Order fulfilment entails the entire lifecycle of an order— starting from order placement and ending when orders are delivered at the customer's doorstep. Successfully fulfilling orders is crucial for any ecommerce business because how you fulfil your orders directly impacts how customers will perceive your brand.
Whether you fulfil orders in-house, or you have outsourced your order fulfilment to a logistics provider, you will need to ensure that you have a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for each phase of order fulfilment.
In this blog, you'll learn what is a standard operating procedure, why do you need a standard operating procedure for order fulfilment, and how to create a standard operating procedure for ecommerce order fulfilment with a step-by-step guide.
A standard operating procedure (SOP) is a set of documented step-by-step instructions compiled by an organisation to streamline routine operations. Ultimately, SOPs are used to create process flowcharts to perform different tasks; this helps improve efficiency, quality and ensures uniformity in operational performance. SOPs also help reduce leakages due to miscommunication and non-compliance.
The SOP for fulfiling orders will describe the tasks, procedures, and detailed instructions for each stage of order fulfilment. This will ensure that your customers will have a delightful post-purchase experience.
Here's the step-by-step guide to understanding how to create an SOP for each stage of order fulfilment:
Receiving inventory is the stage where your merchandise is aggregated and stored in your storage facility or your logistics provider's fulfilment centre. In any case, you need to be very accurate while receiving inventory. If there are any manual shipping errors during sending the inventory or clumsy counting of the received goods, you will end up having to deal with unexpected circumstances such as shortage of stock.
Here's an example of an SOP for receiving inventory:
Quality check is the stage of determining whether the products are in a sellable condition. Once you have received inventory, you need to conduct quality checks for each received product. Not doing so can result in quality reject products reaching your customers. This will force customers to return your products and ultimately hurt your brand identity. You need to establish a procedure to conduct a quality check for each product received.
Here's an example of an SOP for quality check:
Picking is the stage when order items are picked up from their shelves in the storage facility or fulfilment centre. The person who picks order items from the storage facility or fulfilment centre is known as a picker. When orders are placed, pickers starting picking up various order items from the shelves and bring them to the packing station. Any inaccuracy during picking can result in the wrong product being shipped to the customer.
Here's an example of an SOP for picking order items:
Packing is the stage when order items that are picked out of the shelves are packed and marked as 'ready-to-dispatch'. The person who packs the order items is known as the packer. The packers must determine what packaging needs to be used for different order items. For example, a fragile product needs to be bubble-wrapped. In addition to this, packers are responsible for adding marketing inserts such as coupons or freebies to your package. Any inefficiency during packing can result in products being packaged incorrectly or missing out including coupons, samples, and more.
Here's an example of an SOP for packing orders:
Shipping is the stage when orders marked as ready-to-dispatch are picked up from the storage facility or fulfilment centre and delivered to the customer's doorstep. The courier partner or the shipping provider is responsible for the delivery of items to your customers in good condition.
Here's an example of an SOP for shipping orders:
Returns are the stage when orders are collected from the customer and brought back to the storage facility or fulfilment centre. Returns are a huge financial burden for any ecommerce business and it is crucial to have a well-defined SOP for managing returned items.
Here's an example of an SOP for handling returns:
The need for an SOP doesn't change whether you're just starting out or you're an established ecommerce business. A well-defined SOP will help you increase the operational efficiency of each stage of order fulfilment.