How to build a better ecommerce operations workflow

6 minute read

Millions of Canadians shop online because it saves them time and it provides them with the flexibility of being able to shop 24/7 – but most are unaware of what goes on behind the scenes of an ecommerce website. What might strike them as an easy and painless process – just a click – is intricate.

A lot of coordination and moving parts are involved in processing an order and delivering it to a customer’s door. If you’re an ecommerce brand, you know all too well that your backend operations team is constantly working hard to deliver on consumer expectations, and that every stage of the workflow is critical.

The key to delighting customers is straightforward: the better your backend operations, the better the customer experience. But establishing and maintaining a high standard in that regard is easier said than done. Many ecommerce retailers are inundated with day-to-day challenges that draw their attention away from optimizing their operations in the first place, but it’s critical to make time for strategic improvement as a new era in retail and ecommerce emerges.

Understand the shopper path to purchase

The acceleration of ecommerce across the globe has led to savvier shoppers with high expectations. It’s sparked shifts in how consumers discover new brands and has redefined how they make purchasing decisions.

So, when it comes to optimizing your ecommerce operations – there’s no better time than the present. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the steps consumers take on their path to purchase – and how it’s changing.

The consumer path to purchase: awareness, discovery, consideration, conversion, retention, advocacy. From conversion, retailers manage the order, source inventory, pick and pack, package and ship. Consumer receives and potentially returns.

The reimagined ecommerce shopper journey involves awareness, discovery, consideration, conversion, retention and advocacy. This reimagined journey places new demands on your operations after a purchase has been made. To motivate customers to click the buy button, especially more than once, near-flawless execution in your ecommerce operations is critical.

Optimize your ecommerce operations workflow

Instituting an optimized workflow is the key to providing an ideal shopper experience that better enables your business to grow and compete. The time that you’ll invest in establishing and maintaining an efficient process for your business is time well spent, so don’t delay. Here are the most critical processes to optimize in your ecommerce operations:

Receiving and managing orders

Whether you’re selling directly from your own website, in-store, on an online marketplace or via third parties, optimizing order processing is the first step in satisfying your customers.

Receiving an order starts the clock on fulfilling your delivery promises. Your business’ ability to manage and quickly process its orders will shape brand perception for your business. Ensuring consistently efficient order processing is a great way to establish a competitive advantage for your business.

Many ecommerce platforms offer basic inventory management to help you manage and process your orders. But as your business grows, you’ll need to invest in additional technology to sync inventory across multiple channels. The more this process can be automated for your business, the better.

Sorting orders

Managing orders begins with sorting them. You’ll need to prioritize your efforts at the pick-and-pack stage. Some standard sorting options include:

First-in-first-out (FIFO)

Ship orders placed the previous evening until your cut-off time. Ideal for processing a handful of orders.

Speed of delivery

Prioritize next-day-delivery orders – and possibly those that will have to travel further (for example Vancouver to Atlantic Canada).

Customer service factors

Prioritize exchanges or replacements – or delight your most loyal customers.

Product deliverability

Ship when all items in an order are in stock.

Fulfilling orders

Where and how you fulfill your company’s orders is key, and you have a lot of options in this regard. Make sure your fulfillment space is suitable for optimal operations – both in the present and the not-too-distant future. If your current space isn’t cutting it, you’ll need to find a new space to fit the bill:

Upgrade your space

If you’ve outgrown your initial fulfillment setup, you’ll need to move to a bigger space. Before you move, consider your forecasted growth. You don’t want to outgrow the new space too fast or lease more space than you need.

Outsource if you need to

Some retailers engage third-party logistics (3PL) or fourth-party logistics (4PL) to manage their ecommerce fulfillment. While managing your own warehouse operations gives you control of your distribution processes, outsourcing allows you to focus more closely on other areas of your business.

Pick and pack wisely

Effective pick-and-pack processes are all about managing cost, minimizing errors and meeting customer expectations. Picking and packing takes time and is a crucial component of fulfillment to handle quickly – especially considering 42 per cent of shoppers will choose one retailer over another simply because they process orders faster.1 To optimize this aspect of order fulfillment, it’s critical to determine which picking method is right for you:

Basic order picking

This method works for a smaller number of orders. The picker gets a pick sheet and goes through the fulfilment space to pick just for that one order.

Batch order picking

In this method, software tells the picker how many of one item to pick for several orders at the same time.

Wave order picking

This method allows you to pick many orders at the same time and then do a second pick to separate items into their individual orders.

Zone order picking

This method allows retailers with larger warehouses to maximize efficiency by space. One picker picks only the items stored in their zone in the warehouse.

How well you pick and pack depends on how you access your inventory, how you optimize your packaging for your product mix and how you organize the right tools and spaces to process your orders.

Choosing the right packaging can also be a challenge. You need to optimize the number of boxes in use, protect items in transit and minimize extra space which can increase shipping costs.

Learn how to optimize every stage of your ecommerce operations workflow.

Download our e-book

Insider tips

To fulfill your orders like a pro, and meet or exceed your customers’ expectations, you need to finetune your workflow.

It’s all in the details

It’s critical to think strategically about how to receive your incoming inventory, where to store it, the location of packing stations and how to separate outgoing orders. Here are some useful tips:

Keep your hottest items on hand

Place your fastest-moving products in an area that’s easy to access and quick to replenish. This will ensure that those items fly out the door without hesitation when an order comes in.

Be ready to go go go

Stock your packing station with supplies and tools and ensure they are easily within reach for your packers. Assemble shipping boxes in advance. This will help your packers move fast and avoid making mistakes.

Streamline your supplies

If you sell a variety of products, you may have three or four box sizes. If your product range is limited, one or two may suffice. Using the smallest number of packing options that makes sense for your business will save you money on supplies and take some of the guesswork out of packing – saving you time on order fulfillment.

How you ship matters

Offering efficient and convenient shipping is your last opportunity to ensure an exceptional delivery experience for your customers. At this stage, it’s all about printing labels and managing logistics. There are free online shipping tools that can help you that are generally available through your shipping or ecommerce partner. These tools can help you print labels quickly and effectively.

As you grow and contend with increased volumes of orders, it’s important to consolidate your cross-channel orders and batch-print labels. At this stage, you may benefit from using more sophisticated shipping solutions.

Thermal printers are best for large batches. You will also need a scale to weigh parcels and measuring tape. Many merchants, who ship only a few parcels per week, bring their orders to a Canada Post facility for commercial deposit. Once your business generates enough volume (more than 25 orders a week), a pickup service will save you a lot of time getting your parcels out the door. And you’ll need to provide a manifest to your pickup driver.

Make these changes now

The efficiency of your ecommerce operations workflow is critical to the success of your business. How you communicate with shoppers – and how you process, fulfill and ship orders to your customers – will heavily influence their perception of your business and whether they’ll shop with you. Don’t neglect the backend operations of your business. Now is the time to optimize them.

1 Canada Post. Canadian Online Shopper Study, CPC 21-205, April 2021.

We’re here to help!

Learn from our e-commerce research, practical tools and industry partners.

Contact an expert