As a 3PL business owner, you’ve probably been targeted with enough e-commerce headlines, growth rates, and statistics to make your head spin. It’s no secret, e-Commerce has seen unprecedented growth and presents an undeniable opportunity to grow your business.
Everything you’ve read sounds amazing, but how do you capitalize on this opportunity and grow your business?
Whether you’re looking to expand your e-Commerce offering or enter the space for the first time, you need key strategies and best practices to stand out and succeed. In this blog, we’ll share how you can do more of the stuff that works and eliminate the inefficiencies that may be holding you back.
Right now, you might be feeling overwhelmed as it is; fulfillment on its own is complicated. Your business is running “good enough,” so you might be asking yourself why you need to make any changes. Even though change is hard, to succeed in e-commerce, you’ll need to break out of the status quo so you can compete in the fast-paced, demanding world of e-Commerce.
3 key elements you should focus on for e-Commerce success:
- INTELLIGENT AUTOMATION
- WORKFLOW OPTIMIZATION
As enticing as this opportunity sounds, mastering e-Commerce is a tall task that comes with its fair share of challenges. Consumers expect a seamless e-Commerce experience, and warehouses must be prepared to deliver. Successful fulfillment centers are focused on getting the right product to the right person at exactly the right time (no easy feat). With SLAs and tight deadlines, there is no room for delays or bottlenecks. Putting new strategies and best practices in place is a must; doing so will help you identify and eliminate inefficiencies in your operation.
Why these 3 elements are so important:
- INTEGRATIONS – E-commerce shoppers expect real-time updates on their orders. To keep shoppers happy, it’s critical for online retailers to have their shopping cart directly integrated with their 3PL’s systems.
- INTELLIGENT AUTOMATION – Automating business logic (aka the methods/decisions you use to run your warehouse) can help grow your business, allowing your 3PL business to scale alongside your customers’ needs.
- WORKFLOW OPTIMIZATION – Without optimized processes, doing things the way you’ve always done them will only take your business so far. Optimization is the key to long-term success and growth.
Today’s demanding online retail consumers expect real-time information about their order status. To keep e-Commerce shoppers happy, it’s critical for online retailers to have their online shopping cart (I.e. Shopify, Amazon) directly integrated with their 3PL’s systems.
Why integrations matter:
Save time – By having pre-existing integrations ready to go, you can get your clients up and running faster.
Win new business – Sell new clients on your ability to quickly set up their accounts with key integrations.
Retain customers – Supporting your clients with a variety of integrations will help solidify your relationships and strengthen ties to your 3PL business.
A fundamental step in e-Commerce is being able to accept orders from all of your customers’ channels. With more than 370 e-Commerce platforms on the market, your fulfillment software will need to be flexible, configurable and capable of receiving orders in a variety of formats from third-party APIs to other data transfer options.
Since we’re talking e-Commerce, let’s focus on the two must-have integrations: connecting with your clients’ online storefronts and suppliers.
E-Commerce storefronts and marketplaces integrations
Connecting to the e-Commerce storefront/marketplaces that your clients use to run their online business is vital. The most effective way to do this is to select an OMS that has direct integrations with leading e-Commerce platforms, including Shopify, Amazon, Magento, Bigcommerce, Volusion, etc.
The benefits of a direct connection with storefronts and marketplaces:
- Automatically get orders in from clients without using any human effort (cutting down on labor/overall costs)
- Automatically send your clients tracking information
- Ensure inventory balances in third-party sites are accurate, avoid unnecessary backorders and keep consumers happy
- Automate integration timing and configure the timing to what works best for your operation and clients
A direct integration with shipping carriers provides quick shipping label generation and gets critical tracking information to your clients as fast as possible.
The benefits of a direct connection with shipping carriers:
- Generate shipping labels fast and get essential tracking information back to your client as quickly as possible.
- Get orders to your TMS system automatically with no double entry of data
- Get tracking information and freight costs back to your WMS automatically
In addition to e-Commerce and shipping systems, 3PLs can also integrate their other administrative systems (CRM, accounting) to create a more optimized workflow.
There’s a lot more to integrations, including our own VeraCore integrations which will streamline the process and get orders out the door EVEN faster. Request our e-Commerce e-book to get the full details on integrations.
2. Intelligent Automation
E-Commerce growth is putting pressure on warehouses to get orders out the door faster and with more accuracy. When coupled with rising consumer expectations, this can turn into an uphill battle for 3PLs. You can fight this battle with Intelligent Automation. Don’t panic, this doesn’t necessarily mean implementing robots and drones. To manage all of these e-Commerce challenges, top 3PLs use the help of business rules and automation, known as intelligent automation.
How do you know if you need it?
Ask yourself these questions…
- Are you manually batching/sorting through orders?
- Are you reviewing orders, then releasing orders into the warehouse?
If you can answer ‘yes’ to either of these questions, you’re likely working in overdrive using manual or outdated processes and not working as efficiently as you could be.
Intelligent automation may sound complicated, but it’s not. Simply put, intelligent automation is defining rules once that are then applied automatically on a daily basis. These “smart workflows” you setup will start making life a lot easier for you and your team.
Quick plug: Defining rules and creating smart workflows is a key function of VeraCore. We thoughtfully built this into our core framework, so our software does the heavy lifting for you.
Benefits of Intelligent Automation:
- Streamline your operations by automating decision-making, allowing you to focus on other areas of your business.
- Reduce costs by minimizing the time and resources needed to pick, pack and ship orders.
- Keep customers happy with increased order accuracy.
- Scale efficiently by organizing work in a logical way to reduce labor costs
The possibilities are endless when it comes to intelligent automation. After learning more from our team, you might be wondering, “what CAN’T I automate!?”.
Examples of Intelligent Automation:
- Automate order processing decisions – Set rules for how orders should be handled. This will make the lives of your warehouse team easier and reduce your labor costs.
- Ex)Order batching (i.e. grouping by BOM), order prioritization, backorders
- Picking logic – Picking accuracy is huge in fulfillment and can make or break a successful customer experience. It’s also an area where companies can save big by routing pickers to reduce travel time.
- Kitting and assembly – Use rules to take complex client requests like kits and make them automatic, so you never have to think about them.
- Customer Experience (CX) – Your clients have unique needs like promotional inserts, special packing materials or custom packing slips. Help your clients deliver a unique CX that is consistent with their brand, memorable and easy to put in place.
The benefits of automation for your business are a win-win. Automating business logic can help you grow, allowing your 3PL business to scale alongside your customers’. Internally, automating day to day decisions will allow you to reduce labor costs and make life easier for your team. To learn more about using intelligent automation in your e-Commerce operation, request our e-Commerce e-book.
3. Workflow Optimization
Today’s fast-paced and booming e-Commerce environment demands that 3PLs optimize current processes to achieve greater efficiencies in their warehouses. Like we’ve mentioned, the status quo will only take you so far. That’s why eliminating warehouse inefficiencies is at the core of what we do. We’ll help you transform your warehouse into a lean, efficient operation.
The first step is evaluating your current warehouse processes and implementing new plans! This doesn’t have to be a scary endeavor. Stay focused on your end-goal to create cost and time–saving efficiencies that will keep your customers working with your 3PL for the long haul.
When strategizing ways to optimize your warehouse processes, focus on these three critical success factors:
- Inventory control – The inventory you house needs to be accurate, always accounted for and visible to customers.
- The ability to fulfill orders efficiently – You can maximize order throughput by reducing touches/steps during the order fulfillment process. This will help you minimize error rates and ensures profitability for your business.
- Accuracy – Reduce costly errors. Mistakes in fulfillment will eat into your profits and can cost you clients.
Think about what you could be doing faster, more efficiently or cheaper. Are there ways to cut steps, costs or time?
Key areas you should try to fully optimize:
- Order batching
- Inventory management
Example: Order Batching
As we’ve mentioned, intelligent automation is a powerful tool to help automate manual processes. One method we recommend is to set rules to group orders that involve similar steps. Grouping batches of work that have the same workflow can make it easier for your team to handle orders. Your team will complete pick and pack steps more quickly, which means more orders out the door faster! Examples:
- Release batches into the warehouse at specified times. This can be a specific time of day or day of the week. If a shipping carrier picks up on specific days of the week, release your batch of orders to coincide with pickup times.
- Release batches with specific packing instructions. If you have multiple packing stations, you can select where certain batches of work are packed. Bring all e-Commerce orders for supplement customers to Packing Station A, where a packer is ready with small parcel boxes and packing materials with specific packing instructions. If you have multiple packing stations, you can select where cert batches of work are packed.
Grouping orders with similar steps allows your team to focus on completing one task, with quick repeatable steps. This makes for a faster process, rather than starting and stopping different tasks in the warehouse. Ultimately, organizing your work in a more efficient manner will help you streamline processes and increase productivity all around.
You can improve your e-Commerce operation by re-evaluating your current processes. By making improvements in these areas, you can yield greater efficiencies in your warehouse today and for the long haul. Request our e-book to learn more on workflow optimization!
Feeling ready for e-Commerce growth?
Don’t be held back by the status quo. By transitioning to more efficient methods and technologies you’ll be able to scale and profit in e-Commerce. Regardless of how you gear up for e-Commerce, you can plan on seeing the benefits quickly.
By using a combination of key integrations, intelligent automation or optimizing workflows you’ll:
- Increase operational efficiencies
- Improve accuracy
- Lower operating costs
- Boost productivity
Speak to a VeraCore fulfillment expert to get the full scoop on how VeraCore can help you succeed in e-Commerce!
Brian Parrillo is Vice President of Sales at VeraCore.
He has over 19 years of experience in the fulfillment industry and has helped hundreds of 3PLs reduce operating costs, improve customer experience, and optimize their overall business processes.