So you want more smiley customers who keep coming back, and rave about you to their family and friends? How do you make the magic happen? Well, it all starts with, er, having a silky smooth order management process. Yeah, that sounds distinctly unmagical.
But from the minute a customer hits that Buy button, they’ve landed slap bang into your order management process. And they’re hoping that they’re gonna get what they paid for, on time. Which is fair enough. So let's see how you can make them glad they chose you!
In this guide:
- The 3 key stages to order management
- Stage 1: Receiving orders
- Stage 2: Picking, packing and shipping
- Stage 3: Delivery
- What to look for in order management software
Customer puts in an order
You pick, pack and ship
They get their order (yay)
Looks easy when you put it like that, right? But there are so many moving parts to juggle in each stage. And if one part ain’t running well, it can have a knock-on effect.
"The best way to think of order management is as an “ecosystem” that encompasses everything involved with taking and filling orders. The ecosystem includes many related functions that all have to be working together in order for the order management process to go smoothly."
So let’s work through each stage, take a look at the potential disasters, and how they can be avoided.
Stage 1: So you’ve received an order . . . but is your multichannel growth strategy neglecting customer satisfaction?
When you’re a smaller retailer, manually managing orders may not be too bad (shock horror, you may even enjoy it!). You may also only be selling from one place, which means less admin work and more time to, you know, watch Netflix. But as your business expands, it’s not really feasible to stick to only one selling channel.
Most retailers agree that a multichannel selling strategy is the best way to go. Which makes sense because you have to be wherever your customers are all the time, in a non-creepy way. Your customers are expecting you to go to them out of sheer convenience. And they’re expecting you to provide a seamless shopping experience with your brand. In essence, they’re expecting all the things. Which leaves you flying around to manage orders across multiple channels.
And if you’re not prepared for this, these are the problems that can hit you the hardest:
Problem 1: A massive dip in productivity
If your selling channels aren’t hooked up and managed in one place, it’ll feel like running 2 or 3 separate businesses. Not fun. Having to keep logging into different interfaces and reminding yourself of each system’s processes can majorly slow you down, which can damage your business.
You may be fine with manually doing all this, but what about if you hire someone new? How easy will they find it? And will they make more mistakes than normal for a new hire?
And we’re sure you already know this at this point, but online shoppers are fickle creatures who won’t wait around for you to get things straight. In fact, 65% of customers have completely turned their back on a business because of just one bad experience.
So the stakes are pretty high. And sure, you could log into each of your channels and export all your orders into one spreadsheet. But why choose a method that makes you ready to put a laptop-shaped hole in the wall?
Sooner or later, an order or two will probably slip through the cracks. Because we humans are just not good at the whole multi-tasking thing. Seriously, there’s research on this. The American Psychological Association summarizes findings:
"Although switch costs may be relatively small, sometimes just a few tenths of a second per switch, they can add up to large amounts when people switch repeatedly back and forth between tasks. Thus, multitasking may seem efficient on the surface but may actually take more time in the end and involve more error. Meyer has said that even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone's productive time."
40% of lost productive time is a pretty sizeable chunk. In a regular 40 hour working week, that’s 16 hours that could be put to better use!
Enter order management software. There are a few (to put it lightly) solutions on the market that you can compare here.
Let’s paint an awesome picture. Imagine no more manual exporting or inputting. No flitting between different channels. All your orders in one place. Less chance of missing an order or taking too long to get to it.
By bringing everything together into one place, you can process orders more quickly and speed up dispatch times. Which in turn, gives you happy customers ready to spend more money with you. And gives your competitors the elbow at the same time.
Problem 2: Overselling
Aimee Goodsall gets to the heart of this common problem:
"While it is indeed possible to run your business manually when selling a small number of products on a single selling channel, as soon as you begin to expand, this will become considerably more difficult. Think about it – even adding only one more channel automatically requires the need to manually synchronize stock on both, and a delay in doing so can very quickly mean that you are selling more products than you actually have available."
So you’re kinda torn between two options here. Do you go nuts on your next inventory order to lower the risk of overselling? OR do you just keep everything as it is, cross your fingers and hope it won’t happen to you? It’s a tough one: you don’t want to tie up your cash in inventory but you don’t want to build a mob of raging customers either. Overselling also robs you of your time as you’ll have to deal with orders coming in that you can’t fulfill.
And if we look at this statistic from UPS: 58% of shoppers say it’s really important that they’re able to see a retailer’s inventory status when placing orders. It’s worth noting as well that that statistic was from 2016 so the number of eagle-eyed shoppers has probably crept up since then. Eek.
So if you’re
creating laptop-shaped holes in walls manually managing your stock across channels, and you’ve got a bunch of people keeping their peepers on your numbers, that’s a lot of pressure to keep everything accurate and running nicely.
Automated processes come with a smaller margin of error. Especially compared to our lowly, human processes. So there’s really no need to be looking over your shoulder for that dreaded overselling beast.
Multichannel order management software can make your processes more efficient with less risk of error, by tracking your inventory across different channels. So that:
You won’t need to be dealing with orders that shouldn’t have gone through in the first place due to out-of-stock items
You won’t miss out on large orders, because you don’t need to split your stock between channels
And once you’ve sold out, the listing automatically pauses (depending which software you use) so other eager beavers can’t buy stuff you no longer have in stock.
For extra peace of mind, good order management software will also put ordered items on hold until they’re physically on the way to your customer. And if they cancel the order? It goes back on sale on your channels. Sorted.
Anyone who has ever worked in retail knows that mistakes happen in warehouses. And anyone who claims otherwise is lying. The secret here is trying to keep those errors to a minimum. Because as Robert Baran points out:
"Little mistakes can really add up when it comes to warehouse management. If even a half percent (0.5%) of mistakes in picking leads to returns, this can quickly add up in costs of customers lost, replacing stock in the warehouse, processing new orders and more."
If you’ve got a lot of manual processes going on in your warehouse, the number of errors can increase and things just aren’t all that time-efficient. It’s been found that, on average, an order picker spends 60% of their time walking around and moving boxes. That’s enough to tire anyone else and tired people tend to make more mistakes.
And it’s easy for operations to get muddled up if you don’t have an organized “order allocation” system in place (so team members know exactly which orders they’re responsible for). If it’s all over the place then double dispatching can become a problem here, where more than one team member picks and ships the same order. This hits your business in a few ways:
You lose money on shipping a duplicate order
Your customer is not too perky about having to take the time to mail it back
You lose money on the return shipping
If you decide that “forget it, it’s not worth the trouble”, you’ve just lost some inventory
Yep, a lot of moving parts. Why not automate the process as much as possible? Make you and your team happier and more productive!
How can an order management system help?
Order management software lets your team members organize their own workload by creating batches, which “marks their territory” and lets other staff know that those particular orders are being dealt with.
Instead of manually marking orders as dispatched, your team can scan invoices with a standard barcode scanner to mark as dispatched
All the orders are brought together so you can bulk action them with one click (saving heaps of time)
Your team can connect with your couriers and get shipping labels from inside the software, instead of having to log into different accounts. Bonus points if the software “remembers” your most used shipping methods and makes them super easy to access.
Ok, so how you handle delivery is a deal-breaker for your customers. 96% of survey respondents said a positive delivery experience would make them feel good about shopping with a business again. So let’s look at how to get that brand loyalty.
You may be trying to keep up with customers’ delivery expectations, especially when MetaPack found out things like:
1/2 of shoppers have abandoned an order because they weren't happy with delivery options
66% of customers have chosen a particular retailer over another, purely because they offered more delivery options
86% prioritize fast delivery
83% expect a guaranteed delivery date
So if you’re rising to the challenge and are proactive about offering competitive delivery options, it’s even more important that you smooth out stages 1 and 2 so you don’t fall down at this bit. Because, for example: if logging into different channels means you don’t see an order until later in the day, it may then be too late to make good on the delivery option the customer chose. Or if your warehouse staff are struggling with a disorganized process, orders may be botched or not sent out fast enough.
Sure, you may be thinking “well hang on a minute, we can smooth those stages out but once we hand the parcel over, it’s out of our hands.” And that’s true. You are putting a lot of trust in your couriers to not make you look bad.
But there is still something you can do. Honestly, the best thing you can do at this stage is to communicate with your customers. Everyone wants to feel taken care of and like they matter. This is no different.
(Backtracking a little bit here, but when you’ve received an order, shoot an email over to let your customer know that you’ve got it. 93% of shoppers find this really important.)
Anyway, back to the delivery bit. You need to put their minds at rest that they will receive the goods they paid for. Clear communication also sets expectations about when an order will arrive which can stop customers getting jittery and cancelling their order.
Again, MetaPack found that:
82% of consumers say it's crucial for businesses to communicate tracking status
85% prefer to track via email
81% track their item 2 or more times during the process
Do you currently have the capacity to do this with every single customer though? With so much to do everyday, and potentially hundreds (or more) orders to fulfill, are you really gonna have the resources to manually send confirmation emails and tracking info to customers? It’s important enough to your customers that it shouldn’t be left to manual process.
At the end of the day, this simple thing makes customers happy and using order management software means it’s not left to chance. Most decent solutions will offer you a fully customizable dispatch confirmation email that goes out automatically.
And on top of that, your customers will get that all-important tracking info sent over to them automatically, without you needing to worry about it.
It's a good idea that the software you choose isn't too complex. Otherwise you could end up spending more time head-scratching and trying to navigate it (which defeats the whole purpose).
You need software that:
Consolidates your marketplaces and web store into one clean, easy-to-use interface
Tracks and syncs up your entire inventory across channels (no need to split stock between selling locations which could cost you larger orders)
Pauses item listings when you sell out, to avoid overselling
Puts ordered items on hold until they've actually been dispatched, and pops the items back on sale if the order is cancelled
Lets your team members create their own batches, so other staff know not to touch those orders (less risk of double dispatch and other mistakes)
Combines shipping labels and invoices into one, to save your printing resources
Lets your team scan invoices with a standard barcode scanner to view the order, or mark it as dispatched
Enables you to connect with couriers and get your shipping labels from inside the interface instead of logging into different accounts
Remembers your most used shipping methods so they're easy to select
Gives you a fully customizable dispatch email that goes out automatically
Sends tracking information automatically
It just so happens that ChannelGrabber ticks all those boxes. Er hem.
And we're just going to throw this out there too: our customers report up to 90% in time saved when accessing and processing orders.