Now that I’m back in the world of order fulfillment, it’s time to write a few articles specific to this industry. In this article, we’ll look at order fulfillment errors and how to achieve 100% accuracy.
First, we need to define ERROR. For most clients, an order error is defined as: sending the wrong item, omitting an item, or sending too much of an item. Note that damages and turn-around are not included in this metric. Why? Because these can happen outside of the fulfillment company’s control, such as the freight carrier damaging or delaying the package. For the purpose of this post, we’ll just start with the basics.
Here are the most common opportunities for error, with tips for each:
Order Fulfillment Import
Orders typically come from many channels, including corporate web sites and landing pages, 3rd party business partners (contact centers, tradeshows, etc), 3rd-party ecommerce platforms (Magento, Shopify, Volusion, Squarespace, Spree Commerce, Handshake B2B, and dozens of others) — the list is endless, as are the data formats (XML, EDI, APIs, flat files of all types).
Ideally, all orders flow into the fulfillment company’s order processing/warehouse management system and continue through the order fulfillment process. Errors happen when automation goes wrong, or when manual processes are still required.
Custom processes are often a source of error. Make sure customizations are properly tested to avoid introducing new errors during order import. Roll out custom processes to small batches at first to minimize the impact, should something go wrong.
Ideally, eliminate all manual processes from the order import step entirely.
Order Batching (waves)
Waving is the process of grouping orders by some criteria, with the goal to decrease picking and/or equipment time. Waving allows us to consolidate orders and reduce travel time around the warehouse. In addition, many warehouse management systems will incorporate cycle counts at the same time, reducing the need for a separate process to count products.
Most waving errors happen when employees use the wrong criteria, or the system lacks the checks-and-balances to confirm that the proper inventory was retrieved.
Picking is the process of grabbing the appropriate item and quantity. Sounds easy, but this step actually introduces the most opportunity for errors – especially if the product isn’t barcoded. The single best thing you can do to improve picking errors: Require vendors to barcode their products. Barcoded products are much easier to check against orders as you pick. If you scan the wrong item or the wrong quantity, the system immediately tells you.
A related source of error is hand-matching. For example, hand-matching a picking/packing slip against a print-on-demand item will increase the chance of error. As a general rule, remember that manual processes increase errors.
Packing & Shipping
You can also cut down on orders by scanning products as they are packed (assuming the products are barcoded).
Similarly, use scanning technology for the shipping process. Simply scan the order to get all of the customer and order information, rather than manually entering the customer’s name and address for shipping.
The Importance of Measurement
A difficult part of error control is measurement. It can be very challenging to find the number of errors caused by a manual process, or link customer quality feedback information to specific orders/dates/pickers. A typical source of customer feedback is the returns process, where customers can indicate if they received the wrong product or the wrong quantity.
Companies that complete this feedback loop (mapping errors from customers back to specific orders) gain insight into valuable processes within the business. Operating without this key insight makes it difficult to accurately measure basic competitive information, such as error rate and profit margin.