Technology drives everything in today’s Fulfillment Operation. System capabilities evolve constantly. This in turn drives efficiencies, decision making and the customer experience. Were your PC and software the same five years ago as they are today? Not even close.
The same goes for that of a Fulfillment Provider. Many in the consumer direct space have worked hard to build robust, PCI Compliant platforms that will support the sales cycle. But this doesn’t mean that they are fast, efficient or capable of making cost-saving decisions. Progressive Fulfillment Providers understand the value and opportunities that advanced, modern technology brings its clients.
A progressive architecture begins with an integrated web e-commerce platform, through Order Management, Payment Processing and Order Fulfillment. Then it continues with shipping via logic-based optimization to support customizable goals that balance cost and transit time.
Technology allows all this to occur in a cohesive manner and lets clients view and interface with the data online. Be certain that you partner with a Fulfillment Provider that embraces technology, employs the very best systems available and UPGRADES REGULARLY.
Below we have put together a list of common technology functions in the order fulfillment space and the things to consider within each realm.
The Order Management System manages the order and the customer relationship.Every business needs a system of record that consolidates orders from multiple sources in one place. The OMS will support product offers and promotions, payment processing, continuity, customer relationship management and acts as the hub for customer service activities. Best of breed Order Management Systems will also provide the analytics that you need to manage your business. And these systems are typically a much better solution to manage consumer direct orders versus an accounting package, ERP or shopping cart platform backend.
The Warehouse Management System orchestrates all activities associated with the warehousing and distribution process. A strong WMS manages inventory (including lot and expiration date), flow of product (“First in, First Out,” for example), efficient work flows to maximize efficiencies, pick and pack functions, and so much more. There are light/basic WMS packages geared towards small and simple operations, and then there are enterprise-class systems that are feature rich and support high volume and complex processes. Typically a Fulfillment Provider will employ a sophisticated system that supports the needs of many clients
In the event that you will use a variety of service providers, how good is the Fulfillment Center at integrating with other vendors? Are they already integrated, with proven results? What are the costs involved with set up and integration?
Sophisticated Fulfillment Providers have logic-based technology that lower shipping costs by determining the optimal shipping carrier and method in order to accomplish the client’s goal, on a package-by-package level. For example, these systems can be programmed to simply choose the lowest cost service to a customer address. Or, complex logic can be employed to make these selections more intelligent. Some services may be less expensive but poor performers to certain destinations. Time in transit may be a factor in making a decision. If the goal is to get a package to a consumer in 2 days, a logic-based system can analyze the time in transit via Ground before automatically selecting a 2-Day Air service, yielding significant savings.
This is a great way to offer 2-Day service without paying 2-Day rates in all instances. The newest software packages that really make a difference to optimize shipping costs and transit times can cost over $100,000. Most marketers cannot afford this investment on their own. But experienced Fulfillment Centers are constantly researching the newest tools and upgrading to gain efficiencies.
Electronic Data Interchange is a method for transferring data between organizations. The retail world has adopted EDI as the preferred method of transacting purchase orders, shipment notification and even invoicing; however, each retailer has the flexibility to set their own requirements within the data fields. This leads to increased complexity because each retailer may be using the data fields differently, requiring very specific integrations for each trading partner. Fulfillment Centers that ship to retailers must have EDI capabilities. Some offer end-to-end solutions that will not only handle the distribution requirement but also provide the marketer with the technology to handle their part too.
Payment Card Industry Compliance is a set of guidelines surrounding the transmission and storage of credit card information. Fulfillment providers that offer Consumer Direct and Order Management system functionality must have safeguards in place to comply with PCI requirements. The higher the volume, the stricter the requirements. Compliance is one thing, certification is another. Ask providers if their systems are certified by a third-party or just compliant.
If the provider will be performing Customer Service functions they will need a system that facilitates these activities. Contact Center Systems must be able to route calls, manage agents, display scripting and collect data. Many can also support service by email and webchat, in addition to phone support. Unsophisticated systems lead to longer call times, which increases the cost to the Marketer, while also decreasing customer satisfaction.
As you see from above, there are multiple systems in play throughout the Fulfillment Process. Therefore, Online Visibility is extremely important, and business owners must ask themselves if their Fulfillment Provider offers an effective and secure way for its clients to view inventory, order and shipping statuses online.
Download our Ultimate Guide to Fulfillment to find more ways to help better understand the fulfillment process. Should you be looking for a partner in order fulfillment, take a look at our brochure and call us to share any business challenges that we could help you with!