E-commerce operations may not sound like the most exciting part of starting an online business – but it is one of the most important.
When done right, your operations can help save you time, money and stress, and they can boost your customers’ satisfaction. But the opposite is also true. Poorly crafted operations can increase costs, slow you down and have an adverse effect on your customer experience.
The good news is that it isn’t hard to streamline your operations for success, especially when you’re starting out or beginning to see more orders coming in. You just need to know where to focus your efforts.
Three key areas of your e-commerce operations to optimize
Part one of this article walks you through three key areas of your e-commerce operations to optimize: order management, order fulfillment and product packaging. These areas represent the first half of your operations workflow. We’ll cover the second half, including returns, delivery and selling internationally, in an upcoming blog post.
Order management refers to the process of keeping track of the online orders that you receive.
If you’re just starting out, order management may not be the biggest hurdle you will face, and your e-commerce store platform will help you stay organized. Still, putting the following basic principles into practice will help you handle spikes in orders and navigate growth:
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Stay on top of your inventory
Keeping your inventory up to date in your e-commerce system means that when a customer buys a product online you know you have it in stock. This practice will avoid disappointment, delays and scrambling.
Choose your POS strategically
If you have a brick and mortar store and an online store, then using an integrated POS (Point of Sale) system enables you to keep track of your inventory across both channels. This means when a customer buys an item through either channel, it will be reflected in your POS.
Sort your orders wisely
If you’re getting a few orders a day, then you’ll likely use the first-in-first-out method, which is the simplest. But it’s important to know your options. As you grow, you may want to sort and prioritize orders based on factors like speed of delivery, size of order or high-value customers.
Fulfillment is the process of preparing and delivering a customer’s order. It’s not necessarily difficult to do, but speed and accuracy are essential to your growth. To save time and reduce errors:
Optimize your space
To avoid mix-ups, your fulfillment space needs clearly defined places for your inventory and your outgoing orders. Shelving can help you organize your products – it’s best if your most popular items are the easiest to reach. A place for your supplies – such as tape, scissors and your scale – is key. Labelling items is also helpful.
Determine your pick-and-pack process
How you or your employees retrieve products and package them may start as an intuitive process. It’s wise to create a streamlined process early on, as learning how to minimize the pick-and-pack steps will let you gain efficiencies in the long run.
Print your shipping labels efficiently
Make sure you have ink for your printer and plenty of labels. If your orders begin to increase substantially, you can invest in a thermal printer. These printers substantially speed up the process of printing labels and reduce your costs as you don’t have to purchase ink.
Even for the smallest and newest businesses, proper product packaging can have a huge impact on your costs. Here’s what you need to know.
Choose the right packaging
You’ll face several decisions around what kind of packaging is best for your products, such as boxes, padded mailers and polybags. Consider the following:
- Your packaging needs to protect your products in transport. For instance, mailers are okay for flat, lightweight products, but you’ll need boxes for heavy and bulky items.
- The dimensions and weight of your package will affect your shipping costs: the larger and/or heavier the order is, the more it costs to ship. So, you want to choose the most compact size of package without compromising the safety of the contents as it goes through the delivery process.
Package items securely
If you don’t use enough filler to cushion your products, or fail to secure your package with adequate tape, your items can get damaged in transit. A damaged shipment can lead to a return – and a bad customer review.
Always double check that you’ve entered the correct dimensions and weight into your shipping forms – and pay attention to whether you’re entering the data in metric or imperial. Mistakes can lead to unexpected adjustment fees.
Ensure the label is scannable
Automation ensures your package will go through the shipping process as quickly as possible – help that package along. Make sure to place the shipping label on the packaging so that it lies flat and the barcode/address can be easily scanned.
The easiest way to be sustainable with your packaging is to avoid over-packaging. But also keep in mind that customers increasingly prefer sustainable packaging, so look for ways to introduce recycled and recyclable content into the materials you choose.
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