Clicking Buy: the magic of order fulfillment The delicate science behind a modern convenience taken for granted.

One of the many luxuries of our modern technology is that you can click the Buy button on something you like on the internet and not think any more about it until the product — usually manufactured on the other side of the planet and transported on huge cargo ships to mythical robot halls on very tight margins — plonks down on your doorstep a day or two later.

Malls are dying and many look like post-apocalyptic scenes. There’s a whole genre of YouTube channels documenting dead and dying malls, like Dan Bell’s DEAD MALLS series.

But have you ever pondered the sheer logistics necessary to make it happen?

The magic behind it all is called order fulfillment; the sum total of the thousands of processes that happen between the placement of an order and putting the product in the customer’s hands (and it actually doesn’t even end there; more on that later).

This process not only has to get you your product in a timely manner: it also has to field armies of computers, systems engineers and consultants to stem profit impairing disasters like accidents, theft, or damage — all the while navigating encyclopedias’ worth of laws and tax code.

Whether the order is business to business (B2B) or direct to the customer (D2C), it’s likely that order fulfillment is part of the process of making everything work out exactly the way both the buyer and seller wanted it to.

Order fulfillment has been rapidly evolving in tune with globalism, changing markets, and the simple fact that most people are starting to forego the mall and doing all their shopping online.

The fulfillment company

The fulfillment company is a third-party company that provides order fulfillment services to businesses that need them — on-line sellers of any kind, both big and small.

Logistically — logistics being the science powering all of this to begin with — having a Midwest fulfillment company is a good idea. A fulfillment company that is more centrally located inside the United States is able to ship to all corners of the nation with the greatest speed and efficiency. This significantly cuts down on the average shipping time and chances of something bad happening, which in the end saves the businesses the fulfillment company serve a lot of time and profits lost to angry customers or customer service resources.

Order fulfillment begins with receiving the product from the seller and making sure that the person using the service has sent them. The fulfillment company then checks the item to make sure it’s not damaged and that it’s properly packaged to eventually complete its journey to the customer in the same pristine shape.

At this point, SKU codes (Stock Keeping Units) will be added to the packaging so that the product can be quickly scanned, processed, shipped, and tracked.

The numbers on your package do mean something, but it’s possible only one company can decipher them. Stock Keeping Units (SKUs) are not standardized and are often distinct to each company. This is in contrast to standardized systems like Universal Product Codes (UPCs) and Global Trade Item Numbers (GTINs).
Increasingly complicated, increasingly run by robots.

The products will then be stored in a huge warehouse, with the better selling items generally located in an easier to reach section. Putting items in just the right spot for the statistically best possible outcome is just one of many logistical tricks employed by the fulfillment company to stay efficient — it allows the average process time for the orders to be ever so slightly lower.

Being able to handle safe and expedient shipping of the product, with proper addresses, tracking numbers, and proper postage paid, is the heart of the fulfillment company’s job. Lost or misplaced packages can hurt a business and make customers distrustful of getting what they ordered. Having confidence that you’re getting exactly what you ordered when you expect it to arrive is the what customers demand.

But it doesn’t end there. A Midwest fulfillment company will also be handling the dreaded returns.

Sometimes customers aren’t happy with their purchase, and being able to get the product back into the system and ready to sell again with as little upset as possible is extremely important to the whole (competitive) process — which must avoid lost inventory and wasted products at any cost.

And all of this happens whether your thingamajig costs $5 or $1,000.

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