Factoring order fulfillment, returns into a peak season service strategy

Factoring order fulfillment, returns into a peak season service strategy

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By Chris Anton, EVP/head of global sales operations, Snapfulfil

As painful as it might seem to jump back into the peak season mindset, fortune tends to favor the prepared, so getting a head start and developing your customer service strategy now can set your store up for success down the line.

Order fulfillment and reverse logistics are two good places to start as you begin mapping out improvements to customer service during peak periods. As the demand for omnichannel and on-demand shopping increases, order fulfillment and reverse logistics are playing a vital role in the retail customer experience. In fact, a recent McKinsey & Company study indicated delivery options, speed and returns processes are considered among the most important attributes to online shoppers.

Undoubtedly, online giants like Amazon and Zappos have had tremendous influence on consumer expectations in this realm and have set the bar high for other retailers. As a result, consumers feel like all retailers should have order fulfillment and reverse logistics operating like a well-oiled machine. That's why hiccups here can be detrimental to your brand's reputation.

Don’t let your customers down, especially during peak season when it’s your moment to shine. It’s time to look at where order fulfillment and reverse logistics live — the warehouse — and get it in order before the height of your year.

Drill into warehouse processes to ensure order fulfillment runs smoothly

Gone are the days when the warehouse was simply a holding place where items were stored and eventually packed for shipping. The warehouse now is fast becoming the lifeblood of the retail customer experience — especially for ecommerce retailers.

To keep up with consumer demand, retailers must take a hard look at their warehouse operations and order fulfillment processes to assess what needs to be improved well before the Black Friday/Cyber Monday rush. Inventory and staff management, along with picking/packing techniques and shipping significantly impact the customer experience.

Let's start with inventory. There is nothing worse than clicking on an item you like and learning it's out of stock. Why expose your customers to the same disappointment? Retailers today must see around the corner and anticipate consumer needs to keep satisfaction levels high. Having visibility into inventory levels and the ability to plan and forecast based on past consumer behavior should be a core component of your peak season success plan.

Having the right staffing levels is also important to factor in. For example, if you know November has historically been a high order volume month, hire backup accordingly so you're not overwhelmed with demand and can properly deliver to customers. Labor is one of the costliest areas of the warehouse, so understanding exactly how many team members you need, and when, is critical.

Packing techniques and shipping options should also be variables in your peak season customer service strategy. It's smart for retailers to look at order packing and shipping as an opportunity to differentiate the brand and go the extra mile for consumers. Whether it's creative packaging or offering free shipping, and expedited options, it's all additive to the customer experience.

Enhance returns procedures or lose return customers

While online ordering is booming, so too are returns. UPS estimates it delivered more than 1.3 million return packages in a single day following the holidays.

This means your warehouse needs to handle returns as seamlessly as orders so the customer experience isn’t further disrupted. Developing and implementing a comprehensive returns process, supported by clear, well-documented policies can keep the customer experience with your brand positive.

From eliminating confusion around proper refund processing to driving faster execution, documenting processes creates and maintains efficiency. Return policies should be clear on the return authorization requirements, spell out customer entitlements and associated exceptions and attempt to capture as much information as possible about why the product is being returned so necessary process improvements can be made to avoid future errors.

Not having a proper reverse logistics process in place can not only cost you a customer, but it can also result in wasted capital. Bad return strategies cost retailers upwards of $260 billion in 2015.

However, an efficient, system-driven return inspection and handling process can drive optimal dispositioning so that returns that can be restocked, either as new or open box items, get labeled accordingly and quickly returned to inventory for resale. According to a recent BI Intelligence report, retailers that implement an effective reverse logistics process can recapture up to 32 percent of total product cost. 

Put systems in place that improve your performance across the board

Ultimately, how well you manage order fulfillment and reverse logistics in peak periods boils down to the quality of the warehouse management systems you've implemented to address these areas.

When managed manually, order fulfillment and reverse logistics can be highly inefficient and error prone. Customer service suffers as a result. Proficiency on the back-end translates to exceptional experiences on the front-end with consumers.

Topics: Customer Experience, Customer Service, eCommerce, Merchandising, Omnichannel / Multichannel, Retail - General, Supply Chain, Technology

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