An online retailer's guide to eCommerce Fulfillment

February 2021


What is eCommerce fulfillment?

As your business grows, so too will your requirement for extra space to organise and prepare your products ready for dispatch to your customers. Outsourcing e-commerce fulfillment is the strategic decision of appointing a third-party company to manage these processes, namely storage and inventory management, picking and packing, reworking, distribution and returns management of your physical goods.

At Whistl we have over 1.5 million square feet of fulfillment warehouse space dedicated to the order processing of fast-moving consumer goods, luxury products, and bulk wholesale B2B items. Depending on your business model and product categories, you will most likely require a tailored approach to order fulfillment. For example, if you are selling a subscription box, your orders may be split into 2 types depending on personal tastes or gender, and if you are selling a personal shopper service, each order will be bespoke to each customer. Whereas items such as generic food, books, medical devices, sporting goods, and household items that are shipped in high volume can be more easily picked, packed, and despatched in bulk and at great speed.

Other requirements include the need for garment ironing (for clothing reworking and returns), temperature and humidity-controlled storage, and depending on your business model, you may also have a requirement to store items for long periods of time, or for short bursts on a campaign basis, depending on the volatility and seasonality of your customers’ demand.

Why do retailers outsource fulfillment?

Fast order fulfillment is important, but accuracy is critical. As your business scales, any imperfections in your order processing will become more prevalent and this could have a negative effect on your brand reputation and revenue opportunity. 

As your retail operations and order volumes grow, you will naturally reach a point at which you need to decide whether to expand your in-house managed operations or outsource to a third-party logistics specialist. While growing and managing in-house operations is a viable option for many, it can be highly capital-intensive and the opportunity cost of investing in your own premises can impact your ability to invest in other areas, such as the development of your product range.

What are the latest e-commerce fulfillment trends?

A DHL survey of 900 "decision-makers responsible for logistics/supply chain management and e-commerce distribution strategy" found that in three to five years, 18% of retailers expect to entirely outsource fulfillment, however, 48% of respondents plan to implement a mix of in-house order management and outsourcing.

More recently, experts predict a rise in automation and AI in fulfillment warehouses, and as consumer expectations around shopping experiences and acceptable delivery times continue to put pressure on retailers, organisations will become increasingly reliant on real-time data in order to optimise their demand planning, order fulfillment, and delivery management.

What are the benefits of outsourcing pick and pack services?

Outsourcing fulfillment will enable you and your business to truly focus on core competencies such as product sourcing, product development, marketing, sales, key account management, and customer service. At Whistl we have the flexibility to help e-commerce retailers such as Ethical Superstore go one step further and outsource not only the fulfillment of their eco-friendly products but also help them with dedicated contact centre support.

Outsourcing fulfillment can give you access to economies of scale, potentially saving you time and money thanks to lower shipping rates, reduced operating costs, and faster order processing. Moreover, working with a fulfillment provider that has a wide range of carrier partners reduces risk, and will help broaden your reach to help you grow into new markets. Best of all, delegating this responsibility to a third-party specialist will allow you to focus on other aspects of your business and drive growth.

Working with a provider such as Whistl grants you the above benefits and the added flexibility to outsource other key elements such as carrier management, mail distribution, advertising, and your contact centre operations, all of which can fully integrate to help you deliver the omnichannel experience that consumers increasingly demand.

How is a pick and pack warehouse set up and what is the e-Commerce fulfillment process?

It is crucial during the implementation phase of becoming a fulfillment client that the fulfillment center understands the specific needs of the retailer's business and all elements of their order processing requirements.

A fulfillment center will typically have dedicated areas for Goods In, Warehousing, Pick and Pack, Shipping and Returns, and to synchronise all of these processes, a Warehouse Management System (WMS) and barcode scanning technology are required, which are either off-the-shelf solutions or in Whistl's case, are purpose-built.

The fulfillment center’s WMS needs to integrate with the retailer’s order management system (such as Linnworks or Brightpearl), or if they don’t use a multi-channel OMS, then directly with their marketplace(s) and e-Commerce platform. A WMS can help give retailers the transparency and data they need to understand their stock inventories in real-time, along with revenue opportunities.

To maximise the efficiency of the picking and packing process, a fulfillment warehouse will typically use a barcode scanner. At Whistl we use radiofrequency (RF) scanning to also streamline the goods being processed to remove the need for manual paperwork and unnecessary order fulfilment administration

How can outsourcing retail fulfillment enhance my customer experience?

A truly great customer experience depends on the cumulative interactions between a business and a customer. As such, effective stock management and fast order processing are crucial to delivering a 'wow' experience. Working with an effective order fulfillment specialist will mean that these key elements of the online customer buying journey, and your e-Commerce operations, will be operating as efficiently as possible.

In a world where consumers demand an ‘omnichannel nirvana’, retailers are increasingly pressured to deliver a consistent and excellent buying experience, regardless of channel preference. Consumers demand the same level of service via live chat, via the phone, and via email, and so for some businesses, the option to outsource more business processes pays dividends. At Whistl, we offer our fulfillment clients the options to also outsource their call centre operations so that their fulfillment, contact centre, and delivery management are all taken care of by a single provider.

How Whistl has helped retailers outsource eCommerce fulfillment:

Ethical Superstore

To help this eco-friendly lifestyle brand deliver a consistent customer experience to the health-conscious consumer, Whistl provides both eCommerce fulfillment and contact centre services to support their growing online and catalogue business.

Rarewaves

Rarewaves are one of the fastest-growing online retailers in the world. They sell DVDs, games, clothing, electronics, gifts, toys, and much more. Products are distributed worldwide from the UK and the USA. Whistl was set the challenge to achieve a quick turnaround in a cost-effective manner to ensure customers receive the best service at the best price.

So what is the fullfilment choice for an eCommerce retailer?

Outsourcing eCommerce order fulfillment is a major strategic move for any online store, regardless of size. It is the ultimate form of business process outsourcing. When entrusting a third party with your inbound supply chain, the storage, distribution, and returns of your goods a complete understanding of their operations is required. So when deciding to work with a fulfillment specialist, you must carefully consider your growth aspirations, future product range, and where your ideal customers are based. And if you do decide to leverage the expertise of a third-party logistics company, ensure that you are working with one that is aligned with, and understands your business goals. Your appointed fulfilment specialist should have the complete range of services and solutions at their disposal, to help you capitalise on any future growth opportunities.

Our Full-Service Fulfilment Process

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