Fulfillment and inventory management

eCommerce Fulfilment 101 - techniques & methods


Written by Starshipit

If you’re a retailer and you’ve been shipping products from your online store, or perhaps you’re thinking of starting an eCommerce business, chances are you’ve thought about how to get orders out to your customers.

Welcome to eCommerce fulfilment – the all too important part of the customer journey that, if all goes well, could help set you up with customers for life.

In this article, we’re going to explore what eCommerce fulfilment is, why it’s so important and solutions you can use to streamline your eCommerce fulfilment services within your business. Let’s get started.

What is eCommerce fulfilment?

What is eCommerce fulfilment?

eCommerce fulfilment is the part of your business that gets products out to your customers. Understandably, this is a substantial area, with a lot of moving parts.

While the individual parts of the fulfilment process may look a little different depending on the business, eCommerce fulfilment typically covers things like picking and packing orders, shipping through various services, tracking and returns.

Dedicating time and energy to a fulfilment strategy is only going to become more important in the coming years, as retail eCommerce sales continue to climb. With volumes growing, businesses will want the right approaches in place to manage inventory and get orders out to customers faster and more efficiently.

What are the types of eCommerce fulfilment?

Broadly speaking, there are four different types order fulfilment, which we’ll explore below:

  • In-house

In-house order fulfilment is when a business handles all or most aspects of the fulfilment process internally. This means using staff to pick and pack orders, storing products in company warehouses and having couriers pick orders directly from the these locations.

This approach is how most small businesses start off, whether it’s from a garage or other small storage facility. As they grow, this leads to...

  • Outsourced

For some businesses, at certain point it makes sense to take eCommerce fulfilment operations and outsource them to a third-party logistics provider (3PL) or another dedicated fulfilment service. In this case, the 3PL or outsourced provider handles everything from receiving inventory to packaging orders for delivery.

The reasons for using this approach are varied. A small startup may want to expand without being constrained to a warehouse, or they may not have the staff and space to continue running fulfilment to the level they require.

  • Dropship

The newest type of fulfilment on our list, drop shipping is when a retailer purchases items from a supplier, who then ships the orders directly to customers. The product never passes through the retailer. Typically, retailers will only purchase products after an item is sold, so there’s no risk of needing to sell down different products – or store unsold inventory.

  • Hybrid

Hybrid eCommerce fulfilment is like it sounds – a mix of the options above. It helps to consider a hybrid approach as it may mean you get the best of both worlds. For example, you may manufacture a product that you store and ship from your own warehouse, while you have other products that a 3PL handles for you.

Why is eCommerce fulfilment important?

Given the sheer number of options when it comes to online retail today, customers have (understandably) high expectations when it comes to shipping. This means they want options around the cost of their delivery as well as the timeframe, and they’ve got more reason to simply not return to your store if you’re unable to get an order out within a reasonable timeframe.

In fact, a study from MetaPack found that 43 percent of customers wouldn’t return to a retailer for at least a month after they’d had a negative delivery experience. On top of that, another 38 percent said they wouldn’t return at all.

If you want to ensure that you’re not let down by fulfilment, you must meet the expectations of your customers. That starts with putting fulfilment strategies in place – and the right eCommerce fulfilment services.

Woman in brown jumper typing on laptop

5 steps to improving eCommerce fulfilment

1. Set up your shipping and fulfilment platform

This platform will become the core of your fulfilment operations, allowing you to easily manage orders deliveries, and returns. This system will link your eCommerce or inventory management platform with your courier services.

2. Keep customers in the loop

From the moment customers place an order to when it arrives on their doorstep, keep them in the loop with shipping notifications delivered via email and SMS.

3. Making finding inventory easy for staff

Create a simple system for stocking your inventory. Again, if you’re using an inventory management system, make sure it’s integrated with your shipping platform.

4. Give customers choice

Whether it’s the channel where they make the initial purchase or the timeframe for receiving their order, customers love choice. Make sure you’re selling your product across multiple channels, and that you’ve got different courier options at the checkout.

5. Select the right couriers

Ensure you have a good mix of couriers available. For example, it’s useful to have couriers on hand that specialise in international shipping, express shipping and different product areas – like handling dangerous goods or outsized items.

Using an automated shipping platform to solve eCommerce fulfilment

Simplifying your fulfilment operations, reducing friction and creating happy customers can often seem like a task out of reach. After all, with so many moving parts, how can you ever be expected to create a fulfilment process that works effectively? It all starts with a shipping platform.

This means a platform that's integrated with the couriers you use, as well as the other tools that form part of your fulfilment process, like your eCommerce platform or inventory management system.

When it’s set up correctly, introducing an automated shipping platform enables you to solve several major fulfilment challenges, including:

  • Logging into different courier services

Retailers need to switch between different eCommerce platforms to fetch order details and multiple courier systems to manage orders. Shipping platforms give businesses one platform where they can manage orders and select the best courier.

  • Common manual processes

Producing shipping labels, assigning couriers and generating packing slips is a common time sink for employees and leaves room for error. Shipping platforms give retailers the tools to automate each step of the fulfilment process, all from a single dashboard.

  • Customer parcel queries

Customers want to track their orders and receive updates throughout the delivery process. When customers are left in the dark, customer service desk queries spike. Shipping platforms can let retailers set up branded tracking pages and send SMS or email notifications directly to customers during delivery.

Wrap up

Getting eCommerce fulfilment right may seem like a daunting challenge, but the payoff is worth it. In doing so, you’ll make it easier for your business to scale, reduce frustrations for staff and create happier customers.

Of course, that all starts with the right automated shipping platform – like Starshipit. Our platform has been designed from the ground up to work with the existing ways you do business, integrating with the couriers and eCommerce platforms you use every day.

If you’re interested in trying Starshipit free for 30 days, reach out to our friendly support team and they’ll be happy to talk through options with you.

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