Cincinnati’s legendary Graeter’s Ice Cream has been in business for over 150 years. Their long-established artisanal methods create a finished product that is dense, indulgent, and above all, smooth.
In 2017, Graeter’s approached us with a litany of eCommerce backend issues. Their existing technology was incapable of handling the growth in order volume, fulfillment processing was suffering, and frozen pints were melting. They needed a broad-based solution.
Based on conversations with Graeter’s and other eCommerce merchants, there was a clear need in the marketplace for a comprehensive suite of management systems. We made the decision to start building what would eventually become SkuNexus.
In the years since, our software has helped eCommerce retailers of all types and sizes regain control over their order processing and fulfillment. Along the way, we have learned a great deal about what works and what doesn’t.
Here, we would like to share with you specific ideas from our wide range of clients. We will also discuss some of the fundamental tools that should be part of any merchant’s eCommerce fulfillment strategy.
1. Find Software That Integrates Seamlessly
Not all software systems play well with others. Discovering that the hard way can be a painful, and expensive, ordeal for any online retailer. A Montreal-based eyewear conglomerate was looking to revamp its eCommerce operations and a digital transformation consultancy (Cyper) was hired to manage the project.
- A complex system of data exchange existed between the retailer’s eCommerce website and other elements of its digital ecosystem. These were a content management system, ERP, and point-of-sale.
- Any solution needed the flexibility to evolve and support the retailer’s rapidly-scaling business.
- Time was of the essence. The project needed to be completed as quickly as possible and disruption of current business operations during integration was a non-starter.
Cyper conducted a thorough audit and determined that SkuNexus was the only platform with the flexibility to check all the boxes. Since completing the transition:
- Online sales have increased.
- Pick/pack/ship processes have significantly improved.
- The merchant now has an OMS with the flexibility to expand as needed as it scales going forward.
2. Prioritize Vendor Management
Outside parties can present a collection of challenges for any brand’s eCommerce operations. Our client, Carewell, has experienced exponential growth in its five year-history while completely outsourcing order fulfillment. As a dropshipper, they carry no inventory whatsoever, yet have been lauded as one of retail’s most innovative companies.
By definition, Carewell’s vendor management needs to be superior in order for their business to function properly. A dedicated VMS (Vendor Management System) has allowed them to tackle issues that were formerly proving to be major impediments to their growth.
- Inconsistent data flow between Carewell and its vendors is no longer a problem.
- SkuNexus ease-of-use allows all vendors to be managed from a single location.
- VMS can connect with vendor platforms and grant them access to yours to manage incoming goods (without any compromise of proprietary information).
- Carewell wanted a PO generated immediately in the event of a dropshipping order.
- SkuNexus automates this process as part of its dropshipping functionality.
- VMS needs to have expandable capacity to allow for more vendor options.
- SkuNexus allows for limitless additions.
The need for a strong VMS extends well beyond dropshippers. Any eCommerce merchant with external suppliers will be well-served by the efficiency and clarity that a dedicated vendor management system can provide.
3. Seek Flexible Software That Can Be Customized
Just as no two businesses are identical, neither are the challenges they face. We mentioned Graeter’s Ice Cream at the outset. What we didn’t explain was how they have tailor-made our software to suit their own purposes.
Outdated systems combined with a rapidly growing eCommerce business had presented Graeter’s with multiple hurdles. SkuNexus implementation allowed them to solve problems with order routing/communication between warehouses, improve order fulfillment processes, and also provided a host of other benefits.
It is what else Graeter’s has done with our software that is truly remarkable. This speaks to both the flexibility and customizability of SkuNexus.
Graeter’s is faced with complex fulfillment and shipping issues. Their frozen products are both time-sensitive and require dry ice in packing. If confined by inflexible software, they would not be able to perform several highly-creative functions in warehouse operations.
These customizations ensure that their products do not melt in processing, shipments adhere to government regulations surrounding dry ice, and address several other unique issues.
The management system you use needs to work for your needs, not the other way around. Fulfillment operations will never be completely optimized if a merchant is bound by the constraints of its software.
4. Use Barcode Scanning As Much As Possible
Rigorous organization is critical to fulfillment center operations, and barcode scanning is an important tool for maintaining it. It can be used to track items from receiving to warehouse racks to shipping and ensure inventory accuracy during every step of the process.
- Every warehouse location should have its own barcode. Wherever an item is located, that data needs to be reflected in the system.
- In storage, every aisle/shelf/bin needs its own identifying barcode.
- In transit during putaway or pick/pack/ship, individual carts and totes should be scannable.
- Packing and shipping stations, as well.
- Product "states" e.g. returned, defective, etc. can also be considered locations.
- All orders, purchase orders, fulfillments, products, etc. can also have barcodes, which means fast, accurate information retrieval and no manual errors.
In SkuNexus, barcode scanning helps provide incredible insights and accuracy. Merchants can see not just where items are located at any given time, but also have full inventory control. This accurate data is immediately shared to eCommerce platforms, helps with cycle counts, ensures inventory optimization, and fosters order within a complex system.
5. Employ Order Decision Rules
As an eCommerce business starts to grow, the need for automation in order management becomes clear. An Order Management System like SkuNexus has the ability to automate actions within the system based on a range of criteria. The rules they create will determine what happens throughout the fulfillment process.
- Order Routing
- Rules will establish the steps taken to determine where an order should go.
- Proximity to customer, available inventory, and dropshipping options can all be factored into this automated decision process.
- Custom attributes may also be factored into rules. Any information related to the order, customers, products, etc., may be used to further control order routing.
- The system will go through a “waterfall” decision-making process to select the best option(s).
- For example, it will check inventory levels at each location, in order of proximity, until inventory for a particular order is found.
- At that point, the order will be routed to the location with confirmed inventory.
- This allows for multiple fulfillment locations per item and order (can route to 3PLs or store locations if necessary).
- Fulfillment Method
- Additional rules will select how the order is fulfilled.
- Warehouse/Ship-From-Store, BOPIS, or dropshipping decisions will be made automatically.
Order decision rules are completely customizable within SkuNexus and can be changed at any time. They are an invaluable tool for eCommerce merchants to manage increased order volume while simultaneously increasing efficiency and control.
6. Utilize Wave Picking Models
A smart Warehouse Management System (WMS) doesn't just control warehouse organization. It gives merchants the tools to create highly-specialized advanced picking methods, and wave picking is one of them. SkuNexus provides the ability to design picks based on any number of criteria.
- Shipping Carrier/Method
- Picks can be assigned based on individual carriers. For example, a wave can be set up to group pick all orders shipping via UPS (or FedEx, USPS, DHL, etc.)
- For more detail, the method for shipping orders can be inserted into the wave pick assignment (Next Day, 2-Day, Ground).
- Related Goods/SKUs
- In this model, waves are created for certain products only.
- This allows for extreme control based on a merchant’s inventory, order history, warehouse layout, etc.
- Wave picks may be assigned to specific warehouse employees.
- This method can help with control and accountability.
- A catchall method may be used to create wave picks for any and everything.
- The criteria could be as simple as date/time.
The benefits of wave picking in optimizing fulfillment operations are enormous.
- Employee time/movements are maximized.
- Orders can be automatically triaged to the appropriate level based on shipping time.
- Armed with clear, defined instructions, multiple employees can pick simultaneously.
This all leads to more time to process additional orders or handle other responsibilities within the business.
7. Automate Packing & Shipping
The ability to standardize and automate parcel/packing material/shipping decisions is an invaluable function for optimizing order fulfillment. It boosts employee productivity, reduces errors, eliminates waste, and saves money. SkuNexus facilitates this in a number of ways.
- SkuNexus OMS automatically generates pack lists for every order. The system makes decisions based on item type(s), weights, dimensions, and speciality packaging. This narrows down box sizes and packing materials.
- Shipping labels are printed automatically and according to the merchant’s specifications. If special data or custom branding needs to be included, SkuNexus allows for it.
- Shipping Option Mappers use a rule-based system like we discussed above re: order decisions.
- By establishing criteria (carrier/method) and applying specific rules, shipping decisions will be made automatically.
- SkuNexus rate shopping functionality integrates with over a hundred carriers to always select the best option.
Optimizing order processing and fulfillment is both a science and an art form. A powerful management system like SkuNexus provides a vast array of tools to streamline operations. It also allows for them to be used in the manner a merchant needs to achieve its own solutions. We hope you have gained insights from both our client-specific examples as well as some of our own best practices.
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