7 Common Mistakes in Ecommerce Order Fulfillment & How To Avoid Them

Shipping isn’t just a business process in eCommerce. Doing it well means pleasing customers, retaining them, and maxing out your long-term profitability. Failing to provide a good customer experience, on the other hand, is a surefire way to shorten the lifespan of any eCommerce business.

There is plenty of evidence to back up these assertions too. Almost 70% of shoppers are less likely to shop with a retailer if purchases are not delivered within 2 days of the date promised. Nearly two-thirds have canceled purchases because of excessive shipping fees. Another 74% of shoppers have said free shipping is one of the most important factors at checkout.

The message is loud and clear: provide a great shipping experience or else.

But how do you do that?

One useful frame for answering that question is to consider common mistakes that other eCommerce sellers make. Once you know what they are, you can take steps to avoid making them yourself.

In this post, we’ll talk about seven common mistakes that eCommerce sellers make in order fulfillment. Problems can take hold anywhere from inventory management to customer communication, so there are plenty of ways to improve. This post will give you actionable strategies that you can apply to step up your eCommerce order fulfillment experience.

1. Poor Inventory Management

Effective inventory management is crucial for eCommerce success. Missteps can lead to overstocking or stockouts, tying up capital, or damaging brand reputation. Proper management ensures you meet customer demands without excessive storage costs.

  • Use an inventory management system with real-time tracking to monitor stock levels.
  • Establish good demand planning processes. Analyze past sales data for trends and stay tuned to market shifts and consumer behaviors. (Read more here.)
  • Keep an open line of communication with suppliers to understand lead times and potential supply chain disruptions before they become an issue.
  • Conduct regular inventory audits to identify discrepancies and issues like theft or damage.
  • Diversify your inventory to reduce risks associated with demand fluctuations for certain products. In other words, make sure your business isn’t dependent upon the sales of a single hot commodity.

Managing your inventory comes down to balancing stock levels with market demands. The process takes some trial and error, but once you get it right, it can really help you grow your business, manage your expenses, and keep stock levels where they need to be. 

2. Inefficient Picking and Packing

Picking and packing is the process of retrieving items from storage and prepping them for shipping. It’s not a hard thing to do well if you have processes to support you (or a fulfillment partner to do the work on your behalf), but you do have to be organized and careful because it’s easy to make mistakes. 

Delays or errors in these processes can lead to customer dissatisfaction and increased returns. That means that streamlining these operations is essential for quick, accurate order fulfillment.

  • Optimize your warehouse layout: Arrange products strategically for easy access and group similar items together.
  • Implement barcode scanning technology to speed up the process and ensure accuracy in picking and packing.
  • Adopt batch picking methods for fulfilling multiple orders simultaneously, particularly for similar orders.
  • Regularly train and update your warehouse staff on best practices and new technologies.
  • Alternatively, choose an order fulfillment partner to take care of these processes for you if you don’t want to do them in-house.

Again picking and packing isn’t hard, but it does require an eye for detail. If you’re already tired or spread thin, it’s easy to mess up, so it’s important to have systems and processes to make it as easy as possible. By implementing these strategies, you can significantly reduce errors and delays, enhancing overall operational efficiency.

3. Underestimating Shipping Times, Delays, and Costs

Shipping challenges like delays and high costs can significantly impact customer satisfaction and profitability. This is especially true once your orders leave your warehouse and are taken care of by carriers such as the US Postal Service, UPS, FedEx, or DHL. 

Though you cede direct control over your orders when carriers take custody of them, your customers will still hold you responsible. Any delays or carrier issues will require your management. Being proactive is best here, so consider how these efficient shipping strategies can help you maintain your competitive edge.

  • Diversify your shipping carriers to avoid dependency on a single carrier’s delays and rate hikes.
  • Negotiate better rates with carriers using your regular shipping volume as leverage.
  • Use regional carriers for shorter routes to reduce costs.
  • Incorporate real-time tracking systems to keep both you and your customers informed about shipments.
  • Explore using fulfillment centers closer to major customer bases to reduce shipping distances, costs, and delivery times.

Again, the key here is picking the right partners and making sure they work with you on favorable terms. If you try not to depend too much on any individual carrier, that will go a long way toward mitigating shipping issues.

4. Forgetting About Returns

“Over 60% of individuals will examine the return policy before purchasing” according to Ecommerce Fastlane. This means providing a good returns experience will help tremendously with assuring customer loyalty. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to think about returns only as an afterthought. Here are some tips on how to avoid making that mistake:

  • Ensure your returns policy is clear, concise, and easily accessible to set proper customer expectations.
  • Include specific details in your policy about the time frame for returns, accepted item conditions, and the refund process.
  • Consider offering free returns, balancing customer loyalty benefits with financial implications.
  • Implement a straightforward online system for initiating returns to simplify the process.
  • Process returns and refunds promptly to avoid customer frustration.
  • Analyze returned items for recurring issues to improve product quality and description accuracy.
  • Try to minimize returns by providing clear product descriptions, detailed images from multiple angles, and – where applicable – accurate sizing charts.

Focus on establishing a clear and efficient returns process. This will allow your business to maintain a great customer experience even when the product doesn’t work out, which can help you build that much-desired loyal customer base.

5. Underestimating the Importance of Customer Communication

Poor communication, like delayed responses or inadequate order updates, will make customers angry and sully your brand. Conversely, proactive and transparent communication will keep customers informed and satisfied. Below is a list of tips on how to do that.

  • Send order confirmations immediately and provide regular shipping updates, including information about any delays or issues.
  • Use automated systems for sending order confirmations, shipping updates, and delivery notifications.
  • Ensure easy access to human customer service representatives for personal queries or concerns. Chatbots and voice response phone systems can help reduce inquiry volume on your reps, but it still needs to be easy to talk to a person.
  • Encourage customer feedback post-delivery to show that their opinions are valued and to gather insights for service improvement.
  • Respond promptly and effectively to customer queries or complaints to demonstrate your commitment to customer service.

Every time someone receives an email, talks to your service reps, or checks your online system, you have a chance to build trust and loyalty. Use every chance you get.

6. Not Using Common-Sense Technology and Automation

In eCommerce, technology and automation are essential for staying competitive and minimizing errors in fulfillment processes. Manual handling in areas like inventory management and shipping is error-prone. While nothing can replace the human touch, automation can significantly reduce mistakes and streamline operations, making it a necessity for efficient and accurate order processing.

  • Implement an automated inventory management system for real-time stock level tracking and to prevent overselling. There’s no reason to track inventory in spreadsheets.
  • Use automated picking and packing solutions, like barcode scanners and RFID systems, to speed up fulfillment and minimize errors.
  • Integrate your eCommerce platform with fulfillment systems to ensure a seamless flow of information and reduce processing time and input errors.

Smartly deployed technology will reduce the likelihood of errors and improve overall operational performance. That will help you keep your costs down and service quality high.

7. Ignoring Data and Analytics

Day-to-day eCommerce operations create a lot of data. Knowing which metrics to keep an eye on will help you check your processes and make sure they are as efficient as you would like them to be. 

  • Monitor key performance indicators (KPIs) like order accuracy, shipping times, and return rates to identify areas for improvement.
  • Use analytics for demand forecasting to manage inventory more accurately.
  • Regularly analyze fulfillment data to make informed decisions about scaling inventory and operations.
  • Incorporate analytics into decision-making for a proactive and adaptive approach to fulfillment challenges.

You want your store to be a little better every day. Data gives you the mirror you need to see your blind spots and make changes. That way, your business can adapt to customer expectations and market changes, ensuring efficiency and customer satisfaction.

Final Thoughts

Order fulfillment is a huge part of eCommerce, not to mention unavoidable. Do it poorly, and your store won’t last long. Do it well, however, and you can retain customers, increase your profitability, and build a brand that lasts.

The seven common mistakes we’ve discussed—ranging from inadequate inventory management to neglecting the power of data and analytics—show areas where a little attention and strategy can have a dramatic impact.

Ultimately, if you care about your customers and remain proactive and adaptable, you can easily avoid these mistakes. In doing so, you can build an efficient, thriving eCommerce store for years to come.

You’ve done everything by the book. Your Kickstarter campaign is almost ready to launch.

You made a great product. Built an audience. Set up a campaign page.

But how do you ship it?

We put this checklist together to help you get started. It's free.