Timely Order Fulfillment – How to Tips for Retailers

It’s the busiest time of the year for retailers. Because of all that happened since the pandemic began, most of the challenges that you’ll face this year will likely take place behind-the-scenes instead of behind the counter or on the sales floor. 

Online sales will surge this year due to continued social distancing and health precautions. In 2019, holiday ecommerce sales saw a record 14% growth. This year, CBRE Retail Research anticipates holiday online sales to more than double that growth — to at least 40% — putting ecomerce’s share of total retail sales at 32%. 

Timely order fulfillment CBRE research stats graph
Image credit: cbre.us

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that more online orders will lead to more work on the order fulfillment side. To that end, see to it that you’re implementing the solutions and practices that will make it easier to stay on top of online orders. We have five best practice tips to help you ensure timely order fulfillment across all your stores.

Ensure you have enough staff allocated to order fulfillment

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You can’t fulfill orders without a solid team. So hire and assign the right staff members for the job. Just like with all holiday seasons, retailers tend to hire additional employees during the later part of the year. A key distinction in 2020 is that most of those workers will be assigned to order fulfillment jobs rather than in-store sales and customer service

Target’s hiring volume this year is on par with 2019, though the retailer is using most of its holiday staff to support its omnichannel initiatives. The big-box retailer announced plans to double its workforce dedicated to in-store pickup and drive up. 

If you haven’t done so yet, consider implementing a similar staffing strategy. If you’ve expanded your workforce, evaluate your brick and mortar and online activities to determine the right balance between order fulfillment and in-store duties. You may find that you need more people packing and shipping orders versus manning the counter or sales floor. 

This may change towards the later part of the year. When last-minute shoppers miss shipping cut-off dates, most of them may opt to shop offline. 

In any case, keep a close eye on the numbers and be prepared to allocate staffing resources accordingly.  

Have your stores work as fulfillment centers

The idea of using physical stores as fulfillment centers isn’t new. However, it certainly took a stronger hold this year. If you’re operating physical stores, you need to rethink their role in the current retail landscape.

Your brick and mortar stores are no longer just “shops,” they’re essentially fulfillment centers that serve the needs of online shoppers — or at least they should be. Depending on the size of your operations and sophistication of your systems, it’s not too late to establish or optimize services like:

Ship from store

Depending on where your customers are located, it may be more cost-effective (for you and for them) to have items ship from your brick-and-mortar locations. Ship from store is a great method for fulfilling local orders. Shipping items from short distances (i.e., a neighborhood store) reduces transit time, shipping costs, and your carbon footprint. 

BOPIS / curbside

In-store and curbside pickup have definitely reached a whole new level of popularity this year. Target’s curbside pickup services, for example, grew 700% in 2020. The good news? In-store and curbside pickup aren’t just a big box retailer’s game. 

Smaller retailers, such as the local supermarket Island Pacific in Cerritos, CA, also have the ability to implement buy online pickup in-store. 

The key to making this work is having the right commerce management solutions. Successfully implementing initiatives like ship from store, BOPIS, and curbside pickup require the following systems to work together:

  • Point of sale system
  • Inventory management system
  • Ecommerce platform

These three solutions essentially have to “talk” to each other, so sales, customer, and inventory data are synced in real-time. 

Inventory visibility is particularly important here. Your online catalog needs to accurately reflect what you have in-store. This is so shoppers don’t add out-of-stock items to their cart. When customers do end up purchasing an item, your system needs to quickly alert you and your team so you can take the item off the floor (or the stockroom) and prepare it for fulfillment. 

The concept is simple enough to understand. However, it can be difficult to practice. Which is why training your team on order fulfillment practices is a must. When assigning team members to fulfill orders, see to it that they have the knowledge and skills required to track orders and sales, as well as to prepare items for pickup and shipping. 

Changing over your store’s organization to incorporate new fulfillment methods might not be easy. To keep things running smoothly and operating efficiently, consider implementing an app like Bindy. Assign tasks and share implementation checklists as well as photos to demonstrate proper setup. 

Many losses are preventable! Reduce errors and make sites accountable.

Organize your stockrooms and warehouses for success

Your stockrooms and warehouses will play a pivotal role in order fulfillment, so make sure they’re set up for success. Organize and optimize for speed and efficiency. This way you and your team can find the right items and prepare them with ease. 

Below are some ideas on how to accomplish this.

Make sure they contain the right items to begin with

The most organized and well-designed warehouse or stockroom won’t do you any good if it doesn’t contain the right merchandise. So, keep a close eye on your inventory reports to determine what products to stock and when. 

Keep different work areas organized and separate

A warehouse or stockroom typically has the following areas: storage, packing, shipping, receiving, and office. Each of these components plays an essential and distinct role in fulfillment.

As such, you need to make sure that they’re organized and separate from each other. Avoid doing office or packing work in the storage area. Don’t leave items lingering in your office if they’re supposed to be in the storage room.

As for shipping and receiving, you need to make sure that these processes don’t happen simultaneously or that they take place in completely different parts of the location to avoid merchandise mix-ups. When you have a well-organized stockroom, employees will be able to find what they need quickly and pack orders efficiently. All that ultimately leads to a faster and more timely order fulfillment. 

Use proper labels and signage

Labels and signs go a long way in keeping your stockroom or warehouse organized. As simple as they are, they’re incredibly effective in showing people where to go and where to place items. They’re also cheap and efficient, so make good use of them. 

Implement vertical stacking

Maximize vertical space as much as you can. Aside from saving floor space and allowing people to move around easily, having products vertically stacked also makes finding products much simpler. 

Having vertically-arranged products means team members can just stand in one place when looking for items, rather than walking down the aisle or moving horizontally.

Audit and inspect your warehouse or stockroom regularly

See to it that the above best practices — along with any COVID-19 health and safety guidelines — are implemented correctly. 

Conduct regular inspections and audits of your warehouse and stockroom to keep your facilities compliant with government regulations and your brand standards. 

Use a tool like Bindy to streamline your warehouse audit and inspection process. In addition to letting you create customizable forms and checklists, Bindy includes handy features like photo capture, task management, communications, and action plans to ensure that you can identify and resolve issues immediately. 

Timely order fulfillment - Bindy Warehouse inspection ad

Make customers aware of cut off dates

Encourage your customers to place their orders early or to order products before a certain cut-off date to ensure timely order fulfillment. Distribute this information as a far and wide as you can to ensure that shoppers are aware of your shipping deadlines. 

Display your cut-off dates on your website, announce it on social media, and send an email to your subscribers. 

The jewelry retailer Alex and Ani, for example, has a special section on its holiday emails containing key “order by” dates (as seen below). In addition to displaying the order cut off dates, Alex and Ani also provided the shipping option that customers should choose for each “order by” deadline.  

Timely order fulfillment - email shipping cutoff example

Be mindful of costs

Fast shipping is great, but it comes with a cost. And this year, that cost is considerably higher. FedEx, UPS, and USPS all announced additional surcharges for the 2020 holiday season. FedEx’s additional fees, which will take effect the week after Thanksgiving will range from $2 to $5. Meanwhile, UPS has tacked on new fees of up to $4 for holiday shipments. USPS announced surcharges ranging from 24 cents to $1.50 a package.

All these things must be taken into account. If you’re offering free shipping, make sure you set up promotional terms that encourage higher order values to offset shipping costs. If you regularly offer free shipping for orders over $50, consider increasing that $75 particularly as you move closer towards key holiday deadlines. 

Final words

The holiday season doesn’t have to be a bumpy one for your retail business. With the right tools, team members, and tactics, you’ll be able to not only sell the right products, but successfully get them to your customers’ hands in time for Christmas with timely order fulfillment. 

Good luck!

About the author:

Francesca Nicasio is retail expert, B2B content strategist, and LinkedIn TopVoice. She writes about trends, tips, and best practices that enable retailers to increase sales and serve customers better. She’s also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores.

One thought on “Timely Order Fulfillment – How to Tips for Retailers

  1. Great article, Francesca! The optimization of the retail fulfillment process for e-commerce businesses has a significant impact on customer satisfaction and profits. I feel the companies also need to have a returns management process in place since some customers might return the orders from time to time. It will certainly reduce costs and headaches associated with returns or exchanges.

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