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The COVID-19 pandemic has effectively advanced ecommerce by an estimated 5-15 years. The move from in-store to online has led to great demand for ecommerce warehousing space and related operations jobs. With this change, came a learning curve for many businesses that weren’t used to packing and shipping orders to customers.
Efficient order filling is one of the biggest factors that goes into sustainable ecommerce growth. Having the right processes in place to fill orders accurately and quickly can make the customer experience.
With an inefficient order filling process, fulfillment costs can add up, customers can grow frustrated or disappointed, and it can even reduce your customer lifetime value (LTV) significantly.
As you start to see a higher volume of orders, the order filling process can become more complex and time-consuming. Fortunately, there are ways to improve order filling efficiencies to speed up the process while minimizing errors.
In this article, we’ll go over the entire order filling process and share tips on how to optimize the order filling process for faster shipping.
What is order filling?
Order filling refers to the tasks completed by an order filler, including receiving and stowing inventory, picking and packing boxes, and getting orders shipped out from a distribution center or warehouse.
Order filling process in 5 steps
There’s a lot more that goes into the order filling process than just packing an order and shipping it out the door. An order filler can be involved in every step of the order fulfillment process, from receiving inventory to picking and retrieving items, or be highly specialized in one particular area.
If all steps of the order filling process aren’t completed accurately, the order won’t arrive according to how the customer was expecting it.
Here are the top five steps required to fill an order.
1. Warehouse receives inventory
You cannot fill orders without ecommerce inventory. A supplier, manufacturer, or ecommerce brand must ship the required products to your warehouse, where staff will receive the shipment(s). The term ‘receiving’ refers to the acceptance of incoming inventory to be stored before it’s sold. During this step, an order filler will make sure that all the items that were sent have arrived and are in good condition.
If you work with a third-party logistics (3PL) company like ShipBob, they will have their own process in place to ensure all inventory is accounted for.
For example, ShipBob requires merchants to fill out a Warehouse Receiving Order (WRO) and affix the proper labels to each box. This helps them know what to expect ahead of time and to speed up the receiving process while managing inventory for thousands of customers.
“Sending inventory to ShipBob was easy to do. Our first batch of inventory was received by ShipBob and ready to be shipped the next day. Nine days after we got started with ShipBob’s implementation team, we were shipping orders.”
Tim Fink, Co-Founder of EnduroSport
2. Warehouse stocks inventory
In this stage, the products are stocked on the warehouse shelves containing other units of the same SKU, as each unique product must have a separate dedicated storage location (or batches of products that require lot storage for expiration dates or in the case of a product recall).
The most common inventory storage locations include a shelf, bin, or pallet. Proper warehousing is one of the most important parts of filling an order correctly, and items must be stored in the proper conditions
“ShipBob provides the storage conditions we need to ensure our highest-quality food products are stored and delivered to our customers in a safe and effective manner.”
Pablo Gabatto, Business Operations Manager at Ample Foods
3. Items are located and picked
Once an order is placed on your store, the warehouse picking process begins. An order filler will locate the item(s) so the entire order can be packed in the next step.
ShipBob’s a tech-enabled 3PL, so their proprietary warehouse management system (WMS) automatically assigns similar orders with inventory in the same area of the warehouse to the same picker to reduce the number of steps required to pick orders for a more efficient workflow.
A picking list is automatically generated, which includes the items ordered, quantity, and where each product is located in the fulfillment center. Each unit that’s picked is scanned from the inventory container so inventory counts are updated in real-time, providing up-to-date stock levels for merchants.
“With ShipBob, we see exactly what is physically picked and know that an order went out as expected. With our old 3PL, we had to rely on our rep for everything and we couldn’t be self-sufficient. They had to do all of the work for us, and we couldn’t actually see what their warehouse associates were picking.”
Gerard Ecker, Founder & CEO of Ocean & Co.
4. The order is securely packed
When all items in an order have been picked, the next step is to securely pack them and add the shipping label. All items should be shipped in the same package if possible to avoid a split shipment.
At ShipBob, for example, standard packing materials — including brown boxes, plain bubble mailers and poly bags, packing tape, and dunnage — are included at no extra cost.
We choose the best packing materials for each order to both protect your products and achieve the lowest practical dimensional weight. We also allow our clients to use custom packing materials to put their brand front and center.
“ShipBob should be top of mind for ecommerce companies experiencing growth, so they can focus on brand and design instead of packing boxes. I know ShipBob can remain a partner of ours as we grow even more — from expanding into additional fulfillment centers and distributing our inventory across the country to utilizing more of their capabilities — all while maintaining that partner feel.”
Carl Protsch, Co-Founder of FLEO
5. Orders are shipped out
The last step of filling orders is to ship the order out for delivery. For small brands self-fulfilling orders, this means multiple trips to the post office.
By outsourcing fulfillment, you won’t have to worry about shipping orders yourself as a 3PL partners with major shipping carriers to negotiate shipping rates and have them pick up packages daily sorted by each shipping service.
Shipping carriers handle the last-mile delivery process, most often by truck or air shipping. You’ll want to make sure you have proper order tracking set up on your store, so customers can follow along on the progress of their deliveries.
“We love that ShipBob actually operates its fulfillment centers — they know their operations and they are very clear about it. ShipBob having multiple locations was also huge for us. Keeping our inventory in Chicago and Los Angeles has brought cost savings since we ship from the locations that are closest to the customer.”
Courtney Lee, founder of Prymal
6 tips to improve order filling
Optimizing the order filling process is crucial to increase supply chain efficiency. Here are some tips on how to improve order filling for your company.
1. Organize inventory mindfully
When organizing your inventory, keep in mind that the items will have to be picked later for filling orders. Thus, you should organize your inventory in a way that makes it easy to locate the desire items (e.g., by stocking frequently ordered together items near one another).
2. Set up picking routes
Picking routes help order the order picker to find the required goods. The routes are set up keeping the zone, the height of the locations, and safety regulation in mind. These routes help the warehouse picker determine which direction to drive the delivery vehicle in.
3. Maintain accurate inventory data with the right tech
It’s important to know your inventory counts to avoid running out of items or over-spending on inventory you can’t sell. For example, ShipBob helps businesses:
- Stay up-to-date on stock levels with inventory management software and integrations with other systems.
- Limit order errors with proper inventory tracking.
- Prevent stockout with inventory forecasting tools and the ability to set reorder points.
4. Optimize your processes
Your order filling process can always improve, whether it’s faster processing times, more ideal fulfillment locations and delivery routes, lowered shipping zones, improved inventory management, and better demand forecasting.
This can come down to offering better incentives for staff, changing shifts, adopting fulfillment software, installing new equipment, or changing operational processes. Check out more ideas for supply chain optimizations here.
5. Automate your order filling process
Automating your order fulfillment process increases operational efficiency, reduces errors, promotes higher accuracy of orders, and encourages faster shipping.
If done right, automation can also save order fillers a significant amount of time and money through fewer returns and refunds. Automated shipping entails automatically sending orders to order fillers, ordering more inventory when you hit a certain level on hand, sending tracking updates to customers, and more.
6. Partner with a 3PL
Managing the order filling process is tricky, and that’s why many brands consider partnering with a third-party logistics service provider like ShipBob. ShipBob is a leading 3PL that handles the order filling process for you.
ShipBob’s integrated software connects to your ecommerce platform to send orders automatically to order fillers, while providing you with insight into all of our operations.
“It’s a pain to pick, pack, and print the labels, and manage the storage. It would be a huge stress for us to do it ourselves, but the fact that ShipBob takes care of it all, both the savings in costs and time, is invaluable to our business.”
Nikolai Paloni, Co-Founder of Ombraz Sunglasses
Handle order filling in your own warehouse?
To properly manage order filling on your own, you’ll need the right technology and infrastructure.
ShipBob has a best-in-class warehouse management system (WMS) for brands that have their own warehouse and need help managing inventory in real time, reducing picking, packing, and shipping errors, and scaling with ease.
With Merchant Plus, brands can even leverage ShipBob’s fulfillment services in any of ShipBob’s fulfillment centers across the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia to improve cross-border shipping, reduce costs, and speed up deliveries.
How 3PLs automate your order filling process
A tech-enabled 3PL like ShipBob can help you streamline your order filling process by taking ecommerce fulfillment tasks off your plate. Certified and well-trained order fillers complete each task with several validations in place to ensure a higher level of order accuracy.
ShipBob stores your inventory in any combination of fulfillment centers across the globe.
“ShipBob has been a great partner as we’ve grown. They help us expand with hardly any extra effort on our part. Our focus is to grow our business, and that will not be achieved by packing up orders, sending out boxes, and dealing with enormous carriers like FedEx and UPS ourselves.
That’s what ShipBob has mastered. We want to focus on engaging with our customers, building our community, and ShipBob lets us do just that.”
Pablo Gabatto, Business Operations Manager at Ample Foods
Order filling is a time-consuming process with many moving parts, which means mistakes can happen, especially if you don’t have the right team in place. ShipBob offers the fulfillment expertise, infrastructure, and technology to streamline the order filling process for you and provide the services you need depending on the type of order.
“It would take me all day to pack and ship about 30 orders. If I wanted to go on a trip, I’d have to bring along my label printer, products, and packing supplies. I found myself on vacation constantly checking on new orders and shipping inventory out of the back of my car.
Since switching to ShipBob, my company’s orders have more than tripled now that I’m able to spend more time looking at the big picture, rather than doing things like stuffing envelopes all day. Now, I’m free.”
Anastasia Allison, Founder of Kula Cloth
Contact ShipBob by clicking the button below to learn how we can help, get pricing, and see if we’d be a good fit for your business.
Order filling FAQs
Order filling is an important aspect of supply chain management, so it’s important to understand it thoroughly so you know what to expect throughout every step of the process. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions related to order filling.
What is order filling?
Order filling refers to the process of receiving and storing inventory, and picking, packing, and shipping each order. It is also known as order fulfillment and is comprised of the steps needed to send a customer their online order.
How do you improve order picking accuracy?
Order picking accuracy can be improved by proper inventory storage, the use of integrated technology and automation, and extra fail safes that serve as a QA system (e.g., verifications on a screen that the right inventory was picked showing photos to confirm the items match). While even an automated system is not subject to human error as order filling involves many human touches, these steps can help reduce the possibility of inaccurate picking and packing.
How do I stop picking errors?
There are a lot of factors that could cause an order picking error. Poor warehouse management, untrained staff, and filling high volumes of orders are all components of inaccurate order filling. By integrating a warehouse management system (WMS) and/or inventory management system with ecommerce stores, it can help reduce picking errors by easily being able to locate and scan the right inventory before the picking and packing steps begin. Then, before an order is packed, the order filler should verify that the proper items were picked and then pack the order.