How to Automate eCommerce Order Processing with Scanners?
Most online sellers today are unaware of the benefits of automation in their supply chain. While automating an entire supply chain comes at a cost, one can tweak parts of it such as choose to automate ecommerce order processing with scanners.
Most of us have seen barcode scanners being used in offline retail outlets for billing purposes i.e. a scanner is used to scan a barcode and send details of the product and its price to the connected computer. This generates your final item-wise bill, in effect automating the process.
Compare this to your experience in a regular kirana shop where the shopkeeper, either writes a hand-written bill or manually selects the product code to generate the bill. You will surely agree, that automation using a scanner is a far better method than the other two. Let us explore how to automate ecommerce order processing with scanners.
What is a Barcode Scanner?
A barcode scanner also known as an optical scanner/reader are handheld devices used to decode data in a barcode. The scanner transmits the decoded data to a computer in a format that is readable and usable by a human being. In the ecommerce industry, such scanners come handy in automating multiple processes such as adding new inventory to the warehouse, counting inventory, packing (order processing), and courier hand-over.
- Most ecommerce sellers avoid investing in such devices as they feel the cost of all supporting devices put together is too much.
- There is added variable cost of printing barcodes in the absence of universal codes.
- Ecommerce sellers have to even generate their own codes and convert them into a barcode format for print; in case it’s a private label or an item that is manufactured by the seller.
- When it comes to ecommerce order processing with scanners, it is true that a thermal printer is preferred to a laser printer. But it is slightly more expensive than the latter.
The above is just some of the reasons why the ecommerce sellers avoid automation in ecommerce order processing with scanners.
Understanding the Order Fulfillment Process in eCommerce
While most of you are familiar with this process, let us encapsulate the order fulfillment steps in ecommerce. It starts with picking the correct items as per an order pick list. Next the item is packed in the marketplace recommended packaging along with the correct order invoice. Finally, the shipping label is pasted and a manifest generated for pick-up acknowledgement by one’s courier partner.
Manual Fulfilment of Order
- Ecommerce sellers in India, tend to manage all the above manually. In a mid-sized to a large warehouse, the following activities comprise manual order fulfillment.
- Usually, a picklist is generated as per marketplaces. A worker is assigned to pick up the order as per this list. All the items as per the list are brought to a table or common area.
- A pack-list contains order-wise details, as per which the orders are packed. Another employee is usually responsible for printing the shipping labels & invoice from a regular printer.
- The same is handed over to the packer –the invoice is inserted and the label pasted on the parcel. Post intimation, the courier partner picks up the parcels items and signs on the manifest.
You will wonder what more can scanners in order processing do, that a manual system cannot. Let us delve further.
What Can Go Wrong with Manual Processing of Orders?
As an ecommerce seller’s business grows and the number of orders to be processed per day increases, there are multiple errors that can take place in each step of the order processing. Here is the top few:
1) Picking the wrong item– Despite the picklist, a warehouse worker can pick up the wrong item. These could be physical mistakes like picking the wrong color of t-shirt or a reading error- he reads the item code incorrectly and picks a wrong type of notebook. Wrong items shipped equals customer returns- increasing your cost of selling and probably leading you to an overall loss in income.
2) Inserting Wrong Invoice– As one worker does the picking, another prints the invoice. In mid-scale warehouses, the items and the invoice are all placed in a single place. The items are inserted into the allocated packaging along with the invoice. However, chances are that the wrong invoice enters the wrong packaging. The reason? There is no order in which the packing is done- it is all based on what item gets picked first. While missing invoices is okay for pre-paid orders; in the case of COD, it is a matter of concern.
3) Sticking the Wrong Shipping Label– Again as there is no order in which items are packed, the wrong shipping label often gets stuck onto the wrong packaging. Customers end up receiving wrong items, leading to returns.
4) Partial Picking Led Errors– When a customer orders two or more items, often each of these can be picked by different workers. It is a cumbersome process to manually check if the entire order is fulfilled, during the packing process. At times, the order gets packed partially. Missed items cause customer dissatisfaction leading to lower seller ratings.
Why Should You Automate eCommerce Order Processing with Scanners?
Automation- The usage of scanners is a step towards automation. Automation in any process helps save time and increase productivity
Avoid Errors- Scanners help avoid order processing errors, leading to higher customer satisfaction and higher seller ratings for you
Scalability-When you process ecommerce orders with scanners, you quickly realize that you can take up more orders, owing to saved time. Of course, improved ratings also contribute to growing business. Thus, most sellers who automate tend to scale up their business.·
Reduce Employee Costs- While you do need to invest in the proper equipment to process ecommerce orders with scanners, this is offset with reduced employee costs over a period. You need lesser manual intervention for sorting, selecting, and packing items. Your processes become streamlined and you can station lesser employees in a conveyor belt fashion and in fact process more orders.
What Equipment Do You Need to Automate eCommerce Order Processing with Scanners?
- Most major marketplaces have the option for you to use scanners for order processing. The feature is built into the seller panel and you need to log into your account to process the orders.
- But most sellers move to ecommerce integration software such as Browntape, as soon as their business sees some growth. Order management software is not as expensive as you think and they are mostly cloud based- meaning a user can log in from anywhere. Like your Amazon seller panel or Shopify seller account.
A barcode printer is not a compulsory requirement. It is needed only when 1) the product you are selling does not have a UPC, EAN code on it already (in case of private labels/repackaged items) 2) it’s a product that you are manufacturing yourself and hence you need to generate codes
There are multiple options available online where you can generate codes. Many usually like to print a barcode containing their unique SKU code so that it is identified across marketplaces via mapping. In software, such as Browntape, you can internally generate the barcodes and manage orders across marketplaces. Browntape has an effective Scan & Print feature which helps generate shipping labels and invoices.
Ecommerce sellers recommended barcode printers include TSC (TSC TE 244/ TSC TTP-244 Pro) or Brother barcode printers. These barcode printers cost between Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 15,000. There are cheaper options available in the Rs. 5000 range, but it is better to invest in a long-lasting product when you intend to automate order processing with scanners.
Marketplaces have the option of using mobile phones to scan codes, but it is not the preferred way to scan codes during order management. When investing in commercial infrastructure, it is best to use machines that are made for the purpose- as the user experience is superior plus such machines are built for the wear & tear.
You can purchase any well-known brand of barcode reader. Ecommerce sellers use brands such as Retsol LS 450 Laser Barcode (~Rs. 1225), TVSE BSC 101 (~Rs. 2620), iBall WBS-650MV (~Rs. 3300) etc. When selecting, look for the scanning speed, types of barcodes you can scan, reading intensity, and whether you want a USB or wireless solution
While more expensive than inkjet printers, laser printers (toner + laser mechanism) is the go-to type for new eCommerce sellers. They can do a wide range of printing jobs such as print barcodes on a sheet, print labels, invoices, and manifests. However, in the case of printing barcodes where you need to print by the thousands- laser printers are often slow. Plus, for scan and print solutions- during order processing, again, the laser printer is unable to match the speed at which products are scanned. Laser printers are okay for merchant fulfilled orders- sellers use any good model from Canon (BP 21.0 Laserjet) or HP.
For scanning & processing orders, thermal printers are a necessity. Sellers have learned from experience that the speed and robustness of a thermal printer are unmatched by any other when you are processing hundreds of orders at a time. Thermal printers require special paper rolls, the cost of which is in paisas. You don’t need ink to use this printer; hence the special paper. Thus, there is no cartridge cost involved. Once again TSC is a trusted brand for thermal printers and is often used by sellers under the Amazon Seller Flex Program.
When is the right time to invest in ecommerce order processing automation?
Frankly, the right time is now. If you are a seller who is almost a year into the ecommerce business and have found a strong footing- it is time to scale up. Start with using a good ecommerce management software; this helps to integrate orders from different marketplaces in one panel and it is easy to manage order processing. Next you need to have the basic equipment in place; all of which is mentioned above. If you added up the cost of order management software (less than Rs. 2 per order) and the total cost of scanner, printers etc.- all of which help you grow your business, you are sure to recover the costs in a few months.
As you can see, it is very easy to automate ecommerce. order processing with scanners and the right set of software. It is essential if you want your ecommerce business to grow. The operational benefits it brings about, is worth the minor changes that you and employees would need to incorporate in your day to day operations.