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    Order fulfillment is the in the broadest sense the entire process from inquiry to delivery of a purchased item to the ultimate consumer. This includes sales and service, with stock picking and packing and shipping. It also covers returns, exchanges, credit and debit card charges and e-commerce and other online transactions. In a broader sense it covers any and all transactions that are made between a business or an individual and a seller or his or her customers. This broad scope encompasses all those areas which face the face of interaction between the buyer and the seller, including but not limited to web site design and sales and service.

    The problem arises when you find yourself in the position where you have too much inventory, too many products and too much time to handle it all. So then you ask yourself, “How can I cut my time in half?” In order to do so you must outsource fulfillment .

    First, the receiving step involves the actual receiving of orders. This step includes receiving your customers, which is done by call or e-mail and sending out the information they requested. Some companies also offer a service of receiving on demand through electronic transfer. This can save you a lot of time because it only takes a few minutes for the order to be processed through your system.

    Second, once you have received the order you need to process it. Depending on your inventory and the type of goods you are selling, there are several different picking methodologies you can use to accomplish this. The three most common are on-site, three-way and remote picking.

    Once you have processed the orders and you have your inventory ready to go you are ready for the next step in the fulfillment cycle-picking. Your picking process will take place at the receiving station or at your warehouse, depending on the type of order you received. Most fulfillment companies utilize a pick and pack system so that you have fresh merchandise on hand when you open for business each day. This allows you to quickly and efficiently service customer requests for items they wish to have.

    The third step in the process is to transport the product from the receiving station to your customers. If your orders are being filled at an on-site fulfillment center, you will likely drive your truck to the receiving location yourself. With a 3PL system, however, you simply load the pallet onto your truck, load it with the merchandise you wish to sell, and drive it away. No matter how many different products you receive each day this is the simplest way to do business. If you work with a 3PL provider however, the trucks you use will carry parts, which are then assembled by the third party fulfillment center. This makes transporting pallets between locations extremely simple.

    The final step in the fulfillment cycle is to process the orders. If you’re not using an on-site fulfillment company, this process is made even simpler by having the shipping costs associated with your orders rolled into the quote you receive from the fulfillment company. Because your shipping costs are already factored into the quote, you can simply accept the offer the fulfillment center gives and contact your customers immediately with the shipping options you have chosen. From there, you can handle all of your orders from your computer, regardless of whether you have full warehouse space or not.

    When it comes down to it, all of the work in operating your on-line store is centered on your receiving. Whether you are receiving orders through an online fulfillment provider or through your own on-site receiving office, it is the job of the order handler to turn those orders into live customers. Fulfillment centers will supply the trucks and parts needed to perform this task, but will provide you with the manpower and the expertise to actually turn those orders around and into live goods that your customers can pay for and that they can live with for a long time to come. The more fulfillment centers you use, the more work you can focus on the part of the operation that actually delivers your merchandise. While you may be tempted to assign this responsibility to a division that handles receiving and shipping, it is much more efficient and effective to assign this responsibility to a team of people that understand the entire order process and have the manpower and the expertise necessary to fulfill each order.