Customers today expect orders to be fulfilled quickly and accurately, so small businesses must adapt to compete in the market. This is where self-fulfillment comes into play, offering cost savings and greater control over logistics operations.
If you were brave enough to start your own business, then the challenges of handling your orders in-house won’t scare you.
However, as your business grows, so does the complexity of managing your operations.
That’s why it’s crucial to put money into order processing and execution tools tailored to your unique business needs.
This article will discuss 7 key strategies to make your in-house order fulfillment easy and effective.
How does self-fulfillment work?
In the self-fulfillment approach, businesses handle their entire order fulfillment process in-house. It includes all the steps, from order receipt to packaging and delivery route planning.
Before diving into ways to optimize your self-fulfillment, let’s look back at how this whole thing works.
Although every company has its unique procedures, we will review the very basic steps of the process.
- Inventory management
Inventory management is usually the first step in order fulfillment, as it determines what supplies and stocks are available to complete an order.
The inventory can be held at the warehouse, home, or partner fulfillment center.
Inventory management includes stock level monitoring control, forecasting demand, as well as storage planning and optimization.
- Order receipt and processing
The process begins with receiving and processing a customer’s order.
Order can be taken in many ways, such via an online platform, phone call, or in-person transaction.
After that, the order information is put into the system to be processed.
This involves integrating the e-commerce platform with an order management system to automate order entry. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves; we’ll get back to this in a bit.
- Picking and packing
Once the order has been received and processed in the system, it’s time to get the goods from the warehouse shelves.
Staff members follow predefined picking lists or use barcode scanning technology to ensure the correct items are selected.
After the goods are picked, they are safely packed with suitable materials, considering their size, fragility, and weight.
- Labeling and shipping
Once the order is packed, it moves to the shipping stage. This is where the last-mile delivery process starts.
A shipping label is generated for the package to ensure the customer gets the right goods.
It includes essential information such as customer’s address, order number, and specific shipping instructions.
Once the shipping label is on the package, it is ready to be sent.
- Delivery and customer communication
Following the self-fulfillment approach, shipping is done in-house, so the available fleet delivers the order.
The first step in the process is to plan a delivery road and assign a courier. Later we will discuss how to optimize both of those processes.
Next, a business provides the customer with tracking information and delivery instructions.
Tracking numbers and links allow customers to monitor the progress of their shipments and anticipate delivery time.
If there are any delays or issues, the recipient can contact the company through available communication channels to resolve them.
Once the package has reached the end customer, the business will send a delivery note to complete the process.
Practical ways to optimize small businesses’ fulfillment
Now that we’ve looked at the crucial steps in the self-fulfillment process let’s talk about how each of them can be improved.
- Embrace mobile ordering
Software and mobile systems can now handle the whole order lifecycle, making manual order processing a thing of the past.
The convenience of mobile devices has transformed the way customers interact with businesses.
Incorporate mobile ordering and payment to simplify the ordering process for your customers.
To simplify mobile ordering, create a user-friendly app or optimize your website. Secure mobile payments make ordering easier and keep customers happy.
- Automate order processing
You can further speed up order processing using an automated order management system.
Order management systems verify customer orders and enter them directly into a business’s order fulfillment or inventory systems. This helps to avoid re-entering client and delivery location data.
Order fulfillment software collects orders from all sales channels in one place, speeds up order processing, and keeps real-time track of order fulfillment.
This type of software significantly improves overall order processing speed and reduces human errors.
- Optimize your inventory
Smaller businesses can benefit from the automation and optimization of warehouse inventories just as much as larger corporations.
Keeping tabs on stock levels is an integral part of your successful in-house order processing.
Warehouse management software will help you keep track of your inventory, get notified when you’re running low, and know exactly where each item is.
With the help of such software, you can constantly keep your finger on the pulse of the current inventory situation and product availability.
In addition, customers are notified or given the option to backorder if an item is out of stock. So it is a win from both customer support and resource planning aspects.
- Don’t overlook shipping labels
Small businesses cannot afford delivery errors, so even the smallest logistics operations require shipping labels.
Implement an automated labeling system that generates accurate shipping labels, reducing the chances of mislabeled or misplaced packages.
You can use labeling or last-mile delivery software that supports label printing and scanning.
Shipping labels usually contain a unique barcode and/or QR code. Thanks to this, couriers can quickly scan packages,barcodes/generated dynamic QR codes before loading them into the vehicle and again when delivering them to customers.
In a small business setting, time is money. Shipping labels make it possible to eliminate human mistakes, delays, and failed delivery attempts.
Scanning shipping labels also helps optimize package loading, making it easier for couriers to locate and unload orders.
- Leverage fleet and route optimization
You can only run self-fulfillment operations by planning your fleet and optimizing your routes.
There is no time for improvisation when you have a limited fleet and a growing number of orders.
When discussing shipping labels and barcodes, we have already brought up last-mile software, a helpful tool for in-house delivery operations.
Yet, it can also assist with a bunch of other fulfillment tasks. Last-mile delivery management apps can help you keep track of your fleet and logistics operations.
This software allows you to manage your fleet, assign orders to the available couriers, track deliveries, and plan your routes.
Route planning is a crucial component of self-fulfillment as it helps couriers find the fastest ways to deliver orders to end customers.
Modern delivery management software supports advanced route optimization algorithms that can help with this challenge.
In addition, route planning software can help your business save money on extra fuel and other delivery-related costs.
- Tame your paperwork
Keeping your paperwork under control seems more straightforward than it is when implementing self-fulfillment.
However, manually keeping tabs on the delivery paperwork and invoices takes time and effort.
Here, too, the game is saved by the right software and automation.
Automated invoicing and delivery documentation software revolutionizes how businesses handle financial transactions and document management.
By automating the creation and distribution of invoices, billing software saves time and reduces the chance of mistakes.
Another essential tool to tame your paperwork is an electronic proof of delivery (e-POD). Proof of delivery can be an e-signature, a custom note, a geotag, a photo, or a combination.
As a part of last-mile delivery software, e-POD apps can generate shipping notes for customers to confirm their deliveries and attach proofs.
Both kinds of software can be integrated with your primary order management system so that everything is in one place.
- Simplify customer communication
Hard to overestimate the power of a loyal customer for a small business. An effective customer communication system is one of the primary keys to achieving that.
Naturally, customers want to know both the status of their order and the delivery terms. According to several studies, the vast majority of customers use real-time tracking tools to monitor the journey of their orders.
Delivery management software allows sending live tracking links with an estimated arrival time (ETA) to your customers.
Using the live tracking link, customers can see where the courier is on a map and get ready to receive their order.
You can use customer relationship management (CRM) software to track all customer inquiries and provide prompt and personalized support.
Advanced CRM centralizes all customer communication and allows integration with your order management, warehousing, and last-mile delivery software. It also enables more efficient and less complicated exchange and return management.
Let us review everything we have discussed to make self-fulfillment a realistic goal for your business rather than just a pipe dream.
- Embrace mobile ordering to simplify the ordering process for customers.
- Automate order processing with an order management system to speed up order entry and reduce errors.
- Implement warehouse management software to optimize the layout of products, reduce travel time, and improve picking efficiency.
- Implement an automated labeling system to generate accurate shipping labels and prevent delivery errors.
- Leverage fleet and route optimization software to plan efficient delivery routes and manage your fleet effectively.
- Automate paperwork processes, including invoicing and proof of delivery, to save time and reduce mistakes.
- Simplify customer communication with real-time tracking tools and CRM software for personalized support and efficient order management.
We hope these tips will help you save money, take more control over order processing, and make self-fulfillment less of a hassle.
Alina Kostukova is an experienced Content Creator with a background in digital media and public relations, enthusiastic about all things technology.