In the world of ecommerce fulfillment there are only so many things you can control. You can carefully manage your inventory, you can utilize digital warehousing and advanced order management software to improve the fulfillment process, and you can sweeten the unboxing experience with branded packaging and personalized inserts. But once that package leaves your fulfillment warehouse or 3PL fulfillment center, whatever happens next is out of your hands, right?
Well, sort of. Maybe you can’t control the transit time, handling, or last-mile delivery, but you can control the way your customer experiences them. There’s more to ecommerce order tracking than assigning a tracking number and crossing your fingers. Ecommerce order tracking starts the moment the order is placed and ends in successful delivery. With today’s technology, every ecommerce merchant should be able to see the status of every order in the pipeline, and have complete control over what your customer sees at any given point in the fulfillment process.
Tracking Order Status
As soon as a customer submits an order, it’s entered into your order management system, whether it’s your own low-tech platform or a robust, fully integrated warehouse/order/inventory system managed by your 3PL. Using digital checkpoints throughout the warehouse, advanced warehouse systems like ShipMonk’s let you see the status of every order in real-time. You’re instantly notified of any issue that requires your attention, such as low inventory or an invalid mailing address entered by a customer. Mistakes that are caught and corrected before the order goes out the door prevent the most common causes of late deliveries.
Meanwhile, your customer automatically receives an email confirming that the order was received. They should also receive a second email when the order has shipped. They don’t need to know about every tiny step in between, but you do. Not only should you be responding to any issues, you should also be tracking warehouse metrics and KPIs, including inventory levels, order accuracy rates, on-time shipping rates, and order cycle times. Without this information, you’re flying blind. Having the systems in place to track metrics like these helps you identify problems, make improvements, and track progress toward goals.
Control the Entire Experience
There are many things an ecommerce business can do to control the order fulfillment experience, even after the order leaves the fulfillment center. Ironically, the first and most important thing you can do is give up some control to your customer.
- Let your customer choose their shipping method. Whether it’s 2-day, economy ground, or something in between, this choice lets them control how much they want to spend and how quickly their order arrives. By making this decision they will clearly communicate their expectations and reveal which of these two factors is most important to them: time or money. Now that you know what they’re expecting, all you have to do is hit the target.
- Get the order picked and packed on time. You can’t blame the shipping carrier for a delay if the package isn’t ready to be shipped on time. If your warehouse is falling behind frequently, then maybe it’s time to put your growing business in the hands of third-party fulfillment experts who specialize in efficiency.
- Choose the best shipping carrier for the job. Your fulfillment warehouse, whether it is self-managed or a 3PL fulfillment center, isn’t doing its job if it doesn’t have relationships with multiple shipping companies, from global carriers to local couriers. Speed, cost, and reliability are all factors that will influence which carrier to use based on your customer’s choice of shipping method. In the more advanced system, this choice is automated. The most economical packaging is automatically selected for every order based on size and weight. Shipping labels are automatically created and the shipping carrier is automatically notified.
- Offer ecommerce order tracking. A digital tracking system is a no-brainer. It gives both you and your customer a bird’s-eye view of the shipping process, so you can see the package’s progress in transit and get notifications when there’s a delay. Every major shipping carrier offers a tracking system with a link to a tracking portal on the carrier’s website. But there are friendlier solutions. ShipMonk, for example, offers its ecommerce clients the option to use a branded tracking portal for a seamless customer experience. Through the MonkProtect™ post-purchase suite, each order is also protected against damage, loss, and theft.
- Immediately respond to issues. There should be people on your customer service team assigned to respond to any issues that occur once an order is in transit. Of course, they’re not going to watch every order, but they should be notified of any irregularities, such as extra time spent at a carrier hub. When there is a serious delay, as in one that affects the expected delivery date, the shipping carrier issues a delivery exception. The delay might not be your fault, but it becomes your problem the second your customer hears about it. Letting the customer know that you’re aware of the problem and are working on solving it can go a long way toward alleviating their frustration.
- Offer customers a method for reporting damage or inaccurate orders. You may not want to hear about a damaged or lost package, but it’s far better to learn about it while you can do something about it than it is to hear about it on Facebook or Yelp. Put a system in place that allows customers to file claims and initiate returns, and that allows you to automate reshipments. Then reach out to these customers and let them know everything you are doing to resolve their issue.
All the major shipping carriers including FedEx, UPS, DHL, and USPS have apps or software platforms that issue a tracking number associated with the barcode on each shipping label. Information about the package’s sender, customer, destination, and shipping method is encoded within the barcode. Your fulfillment center or 3PL’s order management system should be integrated with the shipping carrier’s software to automate the creation of shipping labels and tracking numbers.
When a delivery exception occurs, your customer will receive a notification of a change in tracking status, but may not be given a reason for the delay. Since they do not have a direct relationship with the shipping company the way you do, it’s up to you to get to the root of the issue, whether it’s a weather delay, a damaged label, or a broken-down truck. Once you have a reason, you can decide whether to let the shipping company resolve the problem or to reship the order.
Benefits of Order Tracking
Implementing an order tracking system puts your ecommerce business in control of the entire fulfillment process. In addition, customers have grown accustomed to tracking their orders, so a branded order tracking page for your ecommerce business can enhance the overall customer service experience. According to Project 44, a leading provider of last-mile delivery solutions, the average customer checks their tracking page 7 times before their order is delivered. If you’re wondering whether order tracking is worth the trouble, just imagine them calling your customer service hotline 7 times instead! These are just a few of the benefits of order tracking:
- Fewer customer service interactions
- Decreased customer service costs
- Faster problem resolution
- Greater visibility and control
- Happier customers
Everybody, including your customer, wants to feel like they have some control over the fulfillment process. Your customer just sent money off into cyberspace and has a right to know when their order will arrive. You, as the ecommerce seller, need to be able to manage the process and protect your reputation. An order tracking system does all this with very little extra work on your part.
If your current warehouse or 3PL does not offer order tracking, there are a number of shipping solutions that can meet your needs, although minimally. If you don’t have real-time access to order status throughout the entire process, that’s a bigger problem, and it may be time to find a 3PL provider that gives you visibility and control over order processing as well as shipping.
A 3PL like ShipMonk may be your answer. Our commitment to continuous improvement in technology, warehouse automation, strategic partnerships, and integrations with leading platforms and marketplaces in the industry ensures that our services track with your growing company’s needs. Contact ShipMonk today and see how easy it is to take control of your fulfillment operations, from better order management to happier customers.