It’s Thursday afternoon. The time is 16:09 and while the idea of an eCommerce fulfilment process is the furthest thing from my mind, I’m desperate for a new T-shirt to wear to a party tomorrow! I’ve been looking forward to it for at least the past 6 weeks – but typical me, I’ve left it until the last minute to order it. No dramas though, the website I’m using tells me if I make an order before 5pm, I should have my T-shirt with me by tomorrow.
After 41 pain-staking minutes of deliberation, I’ve decided to purchase yet another black t-shirt (I’ll stop wearing black when they make a darker colour… besides, it’s slimming and suits me!). I’ve chosen a delivery option (Express – as I need the shirt by tomorrow evening). I’ve entered my address and payment details. Now I’m ready to submit my order.
But what goes on behind the scenes once I click the ‘Confirm Order’ button?
The eCommerce Fulfilment Process is more complex than we realise
Today as consumers, (and especially with the growth of eCommerce in the UK) we are far-removed (and perhaps ignorant) with regards to what happens in the background whenever we purchase goods online. We take next day delivery (and probably eCommerce supply chains in general) for granted. Most of us don’t care how our purchases get to us, we just want our entire order to arrive on time, as promised.
There’s a lot of technology involved in getting your precious cargo to you on-time and in one piece.
The importance of IT Integration in the eCommerce Fulfilment Process
Good IT integration is important
SKUs (stock keeping units) are used by warehouses as a part of their inventory management. SKU’s are unique items, where all attributes associated with the item type distinguish it from other item types. For example, the SKU for the black t-shirt I bought in size Large may read “TEE-BLK-LRG”, while the white version of the same t-shirt would read “TEE-WHT-LRG”.
So, my order will be assigned an SKU which corresponds to the item I’ve purchased. IT integration will also pull key data on the customer; i.e. their name and address, what delivery service has been requested, etc.
IT integration in the eCommerce fulfilment process has another purpose as well. I noticed on the website that they were out of stock of the red t-shirt. This information will have come directly from the stock levels recorded in the warehouse, and fed back to the online store. Stock levels are updated automatically, and back orders fulfilled automatically once out of stock goods have been replenished. This keeps everything running smoothly.
The importance of Warehouse Workflows in the eCommerce Fulfilment Process: Picking & Packing
Once my order has been received by the warehouse, it’s ready to be picked. Good warehouses will have optimised workflows to maximise operational efficiency and ensure pickers’ and packers’ time isn’t wasted as they go about locating products. Imagine putting the most popular SKUs in the farthest corner of a warehouse. Now stop imaging that, because that would be a silly idea.
Popular SKU’s will ideally have an easy-to-reach and easy-to-locate pick face (the space on a racking/storage system onto which a pallet can be loaded, and where products are collected from when fulfilling orders in the warehouse). Orders are also batched for pickers, again to ensure efficiency.
Time is money!
The eCommerce Fulfilment Process should run like a well-oiled machine.
Once a picker has located the SKU and pick-face corresponding to my t-shirt, it is then taken to a pack desk (not to beat a dead horse, but the pack desk will hopefully be in an optimised location too). The order is then double-checked by the packer.
I always order from this company because they always wrap their products in a nice, branded tissue paper and send them in a really cool box. They are also currently running a promotion, sending a 10% off discount voucher with each order in the form of an A5 flyer.
Providing the ‘wow-factor’ through kitting
The packer puts my order into the box, wraps it in tissue paper and adds the 10% off flyer. This whole process is called Kitting. Kitting usually comes at an extra cost, so for those eCommerce business owners out there who are wanting to wow their customers, keep this in mind.
Once the t-shirt is boxed, the packer will add a delivery label which is then scanned, and an automatic dispatch email is sent to me letting me know my black t-shirt is on its way. At this point I’m also sent my tracking number and estimated delivery day. eCommerce stores usually set a cut-off to give the warehouse time to pick and pack items before their daily pick up from their courier service.
Wrapping up the eCommerce Fulfilment Process
At this point the parcel is now the responsibility of the courier. On most order management systems, you will see all the orders that have left the warehouse that day. Not only that, you will see orders that are still in progress.
The product is then collected by your selected courier and taken to their regional sorting office. It’s worth noting that some couriers integrate their own technology at this stage of the eCommerce fulfilment process. For instance, some couriers will allow you to choose an hour delivery slot .
The next morning, when the parcel leaves the sorting office, I get a notification once the driver’s route has been optimised (some couriers utilise real-time location tracking to show the customer where the driver is along their route). I’m delighted to see Kevin will be arriving between 13:31 and 14:31. Kevin knows to just leave the parcel with Julie at number 20 if we’re not in. The courier service will then send a notification to me letting me know if and where the parcel has been delivered.
The e-commerce fulfilment process isn’t sexy, but it is sleek. In less than 24 hours after ordering my t-shirt, it’s on my back and I’m ready to paint the town red… or black.