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How to Improve Your Order Fulfillment Process by Partnering with a 3PL

Geoff Whiting

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The order fulfillment process can significantly hinder growth when plagued by inefficiencies, mistakes, and a lack of institutional knowledge. That’s why many operations leaders are starting to outsource their fulfillment with a 3PL — whether they’re just moving out of the entrepreneurial garage or have well-established brands that are considering an international push.

There’s an opportunity lurking in fulfillment improvements, but it can be challenging to decide to turn that operation over to someone else. Companies like Red Stag Fulfillment keep this transition smooth so disruptions don’t hold up your orders or upset your customers, and your team can instead prioritize areas where they excel. Let’s look at a few impacts that outsourcing the order fulfillment process and support can bring.

Essential: Improve the order fulfillment process

scanning is an essential part of the order fulfillment process

Order fulfillment is a priority for today’s eCommerce operations because of the complexity introduced during the ongoing pandemic. Getting fulfillment right plays into positive customer satisfaction and revenue goals outside of operation’s general controls. However, what you do face is a struggle to meet labor and resource demands for picking, packing, and even utilizing carriers. Incorrect, damaged, or late orders not only harm profitability but they increase your workload as the need for reverse logistics support scales with errors and mistakes.

With order pick activities easily accounting for more than half of a company’s daily operational and labor costs, you’re in a challenging position. How do you continue to meet accuracy and speed goals with significant fluctuations in manufacturer lead times, container availability, and consumer demand? One of the easiest ways is to partner with a 3PL. That can be full outsourcing or handing off orders from specific platforms or for certain regions.

Here’s how that tactic can help you achieve operational efficiency and gains.

Fundamental: Modernizing inventory and order tracking

forecasting systems for production and inventory control

The first place to begin improving the order fulfillment process and execution is how you address your inventory and orders. One of the most effective ways to begin is by arranging stocks around speed, keeping it simple to track inventory levels and resupply at the appropriate times. However, COVID has shown that speed and order volume can fluctuate, so many operations have to think harder or look deeper into their data.

Third-party logistics companies like Red Stag support your inventory management by helping you look for patterns in your sales as well as the industry at large. Our experts can identify broader trends plus new opportunities for supply chain improvements that allow you to be more flexible and act quickly. From new inbound channels to allocating inventory across multiple warehouses, improving the speed that stock moves will reduce the time you need to process and fill orders, helping with efficiency and reliability.

You can apply the same tools that support a better understanding and management of inventory to order tracking. Integration to automate tracking detail delivery will address customer service requests and ease your support teams’ burdens. When your tools communicate, your website can highlight what’s in stock in real time and then immediately give the customer information on their specific order once they’ve clicked “buy.” With more than half of purchasing decisions in 2021 made based on inventory availability, smoothing this transition can safeguard your operations. Getting it right starts at the 3PL level.

Internal: Minimizing warehouse staff decisions

a warehouse worker checks a pick list for their order

This may feel a little counterintuitive at first but stay with us. Sometimes, to empower your team, you remove barriers to work, and that can include a host of decisions they would typically make. In the warehouse, facing multiple choices not only slows down pick and pack efforts but can put people at risk. Not providing clear directions or picking lanes in aisles can mean a forklift and a picker walking suddenly find themselves at the same corner, moving quickly. Or not offering a picking route can mean a worker walks an extra two miles during their shift, significantly reducing how many orders they could manage and increasing physical strain on them.

Partnering with a 3PL for order fulfillment process improvements should come with a focus on streamlined operations and technological support. Tools that optimize bin locations and slotting, routes, and the sequence of orders delivered to pickers can all yield significant improvements in speed and accuracy. At the same time, people enjoy their work more when it’s understandable and easy to avoid errors.

3PLs like Red Stag Fulfillment can optimize labor and work while keeping people first. We give teams and individuals a chance to succeed and grow with positive motivation each day. Our operations professionals do the heavy lifting of eCommerce fulfillment for every partner — and you reap the benefits of their passion.

Instrumental: Automating for B2B and B2C

a map on a container showing that the order fulfillment process is global

When your order fulfillment process is internal, it can be easy to create accidental silos between operations and client sectors. A B2B vs. B2C approach can lead companies to think differently about information sharing with suppliers than end-customers opportunities. However, you can easily apply the available technology available to reduce errors and enhance process efficiency in both sectors. It’s an opportunity not to miss.

Think about a customer’s order. Your automation tools should route each completed order to the best possible location for filling the order based on inventory on-hand, proximity to the customer, and existing order volume. Those same tools should send signals up and down your supply chain. That means alerts for hitting low stock levels or automatic resupply points. A dependable 3PL partner can help you take a wide range of actions and prepare your business every time you execute a purchase order.

Your operations need to profit from the technological advancements that exist, especially in the realm of automation. Reducing manual steps speeds up business decisions and allows your team to focus on higher-level problems or solve unique challenges. It’s why in the warehouse, we automate picking orders and back them up with three separate scans before anything is shipped. Let us help your team leverage the information that every purchase order generates to inform your business growth better while ensuring operational efficiency for every fulfillment action.

Elemental: Maintaining attractive returns policies

returned holiday gifts have increased for 8 straight years, with 1/3 of Americans returning something at the start of 2022

Reverse logistics present significant challenges for operations. However, a robust and supportive returns policy is a crucial driver of sales and customer satisfaction. So, you’ve got to balance the need for control and capability with what choosey customers want. Partnering with a 3PL with returns policy expertise and transparent management. Plus, you gain the ability to scale labor when returns are high can help you turn this need into a business success factor.

We all know that order fulfillment isn’t truly finished until a customer receives the order and decides to keep it. Proper planning for errors, damage in transit, and general returns help your business keep its revenue and cash flow expectations accurate. Operations can assist with this by having transparent returns costs and timing for getting goods returned to sales opportunities. Or it can implement reliable procedures to track donated and destroyed items for balance sheet and tax purposes. Find a partner that ships orders accurately every time so you minimize the threat of returns while still having a plan for making the most of these goods.

Incremental: Validating your metrics

The final way a 3PL can support order fulfillment process improvements is by helping you ensure that you’re accurately measuring this aspect of your business. By doing the heavy lifting of eCommerce fulfillment, Red Stag guarantees individual elements of the process: no shrinkage, 100% on-time and accurate orders, and fast inbound processing. You’re free to focus on the metrics that best define your needs and successes.

two people on a conveyor line demonstrate the order fulfillment process

Outsourcing a labor-intensive process like fulfillment can help you turn to metrics to see what impacts sales and growth. With the order fulfillment process handled correctly every time, it’s easier to evaluate which metrics provide relevant data or highlight other problem areas to tackle. Operations leaders are freed to analyze common blind spots in the procurement and sales processes, helping mitigate risks in these tricky areas. The past few years have taught us all that being unprepared at the start of your supply chain quickly creates problematic ripples through every other function.

Every improvement in or refinement of a metric to a more appropriate measurement can yield compounding gains. Get the time you need to evaluate business processes and sales tactics by turning to Red Stag for your order fulfillment process support. Our experts are waiting to help you see how far you can push sales and growth when orders go out correctly and on time, every time.

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