Order Fulfillment Services for Omnichannel Retailers

Feb 18, 2023

Two cardboard parcels on a conveyor belt against a vibrant yellow background, indicative of a busy fulfillment center ready for shipping

MasonHub’s order management and fulfillment platform helps brands scale across every distribution channel.

Fast and accurate order fulfillment services are crucial to a retailer’s success, especially in the fast-paced world of ecommerce and omnichannel retail. The U.S. alone will ring up $645 billion in ecommerce sales this year. But today’s consumers have high standards and many choices, so a seamless buying experience is a must.

Why MasonHub?

MasonHub, founded by a team of ecommerce operations experts, understands the importance of making sure every order is right, every time. We’ve created an end-to-end solution with cutting-edge technology that tracks each piece of your inventory throughout its entire lifecycle. From the moment it arrives at our loading dock to the minute it lands at the customer’s door or back at our warehouse, you’ll know where it is. MasonHub allows you to entrust your omnichannel fulfillment to a reliable partner so you can concentrate on scaling your business. No investing in costly in-house operations or adding unnecessary complexity to your supply chain.

Real-Time Intelligence

Our easy-to-use, intuitive dashboard gives you complete visibility into your inventory across all channels. Plus, you get up-to-the-minute reporting that puts the power of information in your hands. Making smart decisions in a swiftly-moving retail landscape just got a little easier.

Operational Transparency

We directly handle all of the picking, packing and shipping to process your orders. You get unmatched transparency and insights for optimizing your business. View and track your inventory as our centralized order management system streamlines your operations so you can focus on building your brand.

This article will walk you through the basics of order fulfillment, and what to look for if you’re considering partnering with a fulfillment provider.

Fulfillment 101

How Fulfillment Companies Work

Fulfillment Center Technology

FAQs About Order Fulfillment Services

How MasonHub Makes Modern Fulfillment Easy

Fulfillment 101

What is order fulfillment?

Order fulfillment refers to the series of processes that occur between receiving a customer’s order information and delivering their package. The logistics of fulfillment begin when the order information gets transmitted to the warehouse or inventory storage facility. The product matching the order is then located or “picked” and packaged for shipping. The order must be accurately picked, packed, and shipped as efficiently as possible so the package arrives on time and exactly as the customer expects it.

What are order fulfillment services?

Order fulfillment services include all picking, packing, shipping, storage, and product return operations. Once a business begins to grow and scale, it may need a fulfillment service provider to handle these time- and labor-intensive processes. At MasonHub, we partner with you to design a custom fulfillment solution. You gain visibility and control over your inventory while we execute the order fulfillment process with speed and accuracy.

What is a fulfillment center?

A fulfillment center specializes in inventory storage, picking products, packaging them for shipment and handing them off to a shipping provider. It can serve ecommerce fulfillment as well as wholesale and retail fulfillment. A fulfillment center differs from a warehouse, which primarily stores goods, with minimal transactions, for several months to a year or more. It also differs from a distribution center, where bricks-and-mortar retail stores receive large pallets of product, break it down into smaller cartons, and distribute it to stores. People often use the three terms interchangeably, which can lead to confusion when referring to storage or “warehousing” of goods. The former may infer only a short time, whereas the latter could mean safekeeping long-term.

What does a fulfillment center do?

Once a customer clicks “Buy,” it triggers order creation, inventory allocation, and transmission of that information to a warehouse management system (WMS). Fulfillment centers then locate the inventory – known as “picking” the order – pack it, create a shipping label, and hand the package off to the carrier. This focus on the fulfillment process allows fulfillment providers to execute far more effectively than a company that’s performing several functions at once. Strategic advantages of partnering with a fulfillment company include access to a distributed fulfillment network and discounted shipping rates. Both translate into faster, more cost-effective shipping and a better bottom line.

How Fulfillment Companies Work

A smiling warehouse worker with a hard hat using a tablet to manage inventory, exemplifying efficient fulfillment operations

Here, we break down the six steps in the order fulfillment process.

  1. Choosing a Fulfillment Provider: You should evaluate potential order fulfillment services partners to ensure they can meet the needs of your business. For example, if the majority of your customers live in a particular part of the country, it makes sense to work with a fulfillment center close to your customers. If your product is fragile, oversized, or requires additional care during packing and shipment, you will want to find a partner that can accommodate your storing and packaging needs. If next- or two-day shipping services are important to your customers, you’ll want to know the fulfillment center’s shipping cutoff times, whether they offer shipping discounts, and what their service level agreements (SLAs) are with carriers.
  2. Adding Inventory: Once you’ve vetted a fulfillment company that’s right for your business needs, you can arrange to ship bulk inventory for storage and fulfillment. When receiving inventory, fulfillment centers typically rely on barcodes, including UPC, GCID, EAN, and ISBN codes to distinguish between various products. The fulfillment center will also tag the product’s location in the storage facility to easily find and package the product when your customer orders.
  3. Routing Orders: To make sure a fulfillment center can integrate effectively into your company’s operations, you must be able to direct ecommerce orders to your fulfillment center. This framework of technology is known as an order management system. Many order fulfillment services have the ability to integrate with major ecommerce platforms to immediately receive the order information from a customer’s purchase.
  4. Picking, Packing and Shipping: A fulfillment service specializes in the ability to pick, pack, and ship the correct items in a timely manner. When the order information arrives at the warehouse, workers locate and collect the products. Once gathered, they get packaged with the necessary materials, secured and affixed with a shipping label. The finished package is then ready for pickup by a shipping carrier.
  5. Managing Inventory: Although you will no longer have direct oversight of your physical inventory, most order fulfillment services provide a digital dashboard. This allows you to manage your inventory. The dashboard tracks daily, weekly, and monthly sales data and estimates when inventory needs to be replenished. The dashboard also serves as a tool for managing damaged products and customer returns. The best fulfillment providers offer up-to-the-minute inventory tracking, so you never miss an order.
  6. Handling Returns: Many order fulfillment services offer return management services but the degree to which they handle returns can vary. A fulfillment partner like MasonHub can handle returns from any of a company’s channels. Many sellers have direct-to-consumer, retail stores and wholesale. MasonHub can also inspect returned products, put the item back into inventory when possible (increasing your bottom line), and process the credit or refund. Our RMA system automatically notifies customers of their return and refund’s progress.

Fulfillment Center Technology

Modern fulfillment centers should have technology that automates processes and streamlines operations. A fulfillment provider’s platform should easily integrate with a company’s inventory catalog, existing ecommerce platform, and returns management system. Ideally, a fulfillment center should also have the ability to connect to a company’s order management system (OMS) to form one centralized hub for all operations. 

  • Ecommerce platform integration: Many fulfillment companies have software solutions that easily integrate with the platform you have chosen for your ecommerce business. This eliminates the need for you to monitor and report new orders as they come in, reducing friction and time spent managing the fulfillment process. Integrating your ecommerce store with your fulfillment partner also makes handling returns and customer service issues easier.
  • Inventory and order tracking: As your business grows, you must stay on top of your inventory levels because failing to do so can greatly affect your bottom line. The best fulfillment companies provide tools that let you track your stock level and help predict when your inventory will be exhausted. The inventory management dashboard also typically allows you to track products through the fulfillment and shipping process, as well as returns.
  • Barcodes and scanners: Fulfillment centers utilize automated barcode scanners when receiving a product to verify the correct item has been received and document where the product is stored. This reduces the likelihood of missing or otherwise inaccurate inventory.

    Barcode scanners also enable SKU location and management during the picking and packing process. This speeds up the time of order receipt and helping to ensure the highest order fill and fulfillment accuracy rates. For example, this reduces the likelihood that an order gets packed incorrectly or gets placed when an item actually isn’t in stock. Accurate inventory counts, and reporting all sellable inventory to the platform, also improves a customer’s sell-throughs.

    Finally, inbound returns also get scanned with barcodes to ensure a company can refund its customers faster. Modern fulfillment centers also employ these mobile devices to communicate status updates of the product throughout the fulfillment process.

FAQs About Order Fulfillment Services

What do order fulfillment services cost?

Most of the time companies get charged per transaction, such as receiving of goods, picking of goods and packing of orders. Additionally, a company accrues charges for shipping of goods if using discounted rates provided by the fulfillment company. Fulfillment centers also charge storage fees, account management and software licensing fees.

If I expand into different channels, can a fulfillment center handle in-store and wholesale orders?

You may start out as a small business with one online store, but as your brand grows, you’ll need a fulfillment center that can grow with you. Say you get a big order from a large bricks-and-mortar retailer. A fulfillment center like MasonHub has the experience and technology to help you support the compliance required to ship to a wholesale partner. The same goes for orders placed from your retail store. Make sure your fulfillment center’s systems can track inventory and enable orders from all sales channels, and ship to customers, retail stores, and wholesale partners.

Can order fulfillment services handle subscription box orders? 

Subscription box business models often require custom groupings of products, also known as pre-kit bundling or build-to-kit. MasonHub’s staff can help you finish your goods through kitting, and ensure that your custom materials and inserts get placed in your specified boxes.

What if my products have expiry dates? 

A fulfillment center like MasonHub can handle lot-tracking of each individual product to ensure that beauty products or perishables are always shipped well before their expiry dates. 

What value-added services (VAS) should order fulfillment services be able to provide?

How does an order fulfillment service handle pre-sell and back-orders?

Advanced inventory management systems let you create “virtual” quantities for inventory that is not in stock, so you can pre-sell a new product while you replenish inventory for hot-selling items. A centralized management system like MasonHub manages back-orders by giving you control of how many to accept. It automatically allocates inbound replenishment stock to back-orders. This way, the customer will receive their order as soon as possible.

Does an order fulfillment service provide tracking for the various shipping carriers? 

A fulfillment center should provide tracking for each shipping carrier so that clients know where their customer’s package is at all times. MasonHub currently provides carrier event statuses for FedEx, DHL, and USPS in both its user dashboard and API, with international shipping coming soon.

How often should an order fulfillment service provide progress reports and performance reviews?

The best way for a company to track its fulfillment center’s performance involves regular face-to-face or virtual meetings. MasonHub schedules monthly status meetings with every client and provides quarterly performance reviews to make sure your expectations are met and exceeded. 

What are the most important metrics to measure an order fulfillment service’s success? 

Small businesses and quickly-growing companies may not necessarily know which metrics are the most critical: inventory accuracy, fill rate, and shipping times. A business should seek a partner that will always be extra-vigilant about these KPIs. At MasonHub, we pride ourselves on our performance in these metrics and we always make sure our clients know how we stack up against the industry standards. 

MasonHub Makes Modern Fulfillment Services Easy

Fulfillment companies work hard behind-the-scenes to power the ecommerce lifecycle. They’re laser-focused on making sure your orders are delivered to the customer in perfect condition, as quickly as possible and with the lowest shipping costs. It may sound simple, but managing all these logistics efficiently is a complex undertaking.

MasonHub makes it easy by combining the best supply chain technology with reliable fulfillment services. Enjoy complete visibility into orders while we take care of inventory management, shipping, and returns at scale. MasonHub’s centralized order management system provides up-to-the-minute, real-time tracking of your inventory and orders throughout their entire life cycle. Customers get easy connectivity to Shopify (via our one-click private app), Netsuite and Returnly through API or web application. MasonHub’s system also generates automated reports and customized analytics to help you understand and optimize your business.

In Conclusion

We understand that order management is more than just dropping an order and fulfilling it. Our platform gives customers a one-stop shop with the most visibility and data, always consistently, across all our warehouses.