You have just made the plunge and sent your entire product lineup to a 3PL. You may have SKUs scattered across the country at multiple distribution centers, or perhaps you’ve decided to store your complete inventory list at one centralized location. Setup and integrations are complete, and orders are rolling in like there’s no tomorrow. Now what?
You may be wondering how much day-to-day work there is for you (communication, organization and coordination) in terms of managing your outsourced order fulfillment operations. Should you check your inventory levels on a daily basis? Are you tracking your shipments like a hound? Do you wait to see a “shipped” status on every order and do a happy dance?
Learning the right balance between constant oversight and none at all is crucial to reaping the benefits of using an outsourced fulfillment services provider. You chose a logistics partner to make your life easier and let you focus your time on growing your business, right? If your 3PL has provided you with the right tools (including a robust software platform that offers insight and transparency into the fulfillment process from end to end), monitoring the process should be a small slice of your workload, not the entire pie.
- Inbound Shipments: Sending products to a warehouse (or multiple warehouses) may be the first step in your fulfillment supply chain, but it’s also critical to getting the finished product out the door to the customer. Once you have completed your ASN (Advanced Shipment Notice) and shipped your goods to a warehouse, you can start relying on the software to track your items and do the work for you. The fulfillify.com dashboard will alert you once a delivery has been made⎯and once again when the items have been put away and are available to order. This means you don’t need to call the warehouse and check whether your shipment has been received. You can sit back and watch as your items are automatically put into stock.
- Order Management: Because you now know your inventory is safely tucked in (at fulfillify.com we have been known to sing lullabies to pallets), you can switch your focus to orders. If your online shopping cart is integrated directly with a fulfillment services platform, customer orders will flow directly from your e-commerce store to the warehouse to be picked, packed and shipped. This should happen automatically with no human involvement. One thing to keep an eye on, however, is any order that has been put on hold (or is not shipping for any reason). If an order is on hold, it is likely that you are out of stock of that particular SKU or there is a problem with the information that was received from the shopping cart (e.g., customer’s address is undeliverable, there is no ship method selected, etc.). Usually these issues can be fixed easily and the order can drop into fulfillment. While you don’t need to closely monitor the status of every order, it’s these types of situations that you should keep on your radar.
- Returns Management: All businesses that sell goods face returns, and e-commerce companies know this all too well. While 3PLs differ in how they handle returns programs, one thing to be aware of is the quantity and timing of returns. If you have historical data on expected return volume and are able to resell returned items, keep that in mind when doing inventory planning. As more returns come back, you have more inventory to sell. You also will need more storage space in a warehouse, so this can impact your costs. A spike in returns, aside from having an impact on the business side of the equation, can also be indicative of a larger product-related problem. Periods of highly concentrated returns can mean a certain batch of products had slight quality issues that may not be reported directly to customer service by your online customers. Overall, keep a general sense of your return landscape at all times, but don’t get bogged down by a few returns here or there.
Outsourcing order fulfillment is a great way to free up time to focus on growing your business. If you are using a trustworthy and top-notch 3PL, you should be able to monitor your orders and inventory in significantly less time than you were spending when you were self-fulfilling or doing it in-house. It should also provide you with the peace of mind that your orders are being fulfilled accurately and on time. Keep inbound shipments, inventory management and returns management on your radar, and you should cruise right along.