Fulfillment Disasters – What Can Go Wrong?

We were going out of town for Christmas, so decided to open presents at my daughter’s ousououse early.  My grandson is starting to want to do sports, so I thought an item that could be used indoors as well as outdoors would make a nice present.  I purchased a toy online that incorporated a basketball hoop, net for soccer and hockey.  It sounded like a good idea.  We got it wrapped and took it over to their house.  I couldn’t wait to see him playing and having fun.  He eagerly opened up the box and his eyes sparkled.

We Were Missing Parts!

Now, you can probably guess it was not assembled.  So the process began of lining up the parts accordingly to the instructions.  Lo and behold, 4 pieces were missing.  They weren’t insignificant pieces either.  If this had been Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, this could have spelled disaster.  At this point I was disappointed and my Grandson, well, I don’t need to tell you how upset he was.  Luckily, the parts were a standard PVC pipe and we ran to the hardware store to have 2 different sizes cut to fit.   They were white even  though the parts we were replacing were black.  But, we avoided a train wreck.

Some of the Most Common Errors

If a fulfillment firm sends out the wrong product, if a partial product is shipped, if the product is defective, or the product is shipped late, these errors can have an impact on your bottom line. The fulfillment company’s lack of a system to prevent errors like this may have cost the company future sales for their products.

Buyers are looking for great items with great service.  They don’t care how the order is filled, but they do expect it to be exactly as presented, in good shape, and on time.  Since there is generally no face-to-face contact, it is important that you meet or exceed their expectation.  We know every order cannot be perfect, and that mistakes are going to happen, but keeping them to a minimum is the key.

Why Do Fulfillment Errors Happen?

What causes errors to happen?  When items are received at the fulfillment firm and not properly identified, mislabeled, placed in wrong locations or bins, data not entered correctly, picking and packing the wrong items, or not getting the quantity correct will lead to errors that cost you money.

So how can you choose a fulfillment company that will deliver great service?

Start by asking 7 leading questions.

  1. What is your receiving process?  Everything starts here.  Identifying and counting upon arrival is key. Use of bar code is preferred.  Labeling of each pallet or container with it’s own unique label is a good process.  That way a single pass is needed to identify.
  2. How do you validate orders?  Some still do this by hand.  If items are properly identified when they are received, then the receipts can be validated against the original purchase order.  Once again bar codes are recommended.  These can be checked with the automations system and purchasing software. Less human errors and the process will be faster.
  3. What is your picking process?  Many errors occur during the picking process.  If they are still using the paper method of picking, then the picking forms need to be clear.  They should list in the order it is required including location, quantity, stock #, unit of measure and description.  Writing should be in easy to read font sizes.  The route that should be taken is also important as this has an affect on the bottom line. Use of Radio Frequency is more desirable since they do not use paper.  A warehouse management system just directs the picker, according to the best route, to the bin or pallet for picking, by way of a hand held RF terminal equipped with a bar code scanner.   This process helps to eliminate the potential for errors.
  4. How are the picks validated?  Are they handling this by using checkers? Every time, a human handles it, there is the potential for mistakes. For near perfect results, use of automated systems and technology such as Radio Frequency, bar coding, and voice recognition is considered good practice.
  5. Do they use the counting method or measurement?  Electronic weight scales are accurate and efficient.  It validates the quantities.  Redundant counting by employees can lead to errors.
  6. How adaptable and flexible are they?  Customer’s needs are always changing.  Being able to adapt to these needs on a moment notice is imperative.  How they manage their business, and what systems they have in place is important.  Are they willing to change to keep up with the market?  What If I run a promotion?  How about delivery over Holidays?
  7. How do they handle Customer Service?  Everyone will say they are good at customer service.   But do they implement policies and procedures that back that up.  If a shipment is late or delivered to the wrong address, or if the item is damaged or missing a part, what is their procedure?  Will they pay for shipment in full; do you have to fill out a lot of paper work?  How easy is it for the customer to reach them if they have a problem?  Is it user friendly?  How will I be compensated for errors?  Do you reward your employees for being error free?

Expect from your fulfillment firm the same standards that you would hold for your own company, if you were handling this in-house.  Remember that customers are just a click away from choosing another competitor.  Delivering a good product, in great shape and within the agreed amount of time is essential to keeping customers coming back and wanting more.

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