The Volo Levers framework for sales growth and profitability outlines 10 levers directly affecting the top line and bottom line of your ecommerce business (there’s a bonus 11th lever, but more on that later in the series). We’ve covered the 5 growth levers, and on the efficiency side we’ve covered inventory & stock control and warehousing & operations. In this post we cover ecommerce order management, and how to maximise your collective fulfilment & dispatch efficiencies across marketplaces like Amazon, eBay and OnBuy, and webstore platforms like Magento and Shopify.
When a customer buys from you – in any or multiple sales channels – they’ve placed their trust in you. This might be the first time they’ve bought from you. Perhaps they bought or collected in store, bought from your webstore, or via a marketplace, or perhaps through social or messaging channels. Either way, at the point of purchase it’s the time of highest risk for the customer. They’re committing their hard-earned money to you. They’ve submitted their payment, they’ve received an order number and hopefully a confirmation email. For them, now the waiting starts and the fulfilment & dispatch process begins.
From your side, once the order pings in, this is where ‘the rubber meets the road’ – literally in most cases! Pick, pack and dispatch is the name of the game. How can your staff pick the orders as quickly and accurately as possible? How can your staff pack the orders as economically as possible, using the optimal container size, the right label and documentation, and put the packages in the right bin for dispatch? How can your courier get the item to your customer intact and close the loop on the process, all with zero error? How can you keep your order management process running smoothly?
On the picking side, if you’re using drop-shippers, then you’ve no picking to do. You have to get your purchase order to your partner, and you still need to relay the information that your customer’s order has been processed, packed, is out for delivery, and has been delivered. If you’re doing the dispatch yourself, then you need to find the balance for the right number of pick runs you do during the day, depending on the day of the week and the season. You also need to have a picking process that works for you. Perhaps you organise your pick list order by order, or perhaps you do it cumulatively via a central pool.
On the packing side, your packer needs to print off the shipping list, possibly by courier, and assemble the order. The optimal size envelope, bag or box for the dimensions of the items needs to be selected, the items need to be packed, padding may need to be inserted along with the invoice and delivery docket, before the package is sealed securely. Then it needs to be placed in the correct courier sack or bin in the dispatch area. Your relationships might be with the couriers directly, or they might be with a courier ‘aggregator’ in which case your multichannel fulfilment and dispatch process may be different.
Then the dispatch process kicks in. Your staff may print off a manifest for the courier. The packages might be scanned before going into the courier van and back to the courier’s warehouse, where they’re possibly scanned again depending on your couriers’ own processes, so that you and your customers can check on package progress. Then they’re out for delivery in another courier van, to be hand delivered and possibly signed for on a hand-held device which in turn automatically updates the various systems.
And that’s just for a domestic or regional dispatch. Add the international dimension and you have more links in the chain, airports, airlines, customs, duty, international shipping infrastructure and providers and all of those considerations to contend with, which can impact your seller metrics.
You also need to make sure that your sales order processing systems are doing their job properly. If you’re selling across multiple marketplaces, perhaps using different seller IDs, you can’t afford to lose track of who’s paid for which items to be delivered where. This means being able to match orders to payments quickly, which could involve going into more than one system, including your own order taking systems and systems of the payment processing providers that you’re using. This can be a painstaking and time-consuming – but important – exercise.
What could possibly go wrong?! Clearly, with so much manual intervention and so many steps in the process, there are so many potential chances of error, delay and loss, accidentally or wilfully. This means, conversely, that there are many opportunities for you to set yourself apart from the competition by automating as much fulfilment & dispatch as you can, driving down your costs and errors, improving your efficiencies and the complete buying experience for your customers.
At Volo, we’ve been working with our customers for over 15 years to fine-tune their fulfilment & dispatch processes. Over this time we’ve accumulated best practices and procedures which we pass on to our customers to help them cut time, costs and mistakes out of their operations. This post shares some of our experiences in this critical area.
When it comes to labelling, consistency helps you improve speed and eradicate errors. Ideally your product codes and information are the same on the product box for warehousing, the warehouse shelves for picking, the shipping list for packing, the manifest for dispatch, and on your invoice and delivery documentation. You can use a system like Volo to automate all of this printing, which has the effect of dramatically cutting down on the manual aspect. Instead of having someone full-time on printing, you can redeploy them elsewhere in the business where they can really add value to an area that is not as easy, or not as desirable, to automate.
Once the items have been correctly picked, the last thing you want is for the right items not to find their way into the package for the customer. Otherwise, this precipitates a costly and time-consuming re-pick, re-pack and re-dispatch to a frustrated customer at your expense. As with picking, the better you can organise your packing area, the faster you can pack the orders ready for dispatch with a zero error count. Systems like Volo have packing screens to allow your fulfilment staff to get the order assembly right every time, in good time.
Introducing a courier or aggregator into the mix introduces a third party into the equation and increases the chance of someone dropping the ball, or in this case the package…we advise you to integrate as much of your couriers’ processes and data feeds as you can into your own system, since the greater the integration, the better the efficiency all round.
The Volo focus is on streamlining and automating your entire fulfilment & dispatch process and we’ve worked very hard to provide the most comprehensive range of fully integrated couriers, including all the major domestic and international providers, as we believe this is a critical area where you can make major efficiency gains.
The benefits of an integrated system are not confined to the courier and dispatch area. On the sales order processing side, your processes are better and your staff are happier if they can do everything they need to do in one system. At Volo, our approach is to help bring together all your order information into a single, coherent view. Taking this approach means that matching sales orders with payments and accounting systems then gets much more straightforward.
When your customer opens their package, you are presented with your first opportunity to re-market to them, where rules allow. Remarketing gives you the chance to secure more sales from your customer and build on what will hopefully be a long-term mutually beneficial relationship. Many of the marketplaces, however, where the question of customer ownership is super sensitive, frown upon or forbid your inserting marketing collateral into the package and this can be reason enough to suspend you from the marketplace.
With Volo’s multichannel software, however, you can easily organise the printing of marketing messages and invitations to purchase onto the invoice and delivery documentation itself. Better still, if you can make your offer more compelling and more tailored to the item or items your customer has ordered, you increase your chances of them taking you up on the offer. It costs you nothing and even a small conversion rate is worth the effort at automating the personalisation of your service.
As well as the multichannel sales side of ecommerce, there’s also the multichannel fulfilment aspect too since you have the option of doing it yourself, or using a drop-shipper as we’ve already touched on, or engaging the services of Fufilment by Amazon, eBay Fulfilment, or other Third Party Logistics (‘3PL’) providers. Integrating multiple 3PLs enables you to set up rules that can automatically govern which fulfilment service delivers which order the most cost-effectively, collecting at what time of day, for true round-the-clock responsiveness to buyers. If most of your buyers are doing their buying outside of normal work hours, it gives you a competitive edge to be able to offer the most responsive delivery during peak buying times. For more on multichannel fulfilment, see this post.
Excelling at fulfilment & dispatch, then, helps you reduce costs with streamlined processes and the right manual interventions. Volo helps companies improve efficiencies through the integration of couriers and aggregators and rules-based automated workflows. Vehicle parts and accessories merchant Click Car Parts uses the platform to manage its fulfilment & dispatch and estimates the system saves it 2-3 staff members a year.
Mat Reynolds, eCommerce Manager, Click Car Parts: “The Volo system is very easy to use, it’s very intuitive. As I said, I like the fact that everything is in one place. That really simplifies things for us. Also, we see some real efficiencies in our in-house processes. We don’t have to open each order through eBay, and print it, that kind of thing. Because of that, it’s much easier to keep track on a day-to-day, operational basis. It’s all linked together. If a customer calls up or sends an email, I can go to the sales screen and the listing is there. I used to have to do eBay searches to find the orders.”
To open the discussion with us about the fulfilment & dispatch lever and how the lever framework and Volo can help you, please send us a note here.