Talk about how the internet has changed the way we shop. Not only can you order just about anything you desire online and have it shipped direct to your door, you get to sidestep salespeople. Customer service is no longer a face-to-face event with e-commerce. But if you operate an online store, how are you doing with order fulfillment? Because there is no physical salesperson – or customer service rep – hovering over customers as they pay at a cashier, the online experience is an easy one to walk away from if something doesn’t seem right on the customer’s end.
Here are some helpful tips to assist your online business with getting those virtual customers through the checkout process on your business website:
1. Go Seamless, Baby!
Okay, chances are that you probably don’t even manufacture the products you sell online. This means you have a supplier in your chain and that means you are constantly accessing a distributor for the goods being sold. To make this process a lot smoother, removing the dreaded “will ship in 2 to 4 weeks” message that appears on your order page, you should integrate. This means using an order management system that talks to and is understood by the supplier you use. In other words, when all parts of the chain are speaking the same OMS language, ordering is seamless. That’s a fancy way of saying it will be faster and more efficient.
2. Get Higher Visibility
Now that you have everyone you deal with behind the scenes using the same OMS, what you need now is access to pretty much everything through that chain. This means visibility. Can you or your customers see all the items available through you and accessed through your supplier? This is the snag you want to avoid. With a higher visibility you will be able to provide more products to your online customers plus, you’ll have a better tracking process as a result.
What you are shooting for here is end-to-end visibility of the orders and the ability to track them from start to finish. It gives you better control over inventory and can provide you will ways to assist orders that get stuck somewhere in the system.
3. Use The Right Shipper
Here’s where speed bumps tend to surface in e-commerce systems. With all the back end stuff running like a well-oiled machine, you stand the chance at becoming very, very successful in this online venture of yours. However, if the shipping source you use is less than stellar, it won’t matter how awesome the relationship is that you have with your suppliers if the shipper sucks. We’re talking late, delayed, lost, forgotten or shoddy delivery.
It really will screw up your overall fulfillment process if half of the equation is well, something you can’t really count on. That is why you will need to constantly review your shipping service. If you have to switch shippers in order to complete fulfillment expectations, then do it. Be prepared to spend some time trying to locate the best possible shipping method for your goods.
4. Stay Connected
Once you get the back end sorted out and products to customers fast and efficiently you need to do something else in order to complete the e-commerce fulfillment process. You need to be in communication with your customers. This means a lot more than a pre-programmed ‘thank you for your recent order’ e-mail or pop-up message. You must make regular and consistent communication connections in order to receive and respond to feedback, suggestions and the like.
As your customer is waiting to receive their shipment you need to provide the voice that lets them know everything is still in motion and that they will see their order soon. When you engage your customers with details related to their order they feel that you actually care about their business. This not only helps build a good reputation, it can spin off into repeat business.
5. Be Cool About Returns
Like it or not, your job isn’t complete once the customer receives their parcel. In fact, you may hear from them sooner than you had expected if there is something wrong with the order. Often these results in returns and sometimes those returns end up as refunds. Here’s where online stores outrank brick and mortar stores: roughly 30-percent of e-commerce orders end up as returns versus just 9-percent for storefront businesses.
However, because it happens, you need to have an efficient process in place to deal with the potential of refunds. This involves reverse logistics that can generate payment refunds. This includes a clear and concise explanation regarding such activity on your policy page or somewhere obvious. As much as you want to avoid the additional work that comes from a return, you also want a system that operates smoothly so that customers remain customers and still support your online business even if they had to return something for a refund.
The advantages of operating an efficient e-commerce fulfillment process should outweigh the disadvantages. Your goal should be to make the entire process easy to use and follow for your customers. It should also be easy for you to track the activity of your customers. It starts with a good supplier, includes an efficient shipper and inventory that can be accessed, purchased or returned if incorrect without hassles, delays or roadblocks.
You need an order management system that can handle all of this without blinking an eye or skipping a beat. With such a system in place, not only will your conversion numbers increase, so will those in the revenue column of your business bank statements. It takes a lot of work to operate a smooth e-commerce business, but with the tools available for the job, it shouldn’t be difficult to be successful at online business.