Recognized as an industry leading eCommerce Fulfillment Company, Thill Inc. is one of the most experienced order fulfillment companies in the United States.
At a high level, we work with startups, mid-tier web marketers and well established direct to consumer brands as clients. While most of the established brands we work with are well aware how order fulfillment works, we also recognize that some startups and mid-tier web markets may be asking, “What is order fulfillment?” If that is you, we’d be more than happy to provide an executive summary to assist.
The Thill team, believes that order fulfillment is more than just putting an item in a box and slapping a shipping label on an order! To us, order fulfillment is truly an art, hence our tagline “The Art of Fulfillment!” While the steps themselves can be defined as the process of steps that occur directly after an order is placed, it’s truly more complex than just that. To be more specific, it includes receiving, inventory management & storage, order processing, packing (kitting) and shipping an order to the end customer.
A fulfillment service is defined as a third-party company that provides these order fulfillment steps on behalf of another party, such as eCommerce marketers, direct response marketers and subscription box sellers.
In today’s marketplace, order fulfillment and fulfillment services can apply to a wide range of orders, from small/mid-tier/large direct-to-consume (D2C) orders, to business-to-business (B2B) orders.
Since our primary focus is serving clients as an eCommerce fulfillment company, we’re going to take this opportunity to specifically talk about order fulfillment as it relates to the internet and eCommerce transactions. Due to that, we’ll be discussing the specific steps that are involved in receiving, inventory management & storage, order processing, packing (kitting) and shipping online orders to customers at their residence.
To help you better understand exactly what eCommerce order fulfillment is, let’s break down the core steps involved in the order fulfillment process. As we discussed above, they are;
- Inventory Management & Storage
- Order Processing
- Packing (kitting)
Let’s take it from the beginning so you can understand what we do and why.
It doesn’t matter if you outsource your order fulfillment to a company like Thill or you are doing it yourself out of your place of business, receiving inventory from your suppliers or manufacturers is going to be the first step in the process to getting orders to your customers.
Here are the typical things that merchants or their fulfillment providers do once inventory starts arriving at their warehouse or place of business:
- Start by accepting the shipper load & count (quantity indicated on the packing list or bill of lading), then utilize weight scale technology to confirm those numbers. This technology will expedite the process as it is far more efficient than hand counts.
- Visually inspect a sample of the inventory and keep an eye out for any damaged packages as the shipment arrives. Consider sampling 2 to 5 percent of each shipment.
- Using your order management software (OMS) in conjunction with your warehouse management software (WMS), you want to add SKUs to keep track of the locations, counts and number of sales each item has. When using a top rated 3PL like Thill, they typically provide the OMS & WMS as part of their service offering, plus they enter all of this information on your behalf.
- Confirm that all inventory is correctly bar coded and that the bar codes are readable using RF technology. Generate, apply bar code labels or SKUs if the goods being received do not already have them.
Inventory Management & Storage
Once inventory has been received, counted, inspected, labeled, and added to your order management software (OMS), the next step in the process is getting them stored correctly.
Inventory management & storage is often overlooked, however, it is one of the most important aspects of maximizing the speed and accuracy of your order fulfillment operations.
While there’s several ways inventory management & storage can be done, we utilize both bulk and primary pick locations within our distribution centers. Bulk inventory locations simply hold just that, your bulk inventory on pallets and provide an economical way to store product. While primary pick locations help assure ease of packing (kitting), improve accuracy, and allow for the efficient filling of orders
As orders are fulfilled, only a portion of inventory will be in primary pick locations. Throughout the fulfillment process, your warehouse management software (WMS) should provide guidance as to the inventory needed to fulfill orders that day. This is typically done based on move tickets or jobs. The overstock or extra product residing in another area of the warehouse commonly called “Bulk Storage.” All of Thill’s distribution centers around the county provide for a standardized pallets size of 40X48X60.
Slotting of inventory is also highly important and again controlled by your warehouse management software (WMS). The WMS should continuously identify and help review what SKU’s are selling the most. A strong warehouse management system like ours can assist with this review, looking at pick velocity and combinations of picks. With this ever changing data, we re-slot our warehouses on a regular basis to ensure that we are fulfilling orders in the most efficient way possible.
At this point, your inventory has been counted, inspected, bar coded, sorted and properly slotted in the warehouse. Moving forward, the next step we’ll be focusing on is order processing.
The first step in processing an order is the same everywhere, “receiving that order.”
After an order is placed by a customer, there are a number of ways for eCommerce sellers to get that order to their fulfillment warehouse. One of the easiest ways is through fulfillment software that will integrate with your shopping cart. Our software at Thill integrates with most popular eCommerce shopping carts like Magneto, Big Commerce, Woo Commerce, Crate Joy, Shopify and Shopify Plus to make the ordering process simple.
That same powerful order management software allows for simple drag & drop functionality for those special needs outside the eCommerce shopping cart, things like product samples to influencers, photo shoot props, promotional orders and even replacement orders when needed.
Once an order has been received by your warehouse floor, the individual items that make up that order can be pulled from the primary pick bins by warehouse staff and transported to an order packing station. The packing station will then go through a series of “Auto-Checks” During this process, we scan every item by SKU or UPC to ensure that it is on the order before we put it in the box. This allows for a packing accuracy of 99.9%! Before the package is closed, the item(s) will be scanned, packed and a custom packaged slip added. Once complete, the box can be sealed and moved to the next step.
There are a variety of tactics and technologies involved with picking and packing orders. As it pertains to both, Thill Inc. is an industry leader who continues to adapted, evolve and innovate.
You have a business to run, the last thing you need on your plate is your order fulfillment. This is why so many eCommerce merchants decide to outsource their order fulfillment to Thill. A team of fulfillment experts that love the art of what they do!
Once an order has been auto-checked, packed and boxed, it’s then moved on to the shipping station for label generation, printing and application of the carrier label to get it ready to be shipped to the customer’s residence.
The shipping station is responsible for weighing the package and verifying shipment dimensions. While some online sellers have a small amount of products that only require basic delivery from just one carrier, other sellers have orders that come in all kinds of different sizes with a multitude of SKU’s. They also may require the ability to use multiple carriers with a magnitude of services. It is extremely important that your order management software can rate shop between carriers real-time and analysis transit times. For these sellers, shipping can be complex. For customers that will be shipping internationally and domestically, it’s important to meet all the special requirements for shipping and meeting the expectations of your customers.
The shipping station is also responsible for generating status updates. Individual sellers like yourself are going to want to know when orders have shipped out, what carrier was used, and the associated tracking numbers for each customer. This also allows the end customer to track their packages throughout the delivery process to ensure they are well informed and happy. Utilizing Thill for your order fulfillment allows for all of the shipping complexities at your fingertips.
While most people don’t want to talk about returns, it’s an important part of the order fulfillment process. You can’t talk about order fulfillment without talking about returns, we call this returns management. After all, what is order fulfillment without returns, right? At some point, you’ll have to deal with returns, you’ll want to be prepared to be efficient at it.
As it pertains to the online buying process, having the ability to effortlessly return a purchased product is important. For those of you that are selling online, your ability to effectively handle such returns is critical to your fulfillment operations, and to their overall success of your business.
Online sellers should establish both an internal and external returns policy. An external policy should be listed on the seller’s website and make clear to customers how and where to send returns, while an internal policy should make clear to your staff or fulfilment provider how returns will be handled once they arrive back at the warehouse.
Before You Go
Every client and campaign is different. Thill has the skill, flexibility and technology to customize an order fulfillment strategy that fits your needs. So, whether you have one SKU or 90,000, we make it easy. Our veteran staff, tactical layout, state of the art technology and efficient processes means Thill can make order fulfillment simple but proficient, keeping your customers happy and coming back for more!