Whether you want to admit it or not, how you get orders to the customer is as important as what products you offer and how you sell them. In 2022’s version of commerce, all your efforts are wasted if you fail to handle smooth e-commerce order fulfilment for your buyers.
Along with the need to keep up with high customer expectations, the e-commerce landscape sets its own rules for how orders should be fulfilled. Businesses have to be agile and use resources wisely to respond to emerging challenges and avoid bottlenecks in getting orders to the customer.
Given that, the switch from just keeping SKUs at one point until sold to e-commerce fulfilment services has become the first port of call for forward-looking companies that want to deliver products to their customers without handling storage, packing, quality control or dispatching. That’s what we dwell on in this blog post to understand the logic behind the transition and why your business needs to do it.
See the difference: How traditional warehousing is different from e-commerce fulfilment
Zooming out, both a warehouse and a fulfilment centre can be used for storing things. Zooming in, there is a stark difference between what your business can get with each option.
When you think of a warehouse, you’re thinking of a large, climate-controlled building where the products are stored before they are distributed further. Warehousing usually involves having an in-house team for moving the inventory around, logging in replenishments and tracking stock levels.
E-commerce fulfilment services have emerged as a more sophisticated model for managing inventory. Within this model, you outsource orders and inventory fulfilment to a third-party logistics (3PL) provider for the seamless operation of your e-commerce business.
3PL warehouse fulfilment companies store and manage your inventory, ship orders directly to end customers or other retailers, take the sting out of returns and control product quality. They eliminate the need for the merchant to deal with these operations and usually have multiple fulfilment centres close to customers to reduce shipping times and costs.
How e-commerce fulfilment works in more detail
The fulfilment process may vary depending on the 3PL partner you choose to work with. However, there are common steps adopted by all companies:
- Preparing inventory. First, you get your inventory ready for shipping to the fulfilment facility. The preparation procedure should be agreed upon with the service provider, and you’ve got to know their requirements and rules before sending your goods.
- Receiving inventory. A 3PL provider receives your goods. They then check the items’ condition, label the goods and move them around according to their inventory management system.
- Storing inventory. Storing your products before sending them to end customers is one of the order fulfilment services akin to traditional warehousing. This involves maintaining the optimal environment for storage to ensure all your goods arrive at the destination in pristine condition.
- Getting it to the customer. Order fulfilment services incorporate all the steps for preparing your products for shipping and arranging package delivery, unlike warehousing.
- Handling returns. This step may be optional and paid for as an extra service, but many fulfilment providers take care of the return process with gusto. This may involve additional fees but will ensure your customers can return things without much hassle, which drives up the buyer’s experience.
- Maintaining inventory. If you struggle to track how many items are left in stock and often miss the replenishment deadlines, the fulfilment provider can relieve you from that. They can either share some software for you to get a full view of your stock levels or take care of this on their own.
Benefits of fulfilment services in the UK
Whether your business is small or large, you will see numerous benefits from outsourcing fulfilment. Let’s break those down to identify what can move the needle for you.
Scale whenever you need to
You may have limited resources when starting a new e-commerce business, including the lack of human talent and storage space for your inventory. While hiring a team to work at the warehouse facility may require an investment of thousands of pounds upfront, outsourcing fulfilment can help you cover the staffing gap without overstretching the budget. Also, this will save you from renting or buying a facility for storing your inventory.
When you reach the point where you can no longer fulfil incoming orders, you may want to make use of opportunities that let you scale. E-commerce order fulfilment is one of these opportunities woven into a strategy to instantly satisfy your customers. With it, you can delegate fulfilment tasks and inventory management to a qualified provider to grow quickly and cost-effectively.
Use your resources wisely
In 2022, the e-commerce landscape requires businesses to be thrifty about their assets. To be thrifty, many retail companies switch to outsourcing models to cut expenses dramatically.
Take your people. When you delegate less demanding yet more time-consuming operations to third-party service providers, you let your skilled and trained staff focus on more value-added activities.
Improve customer satisfaction
Being unable to meet high customer expectations happens to everyone. Perhaps, you are located in another country or do not have the physical resources to fulfil orders as fast as the buyer wants. E-commerce fulfilment services will save the day.
Many fulfilment providers have facilities throughout the United Kingdom, so your goods can be distributed among multiple centres closer to your customers for faster and cheaper package delivery. Also, you don’t have to worry about labour shortage to handle incoming orders on time. If your buyers expect same-day or next-day delivery, you can ensure they will receive it.
Let cutting-edge technology work for you
Leading fulfilment companies do much more than just handle your inventory and orders. They unlock access to their innovative tools for better business communication, faster data exchange and more comprehensive management. Their apps may have different functionality, but, in most cases, you can check the number of orders processed, what products sell better, when the stock levels get low and more. This turns into a 360-degree view of your retail business and makes demand forecasts and growth opportunities easier to spot and act upon.
Get to the marketplaces that were out of your reach
Wouldn’t it be great if your listings always qualified for Amazon Prime? Would you like to ensure faster shipping on eBay to rank better? With e-commerce fulfilment, you can achieve all that while making buyers happy with the customer experience, which will help with the ranking to reach the most profitable and revenue-generating platforms.
Types of e-commerce fulfilment services
These services can take many forms and cover a range of workflows. Below we list the most common services you may need for your business.
This service commences when a customer places an order at one of your sales channels, and your 3PL partner processes it and delivers the package. When managing orders, speed is everything. That’s why you should come to an understanding with the service provider and their terms to ensure buyers are happy with prompt delivery and accurate fulfilment.
That’s what happens when you need to manage stocked goods. This encompasses receiving and storing inventory at 3PL facilities, replenishing it, forecasting the demand and other operations involving your products without getting them to the customer.
Do you sell your products through multiple platforms or marketplaces? Then you can benefit from multichannel management services. The service provider will help you manage inventory from all sources and handle orders so that you can avoid the need to navigate between several sales channels to keep your stock organised.
International order fulfilment
Globalisation and e-commerce are so interconnected that businesses have no choice but to excel at remote inventory management, quick order processing and fast delivery. Outsourcing order fulfilment in the destination country allows you to keep your inventory closer to customers and meet the standards set by 2022.
For faster and cheaper shipping, you will want it to be arranged by the fulfilment provider, so buyers can choose from affordable shipping rates from trusted carriers. Besides that, they will pack your goods, print labels and even deliver your products.
Whether you are on your way to building your brand or have already established trust on the web, branded packaging is a great extra service to seek with e-commerce order fulfilment. They will use your branded materials to pack your products before delivering them to customers to get your brand up and running in a noticeable way.
Receiving, checking and bringing returned items back into stock is a resource-intensive hassle for all businesses. But many order fulfilment services include returns management to do it for you while operating according to your requirements and business policies.
Wrapping it up
No e-commerce business is set up for unbelievable gains without scaling. While using a traditional warehouse can simplify storage issues for you, it’s not even remotely related to scaling.
Running your business with a fulfilment centre and 3PL services can be a brilliant way to get better at scaling or at least be able to scale. When fulfilment seems like an onerous burden for your business and your staff can no longer keep up with the flow of orders, it’s time to forgo the outdated warehousing model and upgrade.