Originally posted on Small Business Digest.
Many entrepreneurs mistakenly assume that their primary challenge will be to sell enough of their products. And, while it is true that countless retailers never accrue enough sales and fail within the first year, others do succeed. But when demand picks up, it’s often difficult for sellers to keep up with the pace. Once thirty orders start coming in each day, retailers suddenly start struggling to keep track of their inventory, ship out their products on time, and manage returns. The result? Customers who are frustrated that their orders are delayed, wrong, or missing. And if an overwhelmed retailer fails to thoughtfully respond to emails from these dissatisfied customers, scathing reviews start popping up online. A few negative reviews on social media can spell disaster for a new company, impacting sales and tarnishing the business’ reputation before it even gets started.
Sadly, this scenario is all too common. Fortunately, there are several things growing ecommerce companies can do to prepare for the sort of pitfalls that accompany customer demand. Nicholas Daniel-Richards, co-founder of ShipHero – a cloud-based platform that manages inventory, fulfillment, and shipping – offers retailers a few tips to help them stay on top of the influx of orders once they start rolling in:
Ship orders out according to the required ship date.
Typically, a warehouse will process orders as they come in. Often referred to as First in, First Out (FIFO), this is a great method to keep on top of orders coming in – provided that the team can keep up. When your business is growing, relying on this method becomes challenging and increases the risk of missing order shipment dates. Instead of using FIFO, sort your orders by required ship date – the date that orders need to be shipped by, determined by when the order was placed or when the customer is expecting the order to be delivered.
Connect your customer support and warehouse teams.
Lack of communication when orders require additional attention or are suddenly changed disrupts fulfillment and increases the possibility of errors. Ensure direct communication between your individual warehouse team members and customer support to prevent this from happening. As part of the daily fulfillment ritual, the warehouse and customer service teams should focus first on orders that are on hold due to common occurrences such as a fraud risk, invalid addresses, unexpected inventory availability issues, or customer questions.
Keep it simple.
Always strive to eliminate tasks, actions, or decisions at the time of order fulfillment. Every second and decision counts. Decisions such as figuring out when to ship an order, determining which shipping method to use, or ascertaining whether the address is valid can have a negative impact on fulfillment efficiency. And while these actions may only take a minute or so for each order, all of these minutes make a difference, especially as you scale your business.
Further simplify the process by eliminating manual tasks that can be automated with defined business rules (using technology, of course). Where possible, organize packing stations for consistency and use barcode scanning to avoid tapping screens on devices. Make sure simple things such as box types, order priority, packing material, and shipping method are defined for each order so that the packer can focus on verifying items in boxes and printing shipping labels.
By using these tactics and utilizing a platform to help you streamline the fulfillment process, you can avoid the common pitfalls that most ecommerce owners encounter once their business begins to take off.
Nicholas Daniel-Richards is the co-founder of ShipHero, a platform that helps growing businesses manage inventory, eliminate fulfillment errors, and reduce shipping costs. He has worked across many industries, and has collaborated with Anna Wintour on the launch of Vogue.com, Pete Cashmore on the mobile launch of Mashable, and most recently, NBA players Steph Curry, Lebron James and Chris Paul on various projects as the Chief Digital Officer of the National Basketball Players Association.