What is order fulfillment?
What is order fulfillment? In the simplest terms, order fulfillment is the process of completing an order from the point of sale to delivery of the product to the customer. A fulfillment service, such as Thill Inc., works as the middleman for businesses like eCommerce sales, direct response marketers, and subscription box sellers, to fulfill the orders for these retailers. Many types of businesses from small/mid-tier/large direct-to-consumer (D2C) sellers, to business-to-business (B2B) suppliers use fulfillment order services to streamline the process for efficiency and accuracy.
Thill Inc. has been providing order fulfillment since 1959 and is considered one of the top fulfillment companies in the United States. We work on all aspects of fulfillment with businesses of every kind; from startups to well-established brands and everyone in the middle.
We realize that current, established brands already understand how the fulfillment process works, but are also aware that start-ups and mid-tier web markets may need additional information. We’re here to answer your questions!
Our approach is different than the “other guys” in that the Thill team believes that fulfillment is an art. We even put it in our tagline “The Art of Fulfillment”. For us, order fulfillment goes way beyond simply filling a box and putting a shipping label on it. The system we have in place includes receiving, inventory management & storage, order processing and then the packing and shipping to the customer.
The primary focus of Thill Inc. is serving our customers in the eCommerce sector. As such, this post will specifically review the steps we follow as they relate to eCommerce and order fulfillment. We’ll start from the beginning.
Regardless of how you receive inventory from your suppliers, whether it be through a company like Thill or internally at your place of business, receiving inventory is where it all starts. It’s the first step in the process of order fulfillment. Typically once the inventory you are selling arrives, you:
- Accept the load from the shipper. The quantity you should be receiving will be listed on your packing list or bill of lading. Weight scale technology will confirm the count and expedite the process as opposed to a hand count which can be time-consuming.
- There should always be a visual inspection of the inventory as you will want to be on the lookout for damaged items. A good rule of thumb is to sample anywhere from 2-5% of each shipment.
- SKU’s or barcodes then need to be added to track inventory locations, quantities, and sales of each item. Your order management software (OMS) should work hand in hand with your warehouse management software (WMS) to keep everything accurate. When choosing to outsource your order fulfillment needs to a top rated 3PL like Thill Inc., the OMS and WMS should be included as part of the services offered. All necessary information will be entered on your behalf.
- Make sure all inventory is barcoded as well as readable with the use of RF technology. If the goods you received are not bar coded, generate the labels or SKU’s and apply them to the packaging.
So, what is order fulfillment again? It’s much more than filling an order. When done right, it’s a seamless process, so understanding those main pillars will be important to you and your business.
Inventory Management & Storage
Now that you have your inventory and it has been counted, sampled, labeled and added to your OMS, it’s time to store everything in the correct manner.
Many times, inventory management and storage is an afterthought and if not given the same priority as other steps within the order fulfillment process. The lack of a proper plan can hamper both accuracy and speed when fulfilling customer orders.
There are numerous ways inventory management and storage can be approached and at Thill Inc. we utilize both bulk and primary pick locations within our distribution centers.
Bulk inventory locations simply put, are an economical way to store bulk inventory on pallets. Primary pick locations, on the other hand, assure a smooth process of packing (kitting). This improves accuracy and allows for an overall streamlined, efficient process of fulfilling orders. A portion of your inventory will be in primary pick locations and throughout the order fulfillment process, your WMS will provide guidance as to how much inventory you will need to fulfill the day’s orders. The overstock is kept in another area of the warehouse commonly called “Bulk Storage.” At any of Thill’s distribution centers around the county, we provide for standardized pallets sized at 40X48X60.
The WMS should continuously identify and provide reporting of what SKU’s are selling the most. This data allows for real-time reviews of pick velocity and combinations of picks. At Thill, our enhanced technology ensures that we re-slot our warehouse accordingly and fulfill our customer’s orders in the most efficient way possible.
Your inventory is in, it’s been counted, inspected, coded, and is slotted in the warehouse. Now it’s time to process your customer’s orders and there is a number of ways to get that done. The easiest and most efficient way is through actual order fulfillment software that integrates directly with your shopping cart. At Thill Inc., our innovative technology integrates with the most popular eCommerce shopping carts like Magneto, Big Commerce, Woo Commerce, Crate Joy, Shopify and Shopify Plus. It makes the whole order fulfillment process simple, accurate and efficient. If you have additional needs outside the shopping cart- such as sending product samples, props for photo shoots, promotional orders or even replacement orders- Thill’s same advanced software can accomplish that with a simple drag and drop function.
The warehouse floor has now received your order, and the items that comprise that order are pulled by warehouse staff and transferred to the order packing station. A series of auto checks are performed whereas every item is scanned by SKU or UPC before it goes into the shipping box. Before the package is sealed, a custom packing slip is placed in the box from the auto checks.
Did you know that Thill Inc. boasts an incredible 99.9% packing accuracy?
Although there are a variety of tactics and technologies involved with picking and packing orders, Thill Inc. is an industry leader who continues to adapt, evolve and innovate to assure the best possible order fulfillment experience for our customers.
It’s now time to label the package to be shipped to the customer. At the shipping station, the package is weighed and shipment dimensions are verified. While some sellers only require very basic delivery from a single shipping provider, others have products of all different sizes, shapes, and weights. In these instances, shipping can be a bit more complex and require access to a variety of carriers who offer advanced services.
Your OMS should be able to rate shop between carriers in real-time as well as determine transit times. Additionally, order fulfillment for customers that will be shipping internationally, special requirements for shipping are sometimes necessary and the right arrangements need to be made.
The shipping station also provides you with information such as when orders have shipped out, what carrier was used, and the associated tracking numbers for each customer. You always know where the packages are, and your customers can track them on their end as well.
No one wants to think about their products getting returned, but it is a reality that all eCommerce sellers face regularly. Having a seamless process for handling returns is an important part of the order fulfillment process and is critical to ensuring customer satisfaction and the overall success of your business.
If you are an online seller make sure to have both an internal and external return policy. The external policy is what your customers see and should be listed on your website so that customers are clear on how to submit returns. Your internal policy is for your staff and order fulfillment provider so that everyone is aware of how returns should be handled.
So why Thill?
Now that you know what is order fulfillment and the systems involved, what’s next? Every client and campaign is unique. Thill realizes this and we are very proud of our ability to customize a unique order fulfillment strategy that fits your needs. Whether it’s one SKU or 100,000, our experienced staff, tactical layout, state of the art technology and efficient processes means that you can stop worrying about order fulfillment and focus on selling your products! This is why so many eCommerce merchants decide to outsource their order fulfillment to Thill. We’re here for you – a team of fulfillment experts that love the art of what they do!