It seems strange to be discussing the holiday shopping season at the end of August, but if your business depends on holiday shopping sales, you have already started preparing. This has been the case since the rise of online shopping holidays like Black Friday Cyber Monday (BFCM) and the ever-extending Boxing Week sales (in reality, it is more like Boxing Month). In anticipation of the holiday shopping season, smart businesses start preparing their organization months in advance for an increase in online and in-store demand, and wholesale distributors make sure their shelves are stocked and product is ready to go. However, this year things will be a little different with a significant increase in online shopping. And by different, I mean virtually the entire holiday season shopping season will be done online. For the first time, Walmart and other big-box retailers have announced store closures on Thanksgiving, a shopping holiday that typically sees huge crowds lining up at these locations. With a global pandemic, an online presence has become the catalyst for whether many businesses have been able to keep their doors open. And, according to some predictions, 75% of US holiday shoppers will shop online more this year than they ever have in previous years. So what can you do as an SMB to prepare for this year’s holiday shopping season? There are many tips for SMBs when it comes to your online presence, but it’s important to also have processes and systems in place for proper eCommerce order management. Below we discuss two key areas of automation to help you survive (and thrive) this pandemic holiday shopping season.
Automate Inbound Web Orders
As an online business buying and selling inventory, it’s important that you automate the order entry process as much as possible. This is especially true if you’re dealing with orders from multiple sales channels. Without integration between your business management system and online channels (including your eCommerce site, marketplaces such as Amazon and vendor portals), you're left hiring people for order entry – a very manual and time-consuming process. Instead, with the proper ERP system in place and right integration for eCommerce order management, you can automate this process saving your business time and money.
Any good ERP system (ahem, like Blue Link ERP) provides functionality for eCommerce integration, which allows the software to communicate directly with all your existing online sales channels. This means that when an order is placed online and payment made, it shows up in Blue Link’s Sales Order Review screen for further processing, or gets automatically sent to the warehouse for pick, pack and ship depending on how you have the system set-up. This, in turn, updates inventory quantities and the order status in Blue Link and on the website and notifies the customer of the order. Integration between Blue Link and your different online channels can be done by your team of developers, or if you don’t have employees available with this level of expertise, with the help of one of our integration partners.
Automate Shipping with Your 3PL
If you work with 3PLs for managing your picking, packing and shipping, automation and communication between your two companies is a must. For many SMBs, working with 3PLs means manually emailing new sales orders to the company for fulfillment and receiving back emails with shipping information which then needs to be communicated to the customer. However, when dealing with a large number of orders (especially during the busy holiday season), this quickly becomes unmanageable. Instead, consider finding an ERP vendor who can help automatically transmit eCommerce orders to the 3PL and automatically receive shipment notifications back. Once again, this type of integration can be done with the help of your team and their expertise, or by working with your ERP vendor and its integration partner.
Transmit to 3PL
With Blue Link’s Web Services API and integration capabilities, once an order is marked in Blue Link as “Ready to Pick” (or your own custom status) that order is then automatically:
- Picked up by the integration partner
- Transmitted to the 3PL
- This changes the Sales Order Status in Blue Link to “Sent to 3PL” (or some other status)
- The 3PL now has the information to start picking the order
Shipment from 3PL
On the reverse side, once the 3PL picks the order and is ready to ship, integration allows Blue Link to:
- Retrieve shipment details from the 3PL including the quantities actually shipped by SKU
- Update the quantities on the order to the quantities shipped (setting any non-shipped item quantities to units-on-backorder)
- Set the Blue Link Sales Order status to “Shipped by 3PL” (or some other status)
- Update the shipping carrier details and tracking number (if available) in Blue Link
- Notify the customer of the order status
The great thing about having proper systems in place is that the integration options are endless. Working with an ERP vendor and integration partner with experience in the industry means that it is easy to set-up and automate basic eCommerce order management and shipping workflows between the different supply chain partners. This then opens the door to other integration possibilities to further automate your other sales channels and internal processes. Once you have automated the sales order entry process, you can then focus efforts and resources on achieving additional productivity improvements – such as organizing your warehouse to make the shipping process easier, and making sure you have enough inventory to meet the demands of the upcoming holiday season.