From the minor, like shipping a customer two pairs of socks instead of one, to the major, like shipping the wrong products to the wrong addressee, fulfillment errors are unpleasant. They’re also, to a degree, unavoidable.
As long as humans are involved in fulfilling e-commerce orders, human error is possible. You may not be able to eliminate all fulfillment errors, but you can and should implement procedures and best practices to minimize them. Here are four suggestions to get you started.
Implement a Post-Picking Quality Control Step
Because many fulfillment errors originate during the picking phase, it’s prudent to focus on quality-control after this step. It’s not tough – it simply requires that someone review packing slips and then confirm that the products pulled for the order are correct.
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Depending on your industry and shipping volume, you could implement random quality control checks (an inspector chooses orders at random and checks them) or implement a systematic check of every order before it ships.
Change System Settings
Another common fulfillment issue is not getting an order to a customer by the promised delivery date. Many of these mistakes can be prevented by addressing processing delays. For example, assume a customer places an order on a Monday and pays extra for two-day shipping so he’ll receive his order by Wednesday. Sometimes, the warehouse gets busy and an order placed on a Monday isn’t picked until Tuesday.
If your automated system has marked the order for two-day air, it won’t account for the day lost due to the picking delay and the order will arrive a day late. You can avoid this by changing the way you code deliveries in your shipping system. Instead of hard-coding such specifications as two-day, next-day or ground shipping, code in the must-deliver-by date. Let your system determine which shipping method is needed based on the deliver by date.
Use Address Validation Software Upfront
With e-commerce, customers enter their own shipping addresses into your website. Occasionally, they make mistakes. Address errors are more common with international and APO/FPO shipments, because customers may be unfamiliar with the proper formatting. Address validation software will prevent you from shipping to invalid addresses.
Ideally, the address validation should occur on your website so it can flag errors while the customer is inputting his address. If you run address validation software at the end of the process, right before a package is to be shipped, that creates a delay. It requires your shipping person to contact the customer to verify the correct address.
Integrate Inventory into Your Website
Another major fulfillment issue is allowing customers to order items that you don’t have in stock. Companies with inventory management systems integrated into their websites can minimize this. When an item becomes unavailable or is on backorder, the software will automatically update that status on your website. If a customer chooses to order a backordered item, he’ll know it will be delayed.
Optimize Fulfillment Across Multiple Sources
With the focus on omnichannel distribution, many e-commerce companies now fulfill orders from multiple sources. When a customer orders products from one website and they can come from different warehouses or even directly shipped from a retail store. This can result in a customer receiving multiple shipments from various sources for a single order, resulting in more freight costs to the company and confusion for the customer.
While not technically a fulfillment error, it isn’t an ideal scenario for the customer or company. Try to configure your system to search not just for the closest source, but also the source that has all or most of the items to fulfill an order in stock.
Remember, Errors Happen
These situations represent examples of common fulfillment errors and ways to proactively address them. While you will probably never eliminate fulfillment errors entirely, implementing checks and balances and other best practices should significantly reduce them.