How to Improve Your E-Commerce Fulfillment Process

Order fulfillment

These days, speed of delivery is one of the core expectations consumers have; driven mainly by the pandemic and same-day shipping options offered by giant retailers. This is why organizations of all sizes are trying their best to meet these consumer expectations, despite mounting supply chain and fulfillment challenges.

Fast shipping has become critical for consumers. In fact, around 85% of consumers will take their business elsewhere to get faster shipping.

Unsurprisingly, one of the top three reasons for shopping cart abandonment is slow delivery speed. With the oncoming holiday season and evolving shopping preferences, retailers will face an exponential rise in demand. In 2020 itself, consumer expenditure on online shopping increased by 32.4% year-over-year as per the U.S. Department of Commerce.

As consumer expectations rise with respect to shipping timelines, so does the pressure on retailers. And in order to stay competitive, e-commerce retailers must strive to fulfill orders as fast, and accurately, as possible.

Challenges with the order fulfillment process 

Order fulfillment, the process starting from receiving orders to final delivery, is one of the most critical elements in the supply chain. If managed improperly, it can lead to massive delays and a myriad of other problems like damaged products, stockouts, incorrect items, missed orders, etc. Other than this, it can also impact your reputation which is bound to hurt sales in the future.

Bottlenecks in the order fulfillment process cause inefficiencies, which stop you from processing orders as fast as they build up. To avoid these bottlenecks, and the eventual slowdown in delivery, it is important to identify what causes these problems.

Worker shortages in the market

With the rise in e-commerce sales, warehouses and distribution centers are witnessing worker shortages never seen before. In the retail industry, there are around 965,000 open jobs as estimated by the U.S. Department of Labor. Every major retailer across the country is facing challenges with hiring more people, and this is expected to get worse during the holiday season. As fulfillment relies heavily on the efforts of workers, this shortage has been causing major delays in shipments across the industry.

Growth in demand

One of the biggest changes for the retail industry in the past year has been the massive shift to online shopping. Since nobody could predict the pandemic and how it will affect retailers, adjusting supply chains and managing fulfillment became a nightmare for many of them. On top of that, it was difficult for retailers to compete with the bigwigs who started offering same-day or next-day shipping.

Slow fulfillment processes

Order fulfillment processes involve multiple steps, such as picking, sorting, packing, shipping, etc. This whole process requires accuracy and efficiency, and as shopping volumes have increased considerably in the last year, retailers have been struggling to manage fulfillments without running into problems. Lack of structure can lead to common errors such as incorrect picking, missed deliveries, or misprinted labels.

Lack of technological integration

Many of the human errors we discussed in the point above can be managed with automation and integrated systems, however, this shouldn’t add more complexity to your processes. For instance, if you are implementing a new robotics solution, it should be easily configurable as well as work seamlessly with every major Warehouse Execution System (WES) and Warehouse Management System (WMS). Any functioning fulfillment solution should be up and running with minimal disruption to your operations.

How can you dramatically improve your fulfillment processes?

Today’s warehouses are caught between soaring demand and critical worker shortages. There is a desperate need to increase throughput and improve efficiency — and robotics can be the workforce multiplier for your organization. As order volumes increase and customer expectations continue to rise, automating critical workflows in warehouses can significantly improve your fulfillment processes.

Autonomous mobile robots or AMRs, such as the FlexShelf from Zebra and Fetch, enables warehouses to streamline order, batch, case, and pallet picking workflows as well as automate any manual material movement.

In early deployments, FlexShelf robots enabled warehouse workers to pick three times more than they were able to before AMRs. It also frees up time for workers by eliminating manual material movement.

AMRs can also empower pickers to work much more quickly and accurately, with minimal training. Moreover, it is easier for you to attract and retain people as robots can reduce the amount of walking time for pickers by up to 60%. And because of compliance with standards like ANSI RIA R15.08, these solutions can keep workers safe. 

Flexible automation can be the optimal solution for e-commerce retailers to keep pace with the rising volumes and consumer expectations.

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