The ultimate goal for customers purchasing goods online is to have their order delivered in full and on time – essentially, they want to be satisfied with their online shopping experience. Therefore, the ultimate goal for retail businesses operating online should be to provide customers with effective, seamless fulfilment.

In recent years, the process of online fulfilment has seemed like science fiction, with robots moving products in warehouses and trials of flying drones delivering stock directly to retailers. Despite the stigma and the seemingly complex nature of the process, online fulfilment is achievable if a business measures it, understands it, and constantly improves it.

Fulfilment is the last critical step in the customer journey

Unfortunately, fulfilment is not always a top priority for businesses despite it being critical to the customer experience. According to a recent survey by shipping platform Temando, ‘80% of shoppers prefer a specified time slot for delivery and 75% want guaranteed weekend or after-hours shipping, yet only 31% and 18% of retailers respectively are offering these services.’

Businesses that consider this critical final stage of the customer journey and implement an appropriate fulfilment solution will reap the rewards, as experienced by Mark Greaves, Briscoe Group Limited, who says that ‘from the start when we designed a solution for our online delivery offering, we had the customer as number one priority in mind.’

The New Zealand retail chain found that as both their eCommerce and volume of orders continued to grow, making routing of product became more complex. With this in mind they engaged eStar, the leading providers of enterprise eCommerce platforms to implement a Pull-Based Fulfilment solution. This is a sophisticated way for clients to distribute orders across multiple dispatch points on demand. The system designates the optimal distribution for each order at a specific point in time while maintaining order flow throughout an organisation, by monitoring various pre-set KPI’s and optimising the flow of orders through the pipeline.

The instantaneous evaluation provided ensures that no dispatch point becomes overloaded, the right orders are made available to the best-fit dispatch points, and the overall order DIFOT (delivered in-full, on time) metric is improved.

Measure twice, deliver once – then take it to the next level

In order to ensure ongoing success, it is imperative to always measure fulfilment performance. The most common measure is the percentage delivery in full, on time (DIFOT) at an order or order-line level. Aim for 100% and expect to always be better than 98%. Businesses need to understand their fulfilment failures and adapt processes for continuous improvement.

To do this, businesses should make returns as easy as possible for customers. All stores should accept online returns, and the process for returning should be clear and simple to follow with options for in-store or delivered. Further to this, Australian retailers need to adapt to the demand for click and collect with only 42% currently offering the service, despite it being widely sought after by customers.

We can also expect the options for online fulfilment collection centres to grow. This often starts with retailers offering click and collect from other brands within their group, then networks of collection points (stores or locker types). As the volume of online orders grows so does this potential.

Businesses that learn to identify changes in retail landscape and adapt accordingly, can ensure that they remain ahead of their competitors and maintain satisfaction amongst their customers. These customers are the same ones that are increasingly putting more demand for convenience and personalised experiences, altering how businesses operate and determining the strengths of the retail landscape.

Briscoe Group was growing at a market-leading rate but were concerned that their fulfilment rate was potentially going to suffer, and thus customers wouldn’t be satisfied. They knew that getting an order to a dispatch location that was close to the customer and had stock was extremely important. The outcome of implementing pull-based fulfilment therefore, not only allowed them to have a solution that assigned orders to the most appropriate fulfilment centre to ensure dispatch was timely, but one that also took freight costs into consideration which benefited them.

“We are now able to move orders to locations that offer cheaper freight costs and consequently we can pass these savings onto our customers, so they continue to get great value when they shop with us” – Mark Greaves, Briscoe Group.

Further to this, as businesses adapt to the needs of customers, growth can follow. A first step can be moving to International delivery from Australia for any brand. This is also the first step on developing an international growth, which is key for delivering products to a big market where you may have no brand awareness and much larger competitors is challenging.

Give your customers what they want, now!

At present, customers expect next day delivery as an option and you should provide it, but don’t be surprised if it has low take-up and is difficult to manage. Same day delivery and pick-up has been available for many leading retailers for years – Country Road is one example.

The (near) future of fulfilment

Over the next few years we will see global improvements in fulfilment.

Businesses should ensure that as online shopping continues to evolve, and customers continue to demand a more streamlined process, they adapt and consider the solutions. An example of this is the Pull-Based Fulfilment solution, an option that maintains order flow, improves delivery times, reduces freight costs/minimises splits and arranges prioritisation of orders, to ensure maximum results for the company.

The sharing economy and autonomous vehicles will enable mass volumes of short-term deliveries in populated areas. After dropping your kids at school, and you at the office, your family car will head off to deliver online orders for the day!

Great online fulfilment is the next frontier, a critical step in being able to remain relevant within the retail landscape and maintain a customer base.

By: Andrew Buxton, CEO, eStar