What Does “Fulfillment” Mean, Anyway?

A lot of talk in ecommerce circles these days is devoted to discussing the word “fulfillment.” The term has become something of a buzzword, with the same scent of jingo hovering around its use that always seems to follow hot-button terms. The questions circle and circle through ecommerce discussion forums: What is fulfillment? Does it matter if a company outsources its fulfillment needs? What are fulfillment goals, and what’s a reasonable expectation for any given amount of time to meet them?

Towards A Definition of Fulfillment

Applying logic, fulfillment can be understood as closing a business transaction between the business and the customer, and everything that happens in between. Fulfillment can include warehousing, pallet storage, delivery, shipping and tracking, customer service, shipment preparation, and a range of other smaller but only slightly less important details.

Fulfillment management, naturally, is the administration of all such logistical details in a timely and cost-effective manner. As with so much of our economy, order fulfillment management is increasingly becoming outsourced to third-party fulfillment providers, who oversee the logistics details on behalf of their small business and ecommerce clients.

What Third Party Providers Bring To The Fulfillment Process

In a word, specialization. Many small business and ecommerce owners enter into the logistics and fulfillment side of their operations without a firm knowledge of the many nuances and details involved in keeping fulfillment procedures as cost effective as possible. By outsourcing their needs to specialized fulfillment services, they are able to sidestep any problems that might arise from their own inexperience. If the secret to success is knowing your limitations, employing a third-party fulfillment provider is a way to avoid those limitations entirely by hiring an expert to turn them into advantages instead.

The Dangers of Letting Fulfillment Standards Slide

Successful order fulfillment is directly tied to your level of customer satisfaction, the most important barometer of your ability to grow your business. Sloppy or incomplete fulfillment can mean loss of revenue and time expenditures, poor public relations, and in some cases even result in complaints filed with consumer advocacy groups and even litigation.

Many specialized fulfillment services offer customer service and conflict resolution resources as part of their set of capabilities. Such departments handle customer service issues on behalf of the ecommerce or small business client, acting on their authority to appease customer dissatisfaction. The fulfillment service handles the hiring, training, and support for the customer service staff.