No matter what season it is, COVID-19 has presented retail and eCommerce businesses with a unique set of challenges, especially as it pertains to order fulfillment. Now, instead of browsing shopping malls and purchasing products in brick-and-mortar stores, customers are looking to online shopping for every product.
As a result, many businesses will need to adjust their fulfillment processes to handle the surge in online orders this year. But the question is: what adjustments can and should be made to streamline fulfillment?
Here are 5 strategies you can use to successfully navigate the ups and downs of order fulfillment in our current environment.
Adopt Alternative Shipping Methods
As more customers place online orders this year, it may quickly become difficult for you to keep your order cycles short. As shipping carriers become overwhelmed, a backlog of orders can develop, turning what might’ve been a few days into a week or more of waiting for customers.
Luckily, there are alternative methods that you can add to your arsenal to make shipping faster and easier this holiday season. For example, you might lean more heavily on your suppliers’ shipping network by dropshipping your products. Or, if you find the bottleneck to be the last leg of the shipping route -- from the carrier facility to your customers’ doors -- you might decide to involve a 3rd party, like Uber, a fulfillment startup, or an omnichannel order management provider to share the load.
Embrace Last Mile Tracking
While it’s been popular in the past, it should come as no surprise that the prospect of last-mile tracking is growing in popularity this holiday season. The reason for that is last-mile tracking enables customers to see exactly where their package is and predict with a reasonable amount of certainty when it will arrive. And this, in turn, lessens the likelihood of package theft or frustration and wondering.
Incorporating last-mile tracking or upgrading your current version to be more user-friendly and detailed can make a huge difference to your customers’ perception of your business and increase the likelihood that they will continue to purchase from you in the future.
Spread Inventory Strategically Across Your Organization
If you’re shipping all of your inventory from a single location, it can take a long time for many of your customers to get their orders. But when you receive a massive surge in orders at the end of the year, this extended waiting period can quickly become unacceptable to your customers.
However, by analyzing your customers’ purchase behavior, you can more accurately predict future sales across your organization and accurately select the best places to store your inventory -- be that a regional warehouse or local brick-and-mortar locations. As a result, you can ship inventory faster and more cost-effectively, regardless of where your customers want their products shipped.
Simplify Reverse Fulfillment Logistics
Anytime you see an uptick in online orders, you’ll also experience an increase in product returns. That means your reverse fulfillment logistics need to run like a well-oiled machine.
Otherwise, it can bog down your internal processes and make inventory management a nightmare.
One way you can make reverse fulfillment easy for your team is by having an order management system that can log products back into your general inventory easily, whether they’re scanned by an in-store POS system or barcode or RFI scanners in your warehouses. At the same time, an omnichannel OMS can provide free shipping labels to your customers to make returns much easier.
Don’t Underestimate BOPIS and BOPAC
With many customers wary of shopping in stores this year, in-store (BOPIS) and curbside pickup (BOPAC) has become extremely popular across all industries. And it doesn’t look to be going anywhere, anytime soon.
That’s good news for retailers and eCommerce businesses, though. BOPIS and BOPAC put the last leg of shipping into the buyer’s hands (and vehicle), which drastically cuts down on delivery costs and order cycle time. In all likelihood, the businesses that continue (or start) to offer curbside and in-store pickup as an option will find fulfillment to be better for many employees and customers alike.
With Covid-19 still holding a major presence in society, it’s looking to continue to be a big year for omnichannel fulfillment. And while this may be stressful for many businesses, it’s entirely possible to make this year’s fulfillment strategies run smoothly. In fact, by adopting various shipping methods, incorporating curbside and in-store pickup, simplifying reverse fulfillment logistics, strategically placing inventory across your physical locations, and implementing last-mile tracking, it may just be one of the best years yet.