Consumer expectations are skyrocketing and competition is fierce, making it increasingly difficult to stand out from the crowd. Consumers want their orders shipped quickly and for free—65 percent of them check free shipping thresholds before they even add something to their cart to avoid paying shipping charges—so you could be losing customers before they even take an action on your website. They also have high expectations in other areas.
An increasing number of consumers also actively look for brands that use sustainable packaging, and many will even pay a premium for zero or low waste packaging. Social responsibility is another thing that is becoming a very important aspect for many customers and can affect where they spend their money. Essentially, customers expect more of the businesses they spend their money with, and while they might be willing to pay a small premium to ensure your company’s values align with theirs, most of them still want their items for an affordable price. Your fulfillment strategy needs to take all these factors into consideration.
Consumers want their orders shipped quickly and for free—65 percent of them check free shipping thresholds before they even add something to their cart to avoid paying shipping charges
Rising costs and tight capacity are creating pressure for businesses
As if the extreme expectations of customers aren’t enough, the fact that many shippers are still operating at peak levels is not making it easy to meet these expectations. FedEx and UPS continue to increase their rates as well, which makes it difficult for companies to achieve customer satisfaction while still making a profit. In addition to the free, fast and sustainable shipping expectations, customers also expect free returns. Returns are expensive and with the ever-increasing ecommerce boom, they are increasing, and people are even purchasing items that they intend to return (like clothing items). An unfair returns process for customers could prevent them from purchasing from you in the first place. Standing out from the competition is getting more difficult every day, so how can you differentiate yourself from the competition while still generating a reasonable profit?
Reimagine your fulfillment process and make it a competitive advantage
Your fulfillment process is a necessity to keep your business running, but it’s time to rethink the entire process to make it as efficient as possible and implement procedures that will help you turn it into your competitive advantage.
1. Increase order fulfillment productivity
Higher levels of competition make it increasingly difficult to stand out, but massive customer expectations have made it more important than ever. A big way to outshine your competitors and provide a great customer experience is to improve your picking and handling processes. Implement technology solutions that will allow you to decrease the amount of time your team members spend on the pick and pack process. By increasing productivity in all aspects of your order fulfillment process, you can decrease the time it takes for an order to get out the door. Since customers prioritize fast shipping, an efficient order fulfillment process can help you meet and exceed their expectations.
2. Improve inventory management
Similar to order fulfillment, your inventory management process needs to be extremely strategic because it’s key to building an efficient fulfillment network and delivering an excellent customer experience. An inventory management system that can accurately forecast demand can allow you to determine when to replenish inventory levels and ensure that you won’t run out of fast-moving items but ensures you won’t have items sitting on the shelves for too long incurring additional charges. It’s also important to look holistically at your inventory and your most and least popular items and organize your warehouse accordingly. This is something that needs to be done frequently as buyer patterns shift. Implementing effective inventory management software and a proven continuous improvement process can really help in increasing your efficiency and your profit margin.
3. Streamline and perfect your returns process
I’m sure you’ve heard about this over and over, but the returns process is a crucial part of the buyer’s journey. Not having a satisfactory returns process can cost you sales before a customer even makes a purchase. In order to ensure returns processing is as cost-effective as possible, consider automating your returns. For example, you can give customers store credit instantly instead of waiting until you have received their return, pre-fill and send return labels, and allow self-serve returns at kiosks. An easy return process can be key in securing repeat buyers and building customer loyalty. You can also consider incentivizing customers to exchange products or get store credit to avoid needing to give them a full refund.
Not having a satisfactory returns process can cost you sales before a customer even makes a purchase.
4. Use omnichannel fulfillment options
Omnichannel is more important than ever, and it’s not going away anytime soon. When you use omnichannel fulfillment, you can give your customers a chance to utilize a huge variety of different sales channels and shopping experiences from BOPIS to ROPIS to BORIS. Be prepared to give your customers flexibility by letting them pick their online orders up in store, return online purchases in store and reserve items on your website before purchasing them in the store. You should also look into the capabilities to fulfill orders in your stores and ship them to customers. By having a lot of well-executed options to give your customers the best experience possible, you will increase stickiness and really streamline your processes, helping you gain market share.
5. Invest in the right technology
Technology is a key aspect of improving your fulfillment process. There are a variety of options from order management systems to high-speed sortation systems and robots that can help you maximize productivity. The right technology solution can optimize your picking workflow, offer you real-time order information and data visualization, and provide analytics that can allow you to quickly make data-driven decisions about your process. It’s also important that your technologies are able to integrate with each other to offer complete end-to-end supply chain visibility of customer order status and tracking. Finding the right technology for your business and goals is vital in using your fulfillment process as a competitive differentiator.
Make fulfillment a competitive differentiator with ITS
Constant new consumer buying trends can make it difficult to refine your fulfillment capabilities. By implementing the suggestions above, you will be able to not only improve your fulfillment operation but also make it your competitive edge. At ITS, our supply chain management experts have years of experience—and they know what does and doesn’t work. Your fulfillment process is the backbone of your supply chain, so it needs to be as efficient and effective as possible. If you’re looking for some guidance on the best way to do this, give us a call and see how we can help today.