- by Raj Barman
E-commerce fulfillment integration is simply the process of receiving direct to consumer orders from an online web store and packaging and shipping each order directly to the customer's address. Although it sounds simple in theory, it requires a unique type of fulfillment company to successfully manage the intricacies of integrating with a multitude of online shopping carts (click here to view a comprehensive list of all shopping carts that Acutrack integrates with), as well a superior company that has experience with managing small parcel (shipping oftentimes with dramatic cyclical swings) and the ability to meet quick transit time requirements of the ever evolving online consumer. We outline the process from start to finish below, so that you can familiarize yourself with each step in order.
Integrate Your Shopping Cart with the Fulfillment Company's Warehouse Management System
One of the most critical steps in a successful e-commerce fulfillment program is to integrate your online shopping cart with the fulfillment company's warehouse management system. This is how information will be communicated between your company and your logistics provider – including order information, inventory information, and order tracking data. Companies that have specific experience with ecommerce fulfillment will likely either have a pre-existing integration with your shopping cart (especially if you use a popular shopping cart), or they will offer to custom program a link between your cart and their system. For the non-technical person, this 'link' is essentially a set of computer programming code that sends the data back and forth between the two systems. Usually, the information is sent back and forth either in 'real-time' or at set intervals, otherwise referred to as 'batch' processing. The benefit of real-time information is that it is delivered quickly, which minimizes the order fulfillment process. However, batch processing allows you a little bit of a lag time which can be especially helpful if you have multiple change requests on orders. Companies that aren't specialists in ecommerce fulfillment operations will likely not have a real time or batch order processing procedure, and instead will likely require you to send orders via email, fax, or other manual methods. This is not ideal for fulfillment of web orders since they are more prone to errors.
Sync Store Information with Your Fulfillment Provider
Once we've done the initial integration, the next step is to map out the shipping options and the product information so that each system (yours and that of the fulfillment provider) has the same data. For the shipping options, this is where you will agree to the various shipping carriers to be used and service levels that will be shipped. For example, this is where you will specify whether you want to ship using FedEx, UPS, USPS or other methods, and whether or not you'll offer additional expedited service levels other than ground shipping, such as Express or 2-Day. In terms of product information, this is where we will ensure that the warehouse has data on your SKUs, dimensions, weights, variants, etc.
Transmit Orders to the Warehouse
Once you've set up the integration and informed the warehouse of your product and shipping information, you're ready to start submitting orders. Orders will be passed back and forth between your shopping cart and our warehouse management system using your pre-determined frequency, whether that is real-time or in batch. Once received, orders can then be printed, picked, and packaged by the warehouse staff. More sophisticated fulfillment companies pick orders using concrete processes and procedures and utilizing sophisticated technology, such as bar code, pick to light systems, and even warehouse robots. Once the order have been pick and packaged to specification and quality checked, it is ready to be shipped to the customer.
Update Tracking Information and View Online Reports
Usually each night, once all orders have been processed, the e-commerce fulfillment company will automatically send all tracking information for all of the day's orders back to your shopping cart online. Depending upon your shopping cart provider, you can then set up automatic rules to send out branded emails to each customer, updating them with their live shipping tracking information.
High performing ecommerce fulfillment providers will also offer a robust set of online reporting tools and will update inventory information for each SKU in their system so that you can update your cart with accurate information about quantities in and out of stock. Furthermore, they can notify you when these levels reach a reorder point so that you can be proactive about ordering new stock. Some companies, such as Acutrack, even offer more robust reporting, depending upon your specific needs. All of this information is accessible online in a portal, such as Acutrack's online portal.