'Oversell' and 'Stock-outs', read this article to learn the latest order fulfilment secrets used by leading independent retailers to avoid these all-too-familiar terms.
Learn to successfully fulfil web orders time after time
If the stock you sell on your website is the same physical stock that you sell in your store then you’ll be very aware of terms like ‘Overselling’, ‘Double Selling’ and ’Stock-outs’. You’ve also probably experienced these terms first hand, and suffered the many knock-on effects surrounding them. Most EPOS providers offer some sort of system to tackle the brand-depleting logistical oversell issue, but do these systems really cut the mustard? In my experience mostly no, and it’s destroying customer service levels. In this article I’ll be highlighting some common causes of Oversell when running a Multichannel / Omnichannel retail operation, and how you can successfully fulfil web orders time after time.
A Poor Fulfilment Strategy Leads To Oversell Hell
A new client revealed a failure to fulfil on 20% of daily orders using their previous system. Being unable to fulfil orders was such a regular issue, it became accepted as the norm and the client employed someone whose sole purpose was to contact the 20% and apologise whilst trying to retain them as a customer - a huge expense to the client and a work around rather than a fix. When almost all of your competition is trading online, customer service is key, and the last thing you want to be doing is disappointing 20% of your daily online business. My client was truly in ‘Oversell Hell’.
The Top Causes Of Order Fulfilment Failure
Thankfully my client's customer service level is now on the up. But what was so wrong that 20% of daily orders were left unfulfilled? When migrating the client to Touchretail, we reused their existing hardware and communication infrastructure, which is all working fine, so in this case it really points at the previously installed software itself being the issue. Software is clearly something that can cause ‘Oversell Hell’, here are the top causes of order fulfilment failure:
- Poor connectivity, delays and blockages
- Software unable to gracefully recover from connectivity issues
- Overcomplicated fulfilment procedures
- Poor stock management
- Poor integration
- Problematic software
Looking at each of these points in more detail:
1 - Poor Connectivity, Delays And Blockages
This is when you have an unreliable broadband connection at any point throughout the synchronisation chain, or something that interferes with it and blocks the data from being transmitted. It only takes one EPOS to stop sending out sales data, and suddenly your website is allowing online shoppers to buy the same items that have just been sold on the device hidden behind the blockage. In my experience the main causes of this tend to be:
- Routers that randomly decide to block traffic
- Overprotective ISP’s who decide to block destination IP addresses
- Cheap Broadband
All of which can be avoided by using a quality ISP, who listens and acts when you report problematic behavior. Most EPOS Systems are built to run offline these days but that doesn’t mean you want them to. Invest in business broadband through a recommended ISP who have a good support service. Trigger happy Antivirus and software firewalls have been known to block traffic - although not a common occurrence, it’s just worth a mention.
A helpful diagnostic tip: Being able to see Google’s webpage doesn’t confirm that you are fully able to communicate over the internet. Web pages can be cached in memory so they sometimes load with no connection. Web pages are extremely lightweight and only the smallest amount of data is transmitted to load a page, software communicates differently and can use different methods of communication. Sometimes your router can block FTP communication but allow HTTP communication. You don’t need to understand all of the terminology here, just that seeing Google doesn’t always mean things are working correctly.
2 - Software Unable To Gracefully Recover From Connectivity Issues
When your internet resumes after a period of downtime, your EPOS software needs to catch up. If your software doesn’t handle outages well, the slightest blip can cause inaccuracies in your stock whilst struggling to re-synchronise. With a system that recovers quickly you won’t notice blips.
3 - Overcomplicated Fulfilment Procedures
Once a purchase has been made online you are against the clock to take it off the shelf. The following needs to happen fast:
- A location is allocated for fulfilment
- The location is alerted
- The items are picked, validated and no longer available to sell
If this becomes a drawn out process then the window of potential oversell is much greater. To maximise your fulfilment success you are looking to take the item off the shelf within minutes of the purchase. Remember, keep it simple!
4 - Poor Stock Management
If your stock levels are out in the first place, problems are inevitable. Keep your stock control tight using a reliable stock system. If possible take regular or rolling stock takes.
5 - Poor Integration
I’ve been working with web developers for over 10 years helping them integrate their systems with stock management software. Some people get it right, others really get it wrong. I can usually tell from a 5 minute chat with the integration developer which way it will go. We offer a wide range of connectivity options for web developers from the ageing and reliable text based interfaces to modern RESTful API’s. We also develop eCommerce connectors where we interface directly with eCommerce platforms like Magento, Shopify and Visualsoft.
Whatever route you choose, the fundamentals are the same. In order to avoid overselling, the website needs to notify the stock system quickly when items have been sold, and the website needs to be updated quickly when sales are made through any other sales channel. Take time to seek out a credible eCommerce provider, don't rush the process and don't attempt to do everything yourself - seek expertise.
Tip: Quality costs, but shortcuts cost more.
6 - Problematic Software
As in our client’s case the issue seemed to lie with their original software. If you don’t have a reliable inventory system at the heart of your operation, even the best internet connections and websites in the world are not going to help. Your stock control software is the core part of your retail business that manages the availability of stock across all channels. This part needs to work, and work well.
Ok, How Do I Avoid All Of Those Issues?
Choose your suppliers wisely, find out who their clients are. Run through the above points while speaking with potential suppliers. Talk to other retailers who may be able to advise on their experiences, good and bad. Make sure your website developer talks to your stock system developer - ideally before anything is signed for!
A Process To Successfully Fulfil Web Orders Time After Time
When you have a reliable infrastructure in place, you need efficient procedures in place. The key to this is simplicity. A time consuming, complex fulfilment procedure will leave items available for oversell.
The streamlined order fulfilment process we use at Touchretail uses the following Touchretail components:
And works as follows:
- Order processed on website
- Order imported into stock control system
- Fulfilment location allocated
- Location notified
- Item picked and de-stocked
Most of this is automated. Your staff are alerted when they need to pick an item, doing so is a really simple process. It is possible to have the item picked within minutes of the order being processed online - and that’s how you can successfully fulfil web orders time after time with Touchretail.
Customers who receive a great service will keep shopping with you and refer your brand to others. With so much competition online it’s important to stand out from the crowd, keeping your customers happy is a great way of doing this. Successfully fulfilling web orders is a key part of providing great customer service.
Successfully Fulfil Web Orders And Prepare For Growth
If you are serious about multichannel / omnichannel and looking to grow your online business, it’s important to have the right procedures in place. The correct marketing of your website can rapidly build your online business. A sudden increase in order volume could result in you not being able to fulfil orders on time, or at all, or the wrong items being dispatched. You could end up in ‘Oversell Hell’. Early preparation will keep your customer service level and brand credibility intact as your business grows online.
Want more information about Order Fulfilment?
Discover. TRIMS Fulfilment