Skip main navigation

The nuts and bolts of getting orders to customers

How do you get the product to your customer as smoothly as possible? Read on..
A person receiving a delivery of parcels.

Order, pick, pack and ship – these four little words might not mean much to you, but they mean everything to your customer experience!

Getting the product to your customer is an operational challenge that will change as you grow. Order fulfilment is the real operational nuts and bolts of an eCommerce business – and the source of both a lot of heartache but also a lot of potential profit if you get it right.

What is order, pick, pack and ship?

Order, pick, pack and ship is the process of having the right product in stock, picking the product, choosing the right box and packing materials and then shipping it off to the customer at a good postal/shipping rate. And on time and not damaged!

These steps, known together as the order fulfilment process, require the following to happen for EVERY order placed by your customer:

  • Sourcing stock or inventory from a supplier or manufacturer
  • Storing your products
  • Picking items from available stock
  • Packing boxes or envelopes to suit the product
  • Adding a shipping label to the shipment
  • Delivering the product to the post office or having a carrier pick up packages to be shipped to a customer.

Within these steps are the little things that you can often forget such as, ‘how will I be told that I have a new order’?, ‘How can I print a receipt or invoice?’, ‘How do I print the packing slip?’

Don’t worry, this functionality is included in all the major eCommerce platforms such as BigCommerce, Shopify or WooCommerce.

To source products and store stock, you have three options:

  1. Make it yourself: this is perfect if you are the person who can make the product – even better if it is smaller and can be stored easily.
  2. Hire a dropshipper: dropshipping means sourcing products from a specific type of vendor that lets you list their products or store your product and who then looks after stock, picking, packaging, and fulfilment. A dropshipper charges you for the products as they are sold. Dropshipping can be great as an option starting out.
  3. Work with a manufacturer or wholesaler: if you aren’t able to make a product yourself, or if your sales start to take off when you make it yourself, you can deal with a wholesaler or manufacturer. Many eCommerce start-ups deal directly with wholesalers or manufacturers in China using the likes of Alibaba.com. However, you will need to invest upfront to get stock – and, if the product is larger, you cannot really store it in your bedroom! If it’s a craft product you are interested in, you could source from the Etsy wholesale marketplace.

Here is a checklist for sourcing and storing products to get you started:

  • Source products: make sure you know the cost of materials and cost of product so you can know your profitability.
  • Calculate how long your products take to make – long delivery lead times are not that interesting to your eCommerce customers!
  • Who is going to stock and store the product? What is the cost of this so that you can price it correctly?
  • Who will ship and store the products? (see below)
  • What are the timelines and conditions for each of the above?

Let’s look in more detail at the ‘pick, pack and ship’ aspect of order fulfilment. What are your options for order fulfilment? There are three basic options:

Self-fulfilment

With self-fulfilment, it ‘does what it says on the tin’. As the eCommerce store owner, you order and manage the stock, take the orders, wrap and ship them out of your home/garage/high-street store or mini-warehouse. This is great for the ‘start-up’ of your eCommerce business where there are only a few orders and you can manage it yourself. If you have a smaller product, like jewellery or clothing, this is a real option.

Self-fulfilment model(Click to expand)

Very quickly (hopefully), it will get too much to handle. Typically, eCommerce store owners at this stage bring in friends and family on an ad-hoc basis and they will handle the receiving, storing, picking, packing, and shipping of your inventory on your behalf.

Dropshipping

With dropshipping, the fulfilment process is outsourced to a third party, who are typically a wholesaler, manufacturer or supplier. They handle all the storage and delivery for you. When you receive an order from a customer, you send the information to the dropshipper, who in turn ships the products directly to the customer.

Dropshipping model(Click to expand)

Using a third-party logistics partner

Once your eCommerce store starts to be successful, you will definitely have to think about outsourcing fulfilment to a reliable third-party logistics (3PL) partner. Most of the 3PL partners offer storage, fulfilment and shipping orders and, in many cases a complete turnkey fulfilment infrastructure technology and even multiple fulfilment centre locations.

3PL model(Click to expand)

The best-known example of a 3PL partner is Amazon FBA (Fulfilled By Amazon). Again, before using such 3PL services, you will have to understand the effect they will have on your costs. Amazon can now deliver any product anywhere in two days, many in one day, and some on the very same day in many markets – but the costs can mount up.

Now that you know the options, which one do you think you will choose? If you are starting out, the answer should be fairly obvious. But if you are already on the way with your eCommerce journey, what challenges have you found with order, pick, pack and fulfil?

This article is from the free online

Creating and Measuring Success in eCommerce

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education