First impressions of your pick and pack services:
They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and with business relationships this is extremely apparent. For online retailers the first thing potential customers will see, in order to gauge a feel for your company, is your website and so this must be flawless. A good website will include an overview of your company, your services and products, you must have easy flow content and the ability for smooth transactions. The other side of the coin is how you work in conjunction with your pick and pack provider for your fulfilment. As flawless as your website appears for clients and potential clients, the data behind the scenes needs to flow just as well to produce straightforward transactions every time. If your website doesn’t grab the attention of potential clients and produce sales, then your relationship with your pick and pack provider will suffer as a result.
Third Party Fulfilment CentresOnline consumers, on average, will place orders for one or two products. Those purchasing for business purposes are likely to order many products in high volumes. This difference, along with the fact that there are more than 200 million Internet users around the world, means that the frequency of orders in smaller volumes can be astronomical. Warehouses, traditionally, are designed to handle medium to large order volumes, they are to have the ability to process small and large orders with the same efficiency and so your chosen warehouse needs to have the required functionality to support all fulfilment operations. This could mean things such as expanding existing facilities or modifying existing operating procedures. There are many things involved in the structure of an effective fulfilment operation, with the three main being picking, packing and returns. On the whole, establishing operations that will be the most effective for fulfilment operations will include:
- Having a high-frequency picking area
- The use of innovative and advanced picking technologies – i.e. voice recognition
- Achieving orders through a one-day cycle
- Providing special packing services – i.e. gift wrapping available
- Operating an effective reverse logistics process – for returns
- Overseeing an accurate inventory
If your fulfilment centre is not operating as it could be then your business can suffer greatly. In today’s Internet world, consumers want their products yesterday! They don’t want delays, they don’t want damaged or faulty products and it will be your reputation that rests on this – not your fulfilment centres. The chances are that whatever your products are, there are hundreds more companies out there selling the same thing and so for you to stay ahead – your fulfilment centre needs to be doing all it can to be in front of the competition.
The Critical Ingredient – Order PickingAn order picking process needs to be efficient; this is a critical ingredient in ensuring a quick turnaround and smooth process from order to client. If this part of the fulfilment is not conducted accordingly, then regardless of how productive all other areas are, your business could be greatly affected. There are many issues requiring consideration when looking into a picking process:
- Storage Equipment: There are a variety of products that need to be determined with the main being your storage solutions. Using the incorrect materials for certain products could have a huge effect on the productivity of sales, for example using wooden pallets for food products could result in contamination with the worst case scenario meaning a customer will become ill. You need to ensure that the storage equipment used by your fulfilment company will be appropriate for the products waiting to be picked.
- Picking Technology: To increase the production of the picking aspect of fulfilment, technology needs to be integrated with storage and handling equipment perfectly. For the most effective picking technologies you could look at radio-frequency terminals, pick-to-light systems and wireless speech recognition. This is the innovative technology, which saves on all resources such as time and finances as computerized machinery takes over manpower, providing the best solution with the lowest risk.
- Slotting Strategy: The slotting strategy used by your fulfilment company is a critical factor within an efficient picking process. In layman terms, slotting strategy means assigning products to a location. There are a catalogue of benefits to this being done correctly, such as; reduced product damage, reduced injuries, improved labour utilisation and better cube utilisation. The items which are to be the most active i.e. the top 20% of products purchased, should be placed in the middle of the picking levels to reduce the risks associated with this task to employees and also to improve picker productivity. The slotting strategy which is applied by your fulfilment company to your picking operations can either make or break the success of your ecommerce company.
Packing – Upgrades Are EssentialTraditional warehouse requirements have recently undergone many upgrades; your fulfilment provider needs to be able to function with the adaptations by upgrading from standard, non-adjustable packing stations to more flexible workstations. There are now many various small shipping cartons, bags and envelopes that are in use to cope with the demand of sales in an efficient and cost effective manner. There are many options for packing with the objective being that all products will be thoroughly protected during transit – if products arrive at their destination, damaged, not intact or faulty then it’s your company that will be affected by this. You will be responsible for replacing the product, apologising to the customer and facing the detrimental effect it could have on the reputation of your business.
Returns – Handle Well For Repeat CustomA significant factor, which determines whether or not a customer will continue to use your company, will be how your returns are handled. On average, over 30% of all Internet purchases are returned. This is put into perspective when considering fewer than 10% of offline products are returned. Your fulfilment company needs to be able to handle returns on your behalf, effectively to prevent a detrimental affect on your own business, in ways such as:
- Customer Credit Process: A customer’s account needs to be credited promptly after a return is made in order to preserve a strong customer basis. This will require advanced systems to support a short cycle of no longer than 72 hours to keep customer satisfaction.
- Quality and Control: Is your fulfilment company able to deal with the reasons for returns? For example, if the item is returned because it was faulty, are they able to rectify this to resell? A good fulfilment company will have a strong network of after-market dealers or recycling providers in order to maximise the value of any returned goods.
- The Use of Technology: This could mean sorters, racks, conveyors and modular workstations to support the anticipated volumes within the returns area. If a returned order cannot be dealt with in quick succession this could produce a detrimental affect to your business.
Having a fulfilment company who are able to deal with the entire process of picking and packing is essential in today’s internet world with the increasing demand for online products, with as much importance on being able to establish a good final impression. It is important to acknowledge that when making transactions online, the success of this still boils down to physical movement of products to consumers.