Fulfilling customer orders is a significant part of any business. This order-fulfillment process starts when the customer places an order and ends when it’s delivered to the doorstep.
Many companies facilitate fulfillment by using a third-party logistics (3PL) company. 3PL providers can manage the entire supply-chain process from warehousing to fulfillment. In addition to these services, 3PL can also take care of inventory forecasting. Outsourcing through a 3PL is a good solution when a business grows and is no longer able to handle its order-fulfillment processes in-house.
For any 3PL fulfillment company, there are five basic stages of the fulfillment process. The company retrieves items for the order from the warehouse, then picks, packs, ships and delivers them. Let’s better understand the steps involved to get the right product to the right customer at the right time.
Even before an order is placed, inventory has to be stocked in a warehouse. If it isn’t there, or if there isn’t enough of it, orders can’t be fulfilled. When the 3PL receives inventory for its warehouse, it will typically fill out a Warehouse Receiving Order (WRO), a document that lists the names of the items and their quantity.
After this, each item undergoes a quality check and has its barcode scanned. By doing this, the 3PL company can check the accuracy of the WRO and make sure that items are stored in the right bins. This is an essential part of their warehousing.
The process is facilitated by state-of-the-art software, such as Cin7’s warehouse-management software, which takes care of managing the inventory the 3PL holds and its warehouse operations.
When a customer’s order is ready to be filled, the Warehouse Management System (WMS) produces a list of the items, called a picklist, and assigns a warehouse associate to pick each of the items from their respective storage bins. To ensure the associate picks the items in the most efficient way—one that takes the most direct route around the warehouse and entails the least amount of walking—a picking pattern is produced. The software easily generates both the picklists and picking patterns.
When picking has been completed, the items of an order are scanned and set aside for packing.
At the packaging station, a team places the items for an order in a box and pads them with appropriate packing materials such as bubble wrap. Ideally, the 3PL fulfillment provider will choose packing material that is secure, yet lightweight enough to keep shipping expenses low. A seller can also usually ask for special packaging to be used. Once packed, the whole box is sealed tight with tape and a shipping label is attached. This contains all the information necessary to get the goods to the customer. At this stage, the packing department will also make sure that the weight and dimensions they have for the package are correct.
Before being shipped, packages ready for dispatch are separated into their destination areas. This way, all packages intended for a particular geographical area are put together on the same transportation.
At this stage, the 3PL company can either take care of shipping and delivery for you, or you can arrange for a courier company like UPS or FedEx yourself. If your company is small and you don’t have many packages to deliver, it’s usually a good idea to have your 3PL take care of shipping because they will have negotiated good rates with the carriers. They will also know which shipping method to use to get your goods to your customers in the fastest time possible.
Returns and refunds are a fact of life, especially in online retailing where the customer doesn’t actually see the product they’ve bought until it arrives. For whatever reason a product is returned, there has to be a way for it to be done hassle-free. This ensures customer satisfaction. A good way of streamlining returns is to have your 3PL include a return label with the item they’re shipping.
Your 3PL fulfillment provider should make sure that each item they handle is in perfect order before sending it out. When an item is returned, its condition should be checked again and documented. Based on company policy, an item in good condition will either be placed back in the warehouse or be disposed of.
The best way for you to have a good experience from your 3PL is by being able to have oversight. If you have Cin7, you’re able to check on your inventory that’s in their warehouse in real time, know what orders are coming in from which sales channel, and batch track. Batch tracking lets you know things like which group of items a defective one came from and when expiration dates have been reached. Cin7 software will also give you advanced reporting on all aspects of the fulfillment process. Why not book a demo with our experts today?
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