Fulfilment is not just defined as the process of receiving an order for a product and making the necessary preparations to get that order ready for delivery to the customer. There is a great deal going on in the middle of that statement: picking the product from the warehouse shelf; packing it into a suitable box to ensure that it arrives intact and undamaged; printing out a delivery label with name, full address and delivery instructions and company sorting code. All of this goes on before the delivery driver handles the package and ultimately hands it over to the customer.
How is the Kaizen approach being used by fulfilment companies?So, from the point where someone chooses an item that they want right through to the doorstep delivery a good fulfilment company, such as Fairway, should be able to help with every single process to streamline and speed up the process. Some fulfilment companies are using the Japanese principle of Kaizen, which literally translates as the practice of continuous improvement. Although we all practice continuous improvement, the Kaizen approach, which was introduced in Japan after the Second World War is based on a number of factors that you can see in evidence at fulfilment warehouses today. This pathway to total fulfilment depends on good processes, initiative amongst the work force, absolute teamwork and taking action to root out problems in the workplace. The ultimate mantra is that Kaizen principles are EVERYONE’S principles. Everyone from top-level management down to the part time factory floor worker must work by these principles. It is clear that such a working regime will inevitably bring success, provided that all the staff, at every level, buy into the idea.
Within a fulfilment operation Kaizen takes upon practices of Japanese businesses such as automation, suggestion systems, quality circles and just-in-time delivery, to deliver a streamlined process that continuously monitors and improves standards. Some feel that this fits in perfectly with the fulfilment model, as the goalposts are constantly changing and customers are demanding more and more. Striving to offer more and more in terms of on time delivery, streamlined pick and pack facilities and innovative fulfilment software solutions, means that the industry must constantly monitor and improve their offerings, or face falling to the wayside.
A recent piece in The Guardian discussed the challenges retailers must look at with regards to fulfilment before they consider taking their business overseas. It is the goal of most companies to expand their sphere of operations and this can sometimes involve tapping into overseas markets. The risks involved in doing so should not be underestimated although these risks can be reduced somewhat by choosing a strategic approach when it comes to fulfilment.
Let’s take a look at what else has been happening around the fulfilment industryThe fifth UK Trade and Investment’s Export Week was recently completed which gives retailers practical advice on setting up overseas trade by means of a number of seminars, workshops and overseas market briefings. The key message to take from such events is that all fulfilment challenges need to be conquered if a business is to succeed in any overseas expansion projects. Of these challenges, arguably the most important one to consider is that of not being over ambitious with your expansion plans. Some businesses fall into the trap of assuming that what is good for one country will work in the next one equally well. This is clearly not so and careful research is essential into factors that make fulfilling orders difficult or more costly than first thought.
It’s a great idea these days to share resources especially if the business trying to break into overseas markets is new to the game and does not have the right infrastructure in place to be successful. Partnering up with other companies who are experienced in those countries can ensure exceptionally good results. For instance a small retail outfit can use overseas warehousing and logistical expertise to get their products from a UK manufacturing base directly to overseas customers. In time they can do it all themselves but, in the early days, what better way to achieve fulfilment than to use a partner company that is already well established.
Ultimately retailers have to ensure that fulfilment is a major part of the WHOLE ordering and delivery process and not just something to be bolted on as an optional accessory. New Internet technology makes the world smaller every day and a customer sitting in front of their screen in a rural part of the USA can suddenly become the next customer of an online retailer in the West Midlands of the UK. For this customer to have a wholly satisfactory retail experience though everything in the chain has to be right. The description and images of the product; the pricing of the goods; the guarantees offered; the returns procedure should the product not be satisfactory. All of this is part of the fulfilment process and if all is correctly set up then the system works. If a part of it is sub-standard the fulfilment experience fails.