Blame it on the likes of Amazon.com. Blame it on e-mail. Blame it on the Web itself. But make no mistake the Internet has changed customers expectations about order fulfillment. These days, whether your customers are consumers or companies, theyre probably expecting more control over carrier selection, more frequent updates on order status and better deals on shipping. Marrying your Internet-based order management system with the right shipping solution is a necessary step in meeting those expectations.

     

    Thats because the most critical steps in fulfillment still take place offline. The product itself must be located, pulled from a warehouse shelf and shipped. For all this to work together seamlessly, your shipping solution must be able to exchange information effectively with your Internet-based order management system. The absence of integration also slows the fulfillment process. Just consider the time it takes for employees to pull orders from the Web site and re-key them into a shipping system (see sidebar below).

     

    It almost goes without saying that to work effectively with an Internet order management system, a shipping solution also must be Web-based. The more subtle necessary attributes are listed here.

     

    The right tools Your Internet order management system and your shipping system must be able to exchange critical information such as carrier selection, price and order about each customers order. Necessary tools can include XML data exchange, ODBC (a technology interface for Windows applications) and file-based integration tools that allow the shipping system to integrate with whatever Internet order management system you have in place.

     

    Multi-location scope The Internet gives you the ability to process orders from multiple locations, selecting the shipping point of origin that provides that fastest delivery at the lowest price. To manage shipments from multiple locations, you must have a multi-site shipping solution, one that integrates back to a common database with order-taking and warehouse management systems.

     

    A dynamic rating engine More and more, online customers want actual rates for the items they ship rather than fixed shipping rates for a range of purchase totals. Shipping solutions can provide this type of engine using the weight and customer location to provide estimates for carrier services. Such an engine can also give customers options for choosing a delivery timeframe (i.e., before this date but not after that date).

     

    Address cleansing Even when customers enter their own shipping information online, they can make mistakes. A shipping system that validates and corrects addresses can help you avoid carrier fees for address correction and ensure on-time delivery.

     

    Multiple carriers If your customers want to designate their preferred carriers or comparison shop among carriers, multi-carrier capabilities are critical to meeting their expectations. For consumer-oriented shipping, the system also should make the U.S. Postal Service as easy to use as other carriers. This may be the preferred option for many savvy consumers since major carriers often charge higher prices for residential deliveries.

     

    International capabilities The World Wide Web is just that: worldwide. Handling shipments to international locations is a must. A shipping solution that is capable of generating the appropriate documentation helps you avoid delays in customs and assures on-time delivery.

     

    A well-rounded, Web-based shipping solution complements and completes a well-designed Internet order management system. Together, they can provide the best possible experience for customers, from ordering through delivery.

     

    Steve Smith is the president of Pitney Bowes Distribution Solutions. For more information, visit www.pbdistributionsolutions.com.

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