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4 reasons to embrace automated ecommerce fulfillment

Written by Beth Owens on March 16th, 2021

There’s nothing more valuable than time in the world of ecommerce order fulfillment. Today’s consumers expect to receive their orders quickly and seamlessly – or they’re going to be dissatisfied with the delivery experience.

To optimize order fulfillment and speed up delivery, you need to start at the very beginning of the supply chain. Slow, manual tasks start right from the moment of order processing, adding critical hours or even days onto delivery timeframes. This is where automation can make all the difference to your ability to exceed customer expectations.

But what exactly is automated ecommerce fulfillment, and how can it remove inefficiencies from your order fulfillment process? 

In this post, we’re going to dive into the world of automated fulfillment and the ways that 3PLs can help to modernize your ecommerce order fulfillment approach.

What is automated ecommerce fulfillment?

Automation streamlines workflows and removes time-consuming, repetitive tasks from needing direct human management. But automated ecommerce fulfillment doesn’t always mean an influx of robots onto the warehouse floor. Automated fulfillment includes both software and hardware solutions. This could mean advanced OMS or even conveyor belts to move items around a warehouse more effectively.

Automated ecommerce fulfillment allows 3PLs to re-deploy their staff for more complex tasks. This increases efficiency and also helps to reduce errors in the fulfillment process. By saving valuable time and labor, your operation will incur significant cost savings. Moreover, you’ll be better positioned to handle peaks and troughs in demand. 

We’re covering four key areas where automated ecommerce fulfillment can enhance both productivity and the customer experience:

1. Optimized warehousing

The effects of COVID-19 are continuing to hit the economy. This means we’re starting to see long-term trends that are changing the future of retail. With brick and mortar brands still relying heavily on online sales, demand for warehousing is starting to outstrip supply.
This is a particular issue for facilities close to major population centers. Brands are shifting toward multi-node fulfillment strategies to shorten last mile delivery times – meaning that space is at a premium.

map of PLG’s ports in the US: seattle/tacoma, LA/long beach, jacksonville, savannah, new york/new jersey, and columbus.

According to a recent study, demand for industrial real estate is set to exceed supply by 140 million square feet in the next five years.

As demand for ecommerce fulfillment grows, automation has become a key mitigation strategy. By maximizing productivity, merchants can achieve more with less space. This reduces the demand for larger facilities, which in turn saves on running costs.

The solution: Assisted robotics

Using robots to assist warehouse staff with the picking process results is a growing trend across retail. Major vendors such as Sam’s Club and Amazon have already begun integrating robotics into their infrastructure. Additional technologies, such as fit-to-order packaging technology and 3D visualization, are also helping to automate repetitive tasks and reduce waste.

warehouse aisle at port logistics group populated with locusbots to help fulfill orders


We currently deploy over 150 LocusBots across our facilities who can map the most efficient travel routes for our pickers, and identify where dynamic pick locations should be added. This has allowed us to improve average pick times by as much as 20 seconds per unit.

2. Faster order processing = faster delivery

One strategy is guaranteed to keep customers happy: Fulfilling and delivering orders as fast as possible.

Expectations for rapid ecommerce delivery have never been higher – and signs show that this is only going to increase. According to a Wall Street Journal article, between 2012 and 2016, the number of consumers happy to wait more than 5 days for delivery declined from 74% to 60%.

With two-day and even same-day shipping now expected, merchants need to keep pace to stay competitive.

Last mile logistics usually dominate the delivery discussion. But the key to quick delivery actually starts higher up the supply chain. If orders aren’t processed as soon as they’re received, this means a slower turnaround to delivery – and your customer waiting longer than necessary for their parcel.

The solution: Ecommerce platform integration

Technologically-advanced providers such as Whiplash can integrate your ecommerce platform, such as Shopify, with their WMS (Warehouse Management System). This allows new orders to be automatically allocated to the appropriate facility, reducing last mile delivery times by fulfilling orders at the locations closest to the end customer.

3. Better customer service

With all the moving parts involved with ecommerce fulfillment, customer care often ends up taking a backseat. This is a problem when the online shopping experience can feel impersonal at best. Without high-quality brand touchpoints to keep your customers engaged, service standards can suffer.

The solution: Automatic email notifications

Introducing automation can assist with the tricky post-purchase phase of order fulfillment. Your 3PL can help set up automatic email notifications so that your customers will know when their order has shipped or is out for delivery. This maintains a consistent flow of communication to put your customers at ease following their purchase.

4. Smoother returns management

Reverse logistics are often overlooked when it comes to automated ecommerce fulfillment. This is despite returns costing U.S. retailers an estimated $500 billion in 2020.

Returns are a difficult area that many merchants don’t want to give more thought to than necessary. However, this overlooks how a seamless returns process can be a customer major retention tool. 95% of consumers say they will shop again with a brand that offers a positive returns experience!

The biggest reason why returns are so burdensome is because speed is of the essence. If returned items aren’t back into inventory quickly enough, you could face issues with reselling.

This is where an automated returns process is your best ally. With automation, you can configure every step of the returns process – from return authorization to shipping and restocking.

The solution: Returns management software

Rather than getting stuck in back-and-forth emails with customer service reps, 3PLs can connect you with a third-party management system that allows customers to initiate a return themselves. You can automatically issue a shipping label to your preferred facility or wait for a team member to inspect the request first. Some third-party systems such as Happy Returns can also suggest replacement products for those that are being returned, helping you to retain sales.

person holding a smartphone displaying ratings and review summary for a product.

Ecommerce fulfillment automation helps you to remove friction from the online shopping experience. More efficient fulfillment processes allow customers to get their goods faster and with an enhanced level of customer care. Consider talking to your provider about how you can bring automation into your fulfillment process. If you’re currently self-fulfilling, take advantage of this opportunity to save on costly warehouse space and labor for a more cost-effective order fulfillment operation – and happier customers!

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