For ecommerce customers, the shipping process appears simple: they place their order, it is mailed, and it is delivered within a few days.
The reality is far more complicated for ecommerce businesses.
Shipping operations can begin even before any orders are placed, depending on your products and how you run your ecommerce business.
Afterwards, from procurement to receiving to fulfillment to last-mile delivery, a massive amount of operational logistics is required to ensure that the shipping process runs smoothly as a whole.
What exactly is the definition of shipping operations?
The processes involved in transporting goods from one location to another are referred to as shipping operations. Most shipping operations fall into one of two categories: freight shipping and small parcel shipping.
Many ecommerce businesses rely on freight shipping to acquire inventory from foreign suppliers. Because air freight is typically quite expensive, many brands rely on maritime transport of freight.
There are many types of shipping in the shipping industry (dry bulk shipping, short sea shipping, trump shipping, etc.), but e-commerce procurement generally relies on container shipping, with bulk carriers and freight companies taking the ocean that will transport goods and supplies beyond to the merchant who ordered.
Small parcel shipping, on the other hand, is used to ship actual ecommerce orders. These orders are almost always shipped to the end customer by local shippers or carriers from a warehouse, distribution center, or fulfillment center.
Overall, both types of shipping operations entail a complex set of processes that must be executed precisely in order for orders to arrive on time and undamaged to customers.
Dissecting the Main Shipping Operations
Although ecommerce shipping operations may appear simple at first glance, they involve much more than simply moving products from one location to another. Orders are delivered to their final destination through complex fulfillment logistics, order management, and shipping processes.
The following is a breakdown of the stages involved in a typical DTC ecommerce store’s small parcel shipping operations.
1. Receiving of the Order
Orders are received in a merchant’s warehouse during the first stage of the shipping operation.
The order receiving process entails accepting and logging orders as they come into your store and preparing them for processing. It is also the stage at which you ensure that there is enough inventory on hand to process and fulfill orders.
This phase of your shipping operations must be extremely efficient and precise. Before orders can be processed, they must be received quickly and stock availability must be automatically verified.
2. Processing of Order
You can start processing orders once they arrive in the warehouse.
This entails ensuring the accuracy of order data such as delivery location and customer information. Depending on the size of your operation, this stage may also include determining the best strategic location to fulfill the order.
Having an automated order processing system in place can aid in the process’s simplification. It enables you to combine order receiving and processing by receiving order information automatically and verifying the data. This expedites the entry of orders into the fulfillment queue and reduces the need for manual entry.
3. Fulfillment of Order
When orders are processed and confirmed, the order fulfillment process begins.
Picking orders is the first step in the fulfillment process, in which a picker is given a list of items to collect for fulfillment. They are given a packing slip that includes all of the information about the items, quantities, and storage locations.
After that, the picker locates and collects the items from their respective locations. Orders are picked and then transported to the packing area, where they are packed in appropriate boxes and ready for shipment. This stage also includes any kitting and assembly required prior to shipment.
4. Shipping of Order
The final stage of e-commerce shipping operations entails sending products from a warehouse or fulfillment center.
Shipping labels are generated at this point, and carriers are assigned to the order. Many 3PLs will compare shipping rates from various carriers and select the best option for each order.
The shipments are then picked up and transported for last-mile delivery by the carriers. When orders are shipped, you will be provided with tracking information, which you can share with your customers.
Practical Methods for Streamlining Your Shipping Operations
Because your shipping operations are so important to your overall supply chain, it’s critical to review and optimize them on a regular basis. Here are a few ideas for improving your e-commerce company’s shipping logistics and operations.
- Make Use of Automation
Ecommerce automation can increase the efficiency of your shipping operations while decreasing labor requirements and increasing accuracy.
Integrating an automated order processing system, for example, with your ecommerce store enables you to quickly receive and verify orders placed online.
This drastically reduces manual labor while also lowering the risk of human error. It also ensures that orders are processed as quickly as possible because they are automatically routed to the fulfillment queue as soon as they are received.
You can also automate shipping, easily create shipping labels, and find the best carrier for each order. This creates a more efficient fulfillment process and enables faster delivery.
- Consider Warehouse Management System
Warehouse management systems (WMS) increase visibility and efficiency in warehouse operations and, as a result, in shipping.
A warehouse management system (WMS) tracks the inventory that enters and leaves your warehouse, as well as standardizes the storage and fulfillment processes to improve workflow efficiency.
A warehouse management system also boosts productivity by reducing the need for rework. It assists you in maintaining accuracy in picking and order counts through barcode scanning and automatic updates. As a result, your team will no longer have to waste time constantly counting inventory or repackaging products.
- Collaborate with a Reputable Shipping Company
Customers hold merchants accountable for last-mile delivery — its speed, cost, and overall experience — whether this is fair or not. As a result, it is critical that you collaborate with a shipping carrier capable of meeting key criteria.
Your shipping company should be well-known so that you can rely on them to deliver orders on time and in perfect condition.
They should also have the most up-to-date supply chain technology in place to integrate with your tech stack and provide you with greater visibility into the order’s journey, even after it has left your hands.
Some carriers can even pick up orders from a distributed network of fulfillment centers and offer a variety of shipping options, such as overnight, same-day, or even guaranteed delivery. Discover which shipping options are most important to your company and compare rates from various carriers to get the best deal.
- Dispense Your Inventory in a Strategic Manner
Orders can be inefficiently dispatched from a single location because some orders must travel much farther than others. Distributing your inventory across multiple warehouses or fulfillment centers can help you speed up and lower the cost of your shipping operations.
Keeping inventory close to where your customers are allows orders to be fulfilled and shipped more quickly. This significantly reduces the distance that the order must travel, lowering shipping costs and improving delivery times.
To determine the best places to store inventory, examine previous sales data and identify the most popular order destinations.