Now that Online retailing is well and truly established, it is not uncommon for growing companies to outsource their order fulfilment. But you may be wondering what does a fulfilment company do and what are the fulfilment services offered?
Fulfilment companies are providers of a wide range of outsourced services which allow clients to concentrate on their core areas of competency while ensuring that the activities that are outsourced are being managed by specialists in their fields.
Traditionally, the fulfilment services offered were a warehouse, some pickers & packers and an account with Australia Post – they picked & packed orders and dispatched them to the consumers by post. A good fulfilment company does this, for sure, but now you can expect so much more.
First & foremost they will have a top end warehouse management system which allows them to track locations of all the stock held in one or multiple warehouse locations. This system will be audit-able and will produce stock, movement & picking reports to ensure that the products belonging to the client are available as and when required. This system will also have a facility to control stock by batch numbers and dates to ensure that perishable stock is dispatched on a truly FIFO basis. The system needs to interact with other software packages to enable the processing of orders in a manner specific to each client’s individual needs and to enable live stock levels to be held to facilitate online order processing. To control processing costs, scanning technology will be used for receipting and locating of goods inwards.
Pick Pack & dispatch
The picks created by the warehouse management system are ordered in such a way that they minimize picking time. Picking & packing is generally a manual operation. However, where volumes and contracts allow, good fulfilment companies scour the world to find ways to mechanise these processes in order to pass on time and cost saving to their clients. Packaging too is an important factor – the right packaging can save the client considerable amounts of money – a good fulfilment company will offer advice as well as solutions on packaging options.
Many clients find it uneconomical to manage inbound and outbound customer service operations in-house. One option is to use a call center to manage this on your behalf but they work on “agents on seats” basis. Fulfilment companies recognize that clients might only need one or two people managing their line – taking customer orders, offering advice, handling queries or simply having a facility to take messages on behalf of the client. There should always be room to upgrade the service by adding operators and lines at short notice.
Order & payment processing
With the advent of the internet, fulfilment companies now have the ability to handle online orders directly from a client’s website or, where required, can host a web ordering facility personalized to that particular client. In addition, value for money data entry & payment processing facilities for the traditional mail order customers form a vital part of the whole fulfilment spectrum.
Printing & Mail Processing
The days of dot matrix printed labels and packing slips are long gone. Today, fulfilment houses will laser print on your letterhead, labels or blank stock to ensure that your products are well branded, can be easily identified and are clearly addressed so they can be efficiently handled by the chosen freight company. Invoices will be mechanically inserted into envelopes to accompany the goods where required. In addition, they will be able to assist you with some of your generic office mailings.
Assembly, Collation and Hand line Work
Most fulfilment companies have staff who can adapt themselves to meet a wide variety of pick, pack and assembly requirements. They have the space available to allow for large and small scale assembly jobs. From the stickering of a product to the packing of items into a show bag – attention to detail is the key. Why would a client want to store products in one place and ship them to another for packing & collation and then back to the distribution warehouse – when a quality fulfilment company can do it all under one roof?
Multiple freight alternatives
It’s no longer good enough to ship your orders by one carrier only – while it’s often the cheapest option – it’s not always so and not always the most appropriate method. A fulfilment company will offer you a choice of carriers – Post (local & international, with/without POD), Couriers (with various options in terms of speed & carrier), Taxi Truck, even Personal Delivery – they’ll have electronic links to the freight company’s booking & tracking systems too. Being experts in this field, a fulfilment company will advise you on the most cost effective carriers based on your order attributes and customer distribution.
Back order & returns management
Most clients say they don’t need to worry about back orders but a good fulfilment company has systems in place to handle these – just in case. In addition, returns will be handled, checked (even refurbished) & reported on.
Shrink Wrap & Scanning
As a back up to their main services a good fulfilment company has the ability to shrink wrap products, perhaps to make up kits or as part of the product refurbishment process. Other services will include high speed (OCR) scanning of customer information to assist in the handling of returns or for archiving purposes.
Cyclic counts & security
Stock accuracy sorts out the men from the boys – an ongoing regime of cyclic counting of client stock ensures high levels of stock accuracy. This regime along with strategically positioned & continuously recording cameras serves to minimize shrinkage of your inventory.
While identifying a Fulfilment Services provider is not going to be an easy task, its important you understand the fulfilment services they offer. Then shortlist the fulfilment services you require – maybe 3 or 4 areas such as – Pick Pack, Inventory Management and, Speed of processing and Freight alternatives. This is where you will get the most efficiency and cost savings.