The order fulfillment process has always presented challenges for small businesses. But with the current demands of today’s consumers, combined with the necessity for even small businesses to think globally, it’s now more challenging than ever to build an efficient and effective fulfillment system.
However, if you can wrap your mind around these challenges and operate in a manner that allows for transparency, communication at each step of the process, and a high degree of automation, then the challenges of customer demands and a global mindset actually become strengths.
Facing the Challenges
When it relates to fulfillment, an independent publishing company based in Miami faces the same struggles as a large multinational pharmaceutical company based in Canada. Their consumers are likely nationwide, if not worldwide, which means they both need to develop a system which caters to customers across continents.
The first reaction is that this process must seem daunting. Admittedly it does take a lot of effort to consistently ship packages to the correct destination, on time, and with no damage. Many stages are involved, which means different people across intersecting markets must learn to be in sync if there is any chance of this process running smoothly. Add that to the fact that many companies are taking orders through multiple channels, including online, call centers, and electronic data interchange, and it can further complicate things.
4 Common Order Fulfillment Challenges
Similar to most other industries, the technology is available to help streamline the fulfillment process. We are long past the days where customers tolerate late or inaccurate deliveries. There is simply too many alternatives available to have them accept any of those shortcomings. This means that even as a small business, an efficient order fulfillment service isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. And technology plays a big part in improving that system.
Technology helps provide detailed information on how and where orders are being processed throughout each step of the fulfillment process. This includes from the manufacturer, to the warehouse, e-commerce platforms, all the way to the consumer. Being able to verify these reports, check invoices and inventory, and forecast the necessary inventory are just part of what your business should expect from whichever software you choose.
Automation should also play a huge role in executing any fulfillment system. Negating or significantly reducing human error is the benefit of automating as many processes as possible. BizAutomation, Fishbowl Inventory, and Megaventory are all capable fulfillment softwares.
Order fulfillment is challenging on a regular basis, and even more so during peak seasons, like the holidays. Seasonal order fulfillment can be exceedingly difficult to keep up with—the normal challenges in order fulfillment are present only to a higher degree since it’s so busy. Keeping up with shipments and making sure that packages for the holidays are delivered on time is only the tip of the iceberg; fulfillment companies must be prepared for other peak seasons as well. The term seasonal fulfillment isn’t only applicable when filling order for the traditional holidays. As Amazon proved with its Prime Day in July, there can be a huge spike in demand at pretty much any time. Predictive ordering software and data analysis can help predict these increases and help you prepare for any unforeseen busy periods.
Distorted inventory levels are another challenge that comes with order fulfillment. Though we have tools to help us, buying trends are extremely difficult to predict. Sometimes inventory may not match what’s in demand, or sometimes sales are down which leaves behind too much extra inventory. With delayed stock intake and economic uncertainty, the inventory-to-sales ratio remains a concern.
Rising Transportation Costs
The constantly rising cost of fuel has greatly affected the order fulfillment industry and continues to do so. Getting goods from one point to another whether by plane, boat, or truck, is getting more expensive, which ultimately drives up the price for consumers. The lack of truck drivers also affects transportation costs—with fewer personnel trained to drive trucks, it becomes harder to hire qualified individuals.
There are always risks when fulfilling orders on a global scale. Events in other parts of the world can change unexpectedly and affect the reliability of a supply chain. Risks have become more than just turbulent weather. Cyber attacks have now become another variable to look out for overseas. Unfortunately, it is impossible to predict when or how these risks will take place, but there are some precautions you can take to counter these risks. Cyber security is a must to protect international markets from fraud and other cyber attacks. Logistic risks include variables like weather and other unexpected delays, which can be combatted with having bicoastal fulfillment options. Alternative delivery options will allow you to avoid some of the inevitable risks that the order fulfillment industry knows all too well.
Tracking orders is an important part of order fulfillment, and can sometimes pose a challenge to those fulfilling the order. Customers rely on being able to see where their package is, and when its anticipated arrival is. However, the technology needed to track orders from their point of origin to their destination isn’t flawless. Some pieces need to be manually scanned, so there’s room for human error as well. While most high-tech tracking systems tend to be accurate, it’s still possible for packages to get lost.
There’s An Easier Way
Digesting all of this may be difficult for small businesses just getting started, or for those businesses looking to rebuild their current fulfillment system. Trusting in a third-party logistics provider like APS Fulfillment, Inc. removes all concerns. We are already experienced in creating systems which are efficient and practical and can cater each system to the needs of your business.
Visit our website and learn more about our fulfillment center in Miami.