In many ways, order fulfillment is the make-or-break backbone of every merchant operation. While it's not as sexy as sales, marketing, and product development, without it, even the hottest of brands will fail. After all, if you can't get your product to the customer, you may as well not be in business.
In fact, order fulfillment snafus are a leading cause of customer dissatisfaction, and can cause significant brand damage if not quickly addressed. In case you're trying to tank your operation in a big hurry, here are five of ways you can fail at order fulfillment.
1. LOUSY RETURNS PROCESS
Let's just start with the elephant in the room: Every operation experiences returns. For merchants, this is in the running for "least favorite" part of the business. Everything about it stinks, so no wonder many want to bury their heads in the sand and pretend it doesn't exist. If you're trying to ruin your brand, this is a great place to start. Customers who feel the returns process is complicated, difficult, expensive, or just plain inconvenient will not hesitate to let you--and all their online networks--know. People take offense when they feel they're being given the run-around, and it won't make a difference to them if the problem is simply that you haven't thought through how to make the process quick and easy for them, or that you're trying to prevent fraud. On the flip side, a convenient returns process can convert dissatisfied customers into loyal fans.
2. MUDDLED INVENTORY TRACKING
Keeping inventory data up to date on a real-time basis can be complicated. It requires that inventory management, warehouse management, shopping cart, and orders processing software all be in constant contact and sharing information in real time. Fortunately, ecommerce organizations that want to fail can simply ignore this requirement. Soon, products will go on back order, customers will wait on orders for weeks, and storage will fill up with unnecessary excess inventory. You'll have a mess the most well-respected of brands would have a tough time untangling.
3. UNHAPPY WAREHOUSE STAFF
There's nothing like high employee turn-over to create a mess in the order fulfillment process. An experienced pick front staff knows standard practices and becomes familiar with custom requirements for each type of order and each customer. They become efficient at assembling and packaging [link to "What is Pick and Pack Fulfillment", so that orders go out on time. Their job security matters to them, and they're unlikely to engage in theft or fraud. They're also more likely to pay attention to details like the order of packing items and inserting marketing collateral. Avoid success in this area by treating your warehouse staff like naughty children, provide them with the worst benefits you can legally get away with, and pay them as little as you can. Don't reward them for productive behavior, and be sure to call them out frequently for the smallest of errors. Your fulfillment operation is sure to suffer, and your customers will begin to feel it in the poor quality of their deliveries.
4. CHAOTIC PICK AND PACK
Hey, who needs to worry about efficient pick and pack? Nobody, if you don't care about your brand. From pick front to pallet storage, a disorganized pick and pack process will ensure that orders are filled inefficiently, and prone to error. The result: Customer complaints about slow shipment, and lots of returns on inaccurate orders. Don't forget the money you'll be throwing down the drain to wasted man hours running back and forth multiple times a day for small quantities fast-moving product stored in inconvenient locations, or searching for that one product that didn't get stored correctly but that they just KNOW has to be around here somewhere.
5. OLD-FASHIONED MANUAL PROCESSING
Advances in technology are expensive. Warehouse management systems, inventory tracking, scanning technology--for the operation aiming to fail, these are completely unnecessary costs. To ensure the most inefficient process possible, print out online orders and hand them personally to the warehouse team. Ask them to check things off with a pen, and prevent them from accessing scanners and other technology to make this simple. If you like, ask them to input the data at computers placed in inconvenient locations around the warehouse or, better yet, to report everything back manually for someone else to input. This way, you can optimize delays in communication between what's happening in the warehouse and what's happening online. Best of all, the employees are likely to make mistakes, ensuring that the inventory tracking data becomes wildly inaccurate over time. You'll ensure back orders, delayed shipments, and unhappy customers with just this one small tweak.
So there you have it--five ways to fail at order fulfillment. If, on the other hand, you aim to thrive and grow, flip these tips on their heads, and you'll be a good ways there. Better yet, check out these four steps to streamlining your fulfillment operations, or contact our team for expert advice on optimizing your operation.