillment process. Renegotiating contracts and relationships with shipping carriers can help improve SLAs and outcomes for customers. Most large eCommerce fulfillment providers will already have favorable agreements in place with shipping carriers due to their comprehensive networks and the volume of orders they ship.
Order fulfillment is complex. Retailers that provide proactive communication with customers, accurately process orders, have real-time visibility into inventory, leverage automation to be more efficient, and ship and deliver orders faster can more effectively meet customers’ eCommerce shopping expectations, boost sales, and increase loyalty.
Learn how Radial can support your order fulfillment operations,