In theory, given the technological advances we’ve made in the business of moving goods from one place to the other, and the practice we’ve had with it what’s become an increasingly global marketplace, you’d think that the fulfillment process would be something the shipping industry would have mastered by now.
But in reality, the complexities of the global marketplace, made even more complex by the pandemic, have complicated the end goal of getting goods from companies to customers. Indeed, shipping and processing can be a cluttered and confusing operation. But fortunately, there are strategies at the ready to help you get out in front of the pitfalls that interrupt the fulfillment process.
Use these tips to make your fulfillment process run smoother and more efficiently.
1. Evaluate Who’s On Your Team
You’ll need to work with different players in shipping and processing, and especially if you’re a global business, the choices can be overwhelming. Make sure to do your homework to gauge the performance of your partners to ensure that you’re making the right choices in who you’re working with up and down your supply chain. Talk to other companies, if you can, to get a sense of who can best deliver on their promises.
2. Consider a 3PL Partner
You can certainly try to assemble your fulfillment team piece-by-piece on your own, but over time, that might become increasingly complicated as your company grows. Partnering with a third party logistics (3PL) company can give you a turnkey solution to your fulfillment issues, with one point of contact to address the range required to move goods across the world, including receiving, picking, packing, shipping, and reverse logistics.
3. Communicate with Your Customers
It’s best when communication with your customers is a two-way street. You’ll have more satisfied customers if they can reach you with the tools they use in their day-to-day lives — which means mobile as well as desktop accessibility for any online platforms you’ve created. And you’ll definitely have more satisfied customers if you can communicate the progress of their shipment in an accessible way.
4. Think Outside the Box (or Shipping Container)
If shipping containers can be repurposed into buildings or even a World Cup stadium, why can’t buildings be repurposed into the supply chain equation? Writing for Forbes, Oleg Mikhailenko sees opportunity in the work-from-home movement that the pandemic brought about.
He notes, “A report by McKinsey & Company indicates that 20% to 25% of companies could easily transition to working from home between three and five days per week even after the pandemic, and these companies—which were once occupying physical office buildings—may no longer need the usage of that space for most or even all of the workweek. I believe those buildings could be used as a unique opportunity to provide scalable infrastructure solutions for the market.”
5. Make Sure Your Ordering System Is in Order
The first phase of the fulfillment process comes when a customer wants an item that’s being stored. While a lot of the focus on shipping is what happens once goods leave the warehouse, it’s worth determining how a customer request gets communicated to the employees managing your warehouse, as well as how those requests are filled and how efficiently they’re being processed. The faster and better you can get goods from the warehouse, the more satisfied your customers will be.
6. Handle With Care
It’s important to get items in transit quickly and efficiently, but if items are damaged in that process, that presents one of two problems — either the damage is discovered en route, requiring you to start the process over for that item, or it’s discovered by the customer upon arrival, which means starting the process over for a dissatisfied customer.
The packing part of the supply chain process can’t be overlooked. It’s not just about determining how much you can get on a given ship or plane but thinking about how to protect those items by balancing cost and effectiveness.
7. Think (Hyper)local
One of the emerging trends in fulfillment – and this is certainly a lesson from Amazon – is to create more fulfillment centers in urban areas. Rather than having a few mammoth warehouses requiring multiple means of transport to get goods from multiple points along the supply chain, hyperlocal warehousing simplifies the process.
Once a customer requests an item, it’s just one truck or even drone away from getting delivered. It can make same-day fulfillment possible, which can be a major selling point to customers.
8. Think Green
The U.S. State Department points out that if the shipping industry was a nation, it would be the eighth-largest emitter of greenhouse gasses. And it’s not getting better: “By 2050, emissions from the sector are projected to increase by up to 50% from 2018 levels under a business-as-usual scenario.” That’s why the U.S. and other nations are creating what’s termed green shipping corridors. In the U.S., it’s intended to “showcase low- and zero-emission lifecycle fuels and technologies with the ambition to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions across all aspects of the corridor in support of sector-wide decarbonization no later than 2050.” Sustainability, in this case, doesn’t just refer to the future of the planet — it’s mindful of the future of the shipping industry and a truly global marketplace.
Improving Fulfillment Processes Today
The future will likely hold more changes, improvements, and innovations to help make the fulfillment process better. But with these tips — and with third-party logistics in mind — you can be mindful of how to make shipping and processing more efficient even today.