How Automated Order Fulfillment Streamlines Ecommerce

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For retailers, the journey from “buy now” to “package delivered” involves a series of intricate steps. To do it efficiently, companies must allocate time and resources to inventory management, shipping, and tracking. 

When managed manually or through disparate systems, these processes can create bottlenecks, resulting in a less-than-seamless customer experience. Automated order fulfillment is a game-changing solution, bringing these diverse tasks under a single, cohesive framework. Learn more about automated order fulfillment and how you can strategically use it in a retail environment.

What is automated order fulfillment?

Automated order fulfillment is a technology-driven approach to managing the various stages of the order fulfillment process in retail. It integrates software and hardware solutions to automate inventory tracking, order picking, packing, and shipping tasks. By centralizing these operations under one system, retailers can streamline their workflows, minimize manual interventions, and increase accuracy in fulfilling customer orders. 

Benefits of automated order fulfillment

Automated order fulfillment is akin to having a well-oiled machine power your ecommerce business—each cog from inventory to shipping works in harmony. Here are a few benefits: 

Eliminates manual data entry

Manual data entry is time-consuming and can lead to errors, which can cause supply chain issues. Automate order fulfillment to reduce human error in customer order processing and other repetitive tasks. This improves the reliability of your order fulfillment processes. 

Optimizes warehousing for better inventory management

Automated fulfillment improves warehouse management, allowing for real-time updates and better control of stock levels. You can automate various tasks—from demand planning (projecting future demand) to inventory planning (deciding how much inventory to order)—with the right warehouse management system. Better control of inventory management means ecommerce businesses can prepare for sudden changes in demand.

Enhances the shipping process for speedier delivery times

An automated shipping process accelerates delivery times by automatically choosing the optimal shipping routes and carriers. By integrating ecommerce fulfillment automation, the system evaluates various shipping options to select the quickest and most cost-effective methods. 

These automated selections can include shipping discounts, resulting in lower shipping fees for the customer. Faster delivery meets customer expectations and strengthens your online store’s reputation.

Saves money through efficient fulfillment operations

Automating your fulfillment process saves money. Automated processes in the fulfillment center and distribution center reduce labor costs by minimizing the need for manual, routine activities. 

Automation also streamlines operations, allowing for bulk shipping discounts and more efficient use of packaging, lowering shipping costs. Moreover, quickly adapting to market changes allows for more effective inventory and supply chain management, leading to further cost reductions.

Improves customer experience through faster order processing

Customers expect swift and accurate delivery when they shop online. By automating order processing, you can have quicker, more reliable service, directly influencing retail customer satisfaction. Fulfillment automation also reduces the likelihood of delays and mistakes, contributing to a more positive online shopping experience.

Simplifies returns management with easier reverse logistics

Returns are an inevitable part of running an ecommerce business. Automated order fulfillment software manages the entire return process, from receiving a package at the fulfillment center to updating store inventory.

How to implement automated order fulfillment

  1. Evaluate existing fulfillment operations
  2. Choose a robust fulfillment software
  3. Integrate with your ecommerce platform
  4. Automate inventory management
  5. Optimize warehouse functions
  6. Streamline shipping processes
  7. Use automated returns management
  8. Audit and improve your fulfillment process

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you navigate this process: 

1. Evaluate existing fulfillment operations

Audit your current order fulfillment system to identify inefficiencies and areas requiring manual data entry. Track metrics like time-to-ship and order accuracy rates so you know your starting point. 

2. Choose a robust fulfillment software

Opt for an order fulfillment solution that offers features such as real-time inventory tracking, automatic order synchronization, shipping algorithms, and the ability to integrate with other applications. 

The Shopify Fulfillment Network automates various aspects of order processing and shipping—from inventory management to selecting the most cost-effective shipping options. By centralizing these functions, it allows for real-time tracking and quicker turnarounds, making the entire fulfillment process more efficient. 

3. Integrate with your ecommerce platform

Link your ecommerce platform with your selected fulfillment software and automatically transfer data to keep inventory and order processing up to date in real time. This integration will be the cornerstone of your automated fulfillment, ensuring orders flow smoothly from your online store to your distribution center. 

Shopify’s Fulfillment Orders API allows for the seamless integration of external fulfillment services, enabling automated syncing of order data, inventory levels, and shipping information between your ecommerce platform and your chosen fulfillment solution.

4. Automate inventory management

An advanced inventory management solution offers features like automated restocking alerts and predictive analytics for demand planning. Use these tools to enable just-in-time inventory practices, reducing storage costs. 

Shopify POS integrates in-store and online sales, allowing retailers to manage inventory and stock levels centrally and in real time, enhancing stock visibility and control. 

5. Optimize warehouse functions

Adopt a warehouse management system that allows for the automation of crucial warehouse operations. Adopt warehouse slotting algorithms and automated picking and packing routines to optimize your warehouse space and resources. Properly automated warehouse functions can drastically reduce human error and speed up the entire fulfillment process.

6. Streamline shipping processes

Integrate algorithmic shipping solutions that automatically select the best shipping carrier per individual order based on factors like cost, destination, and package weight. Implement automated label printing and batch processing features to speed up shipping. 

Shopify Shipping streamlines the shipping process, offering discounted rates and enabling faster label printing and order fulfillment, all within a single platform. These automated processes can significantly save your customers on shipping costs, providing a competitive edge.

7. Use automated returns management

Employ a specialized returns management platform that automates the returns process. To enhance customer satisfaction, use features such as automated return merchandise authorization (RMA) generation, real-time inventory updates upon receiving returns, and auto-triggered refunds. Automating returns management speeds up the process for customers and allows for quicker inventory turnover.

8. Audit and improve your fulfillment process

Regularly review your automated order fulfillment system to spot inefficiencies and areas for improvement. Utilize key performance indicators (KPIs) like order accuracy, fulfillment costs, and customer satisfaction scores to measure the effectiveness of your automation. Make data-driven adjustments to your workflows, software configurations, and inventory management strategies to ensure continual optimization. 

Unify your inventory management with Shopify

Only Shopify helps you manage warehouse, pop-up shop, and retail store inventory from the same back office. Shopify automatically syncs stock quantities as you receive, sell, return, or exchange products online or in-person—no manual reconciling necessary.

Explore inventory management on Shopify

Automated order fulfillment FAQ

What are the different types of order fulfillment?

Order fulfillment types include direct fulfillment, third-party fulfillment (3PL), and dropshipping. Each option has varying degrees of inventory ownership and control.

How do you automate an order process?

Automating an order process involves integrating specialized software that streamlines inventory management, order processing, and shipping by replacing manual tasks with automated workflows.

What types of businesses are most suitable for automated order fulfillment solutions?

Ecommerce businesses, retailers with high order volumes, and enterprises with complex supply chains are the most suitable for automated order fulfillment solutions, due to their need for speed, accuracy, and efficiency.