This is partially why I despise out-sourced satisfaction and drop-shipping. As soon as you get rid of control over this link in the customer lifecycle series, you are headed for disaster. Thus, you MUST become a master in fulfillment if you are going to conduct a successful e-commerce enterprise.
Just think of how absurd it would be if brick-and-mortar shops outsourced their in-house employees. Imagine you walk up to the register at BestBuy and the individual greeting you’re wearing a top for”OutsourcedRegisters, Inc”. That’s terrible! And that is precisely what you are doing when you outsource your fulfillment operations. You are leaving your final interaction with the client — the thing most memorable in their thoughts — up to another person. Unless you’ve got a very special reason for outsourcing your satisfaction, do not do it.
Rather, let’s examine how you can do it yourself and enjoy near 100% accuracy on your fulfillment. We have done it in my company where our speed of error (being described as sending the incorrect thing to a client, omitting a product, or sending too much of a product ) is below 0.1%.
A couple of caveats: We have only tested our system up to 2,000 orders in 1 day. Additionally, we wrote our own personalized software, but I am positive you might find products out there to attain similar results. Otherwise, hire someone to write the software for you. It will be worth every penny. The program is not very complicated, so it would not cost much to have it made for you.
We use a batch picking procedure. This means that we break up all our available orders into discreet batches of orders. Our software decides how many physical things need to fulfill the orders that are available and then breaks them up so that each batch has, at most, 60 items (not orders) each batch. This helps to ensure that our carts are not overloaded.
We then print out the pick list which details how many of each item is necessary for this batch. The listing is sorted by location so that a worker can walk up and down our warehouse aisles and catch all the items required for these orders and put them onto their cart.
At this time, the cart theoretically comprises all the items necessary for this particular batch of orders. After we’re done fulfilling these orders, the cart should be empty. If it is not, there is an issue that should be addressed. This is your first line of defense against mistakes.
We load the pick list to our scanning program. Our worker can simply scan the barcode printed on peak of the picklist with an inexpensive (about $250) omnidirectional scanner. These are much better than handheld scanners as you don’t have to press a button to activate the scanning. You can just hold the barcode under it (at any orientation) and it is going to scan. It’s superb. They have no moving parts and will last a lifetime.
A note on barcodes: If the product you’re selling does not have a UPC, make the producer put one on it. In the modern world, there is no excuse for not having it. If they refuse, make your own labels. You don’t have to buy a UPC prefix if you are just using it to your warehouse requirements. In actuality, there is a free prefix designated for in-house usage. You also shouldn’t have to buy expensive software to print barcodes. The applications we use costs about $50. Blank labels are also extremely cheap. We purchase 12,000 sterile peel-and-stick tags for about $30 that we run through a $100 laser printer.
When the picklist is loaded, the approach is simple: the employee scans the barcode on the packing slip for the purchase and then scans each thing before they put it in the box for this purchase. If there’s an error, they get an annoying beep.
Once the order is correctly scanned, the order is marked as complete, and delivered to another person to package the order. This proceeds until the batch is complete. If there are any items missing in the end of the batch, the employee can strike a key on their keyboard to bring up a report showing every product that was scanned. This might help them pinpoint where their error occurred.
By working on small batches at once, you decrease the potential for mistakes. By strictly enforcing the use of barcodes on each product, you can achieve 99%+ accuracy. Clearly, you must have workers that are properly trained to use the system and that listen to the feedback it offers. When they don’t, well… you find somebody else!
I have included a screenshot of what our small piece of software resembles that manages the scanning of every purchase. You will also notice our $250 scanner beneath the monitor.
On the screenshot, you will see”8x8x8″ in a blue box. That tells our employee what size box is needed for this order. You might even see a green bar for each item in the order. They are turned green because the things required were scanned. After all are green, the computer plays a chime sound and the employee is then free to scan a new purchase. They can’t scan a new order until they complete the order they are working on.
The point here is that satisfaction is not a black art. Jump in, figure it out, and take control over this increasingly important element of your e-business. By utilizing a checks-and-balances system such as the one I have described above, you can feel confident knowing that all your orders are fulfilled correctly and promptly. Your clients will sincerely appreciate getting precisely what they ordered!