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What is order fulfillment and why does it matter? It's an electric excitement that comes when you realize that the merch you worked to have designed, printed...

What is order fulfillment?

What is order fulfillment?

What is order fulfillment and why does it matter?

It's an electric excitement that comes when you realize that the merch you worked to have designed, printed, and sustainably sourced is about to be in your customer's hands. It's an incredible journey that your brand has taken on and it's finally ready to be set free into the world to be seen by new eyes and worn by new lifers.

It can also be an extremely stressful time for many brands that realize their merch is printed and ready, and that it's time to fulfill the orders that come through the door. There are a lot of steps to fulfillment and it can easily be overwhelming. This is especially true for influencers and other brands that have custom merch as a revenue stream to support the main function of the business.

At Superior Ink, we continue to keep a pulse on the toughest parts of making merch and innovate new ways to serve our peeps. Fulfillment can actually be the easiest part of your merch-making journey! Let us show you how.

First Things First, What is Order Fulfillment?

Simply put, order fulfillment goes the distance. It takes a product from lounging on the shelf and gets the right product into the hands of your customers quickly, and efficiently. This is how we define order fulfillment here at Superior Ink, partnering with our sister company Superior Pack to make sure that the second leg of the merch journey is just as high-quality and streamlined as production. Here are the steps to take an item from print to fulfillment with a dash of storage for ease.

  1. Get and Store Inventory: Our facility receives and organizes the merchandise in the facility, where everything is inventoried and stored in neat little bins so that every last piece of apparel has a home.
  2. Seamless Integration With Shopify: Our system integrates directly with Shopify to manage inventory counts, and get reminders when stock is running low.
  3. Pick and Pack: This step ensures accuracy, making sure that each order is printed perfectly and packed with care. We are very intentional about making sustainability the cornerstone of our packing process. But more on that later...
  4. Send Out Orders: Orders are shipped out, often on the same day they are received.
  5. Deliver to Customers: The home stretch! Merch is delivered with optional custom packaging and branding.
  6. Deal with Returns: If needed, the return process is simple and fast.
  7. Keep Track of Stock and Refill: Once items are running low, we can easily reprint in-house and have hot fresh merch ready to start the life-cycle all over again.

Having a hub that functions as the brand's fulfillment center makes life so much easier. It means that brands can focus on what they got into business to do, which we are pretty sure wasn't packing boxes or sorting through a storage unit looking for the right product.

It All Starts With An Inventory Management System

We're all pretty familiar with the term all-in-one. From All-in-One Cleaning products to All-in-One Meal Kits, the world is recognizing the value of an All-in-One solution to problems. It's taking an outcome and offering it without the hassle of needing to include other means to accomplish it. That's what we see as the complete solution. From end to end a fulfillment solution should be easy and complete. (Want to read more about it? Check out why we are the Tech Stack Of Manufacturing.)

That's why we start with steller inventory. When we serve as the fulfillment agent for our screen printing orders, it evokes two layers of quality control. First, the garments are inspected when they come off the production line, and again when the actual inventory is logged into online stores as counts. If there are defects, the garment gets pulled ensuring an accurate inventory reading. This gives quality assurance to both us as the producer and the client as the first-stage consumer that everything has been QC'd and is ready for sale.

It benefits the reputation of online stores because the percentage of returns dips drastically and that means that profit margins stay high! Sounds like a pretty smart way to manage inventory to us. But wait, there's more!

That inventory lives in our facility until it's purchased. With a simple pricing structure, a brand pays a storage fee for inventory on hand, and a simple pick-and-pack fee when merch flies out the door. This guarantees the apparel stays pristine throughout the entire process.

A Note On Inventory That Doesn't Want to Budge:

We help creators be proactive with inventory, meaning that we understand that especially when a new brand launches there just isn't a way to know what will sell and what won't until the rubber meets the road. By having all of your printing and fulfillment under the same roof, we can keep close tabs on what merch needs to be produced, and what needs to be cleared out with a sale or another promotion. Much like a science experiment, in the beginning, all of the variables may seem to be disconnected, but quickly come together to show an overall outcome. It's a learning experience but with the fulfillment and printing done in tandem, you never have to worry about making more of the design that just doesn't seem to be a crowd-pleaser. Quarterly evaluations of products make all of this a painless way to deal with less popular products.

Shopify: The First & Only Choice For A Flawless Order Fulfillment Experience

There are a lot of choices for housing online stores out there, so you may be wondering if we are just being elitists to only work with stores on Shopify.  This decision isn't just about simplifying our process—it's about offering our clients the best. Shopify stands as the premier platform for e-commerce, known for its robust interface and ease of use. For us, it's not just a platform; it's a cornerstone in providing a streamlined, stress-free fulfillment experience.

When a brand comes to us looking for a solution we want to introduce them to the best. It's not just about printing and sending out great merch, it's also about making it easy for the business owner to manage their supply chain and make sure it all reflects the values of the brand. This integration means real-time inventory management, low-stock alerts, and a smooth transition from sale to shipment. It's about ensuring that the journey from print to the customer's hands is as flawless and exciting as the unveiling of the merch itself.

From the consumer's side, when they have an easy shopping experience, they want to spend more time on your store, and they are more likely to be repeat customers. If you are lucky enough your people will be your brand ambassadors, sharing your store with others and the great experience it was to buy from you.

With Shopify, we turn the potentially overwhelming task of fulfillment into a seamless, efficient, and gratifying part of your business journey. When brands come to us and need to transition to Shopify from another platform we make that as easy as possible because we know it can be a big task. From helping them craft SKU numbers for their new merch, to setting up a photo shoot for their latest prints, we make sure their Shopify store becomes the perfect representation of their brand both from the consumer side and on the back end.

A Note For Franchises:

Here at Superior Ink, we are brand builders, and because of this many of the brands we work with are large well-known companies with a lot of employees and customers that all love and wear their merch. We partner with franchises of all sizes to set up a special part of Shopify just for vendors. On that vendor store, bulk orders can be processed quickly by managers or store owners. What that means is that a franchise owner or manager has the same ease of use that a customer on the front end would have. Simply shop the vendor store, add to your cart what your location needs, and checkout with a predetermined discount code. This makes bulk order fulfillment just as easy as single orders! Pretty slick, right?

Pick & Pack Order Fulfillment

We get questions all the time about how we know what to pack when it comes time to fulfill an order. That part of the order fulfillment process starts way before inventory is even stocked. As the inventory is being sorted and stocked into the bins, each bin is assigned a QR code. This barcode full of information is used to make sure that the design, size, and type of product are accurately represented.

Then, when an order is placed, our fulfillment team gets right to work (hopefully they were working before then, but I digress...). Because everything is managed on that nifty barcode system, bins are easily scanned to deduct the product from inventory instantly, both in-house and on Shopify.

Now that the order has been picked, how is it packed?

Our order fulfillment model is sustainably focused, carrying sustainable practices right from the production floor into the packing stage. First off, we offer white-label shipping, which means that each package that gets sent out looks as if it's right from the brand itself. In line with that, we source biodegradable and eco-responsible packing materials and only work with brands and businesses that are willing to do the same. That doesn't limit the potential to make sure that the box or materials are on brand. It makes it even easier because we partner with eco-friendly brands for consumer packaging and facilitate getting those ordered and ready for when purchases start coming through the store. We use a local company EcoEnclose to source specialty packaging. On brand and sustainable? Wow! We really do make fulfillment easy!

Order Management: The Shipping Process

Have you ever ordered something online and received a "shipped" email moments later? You think, "How did they do that so fast?". That's the feeling your new fulfillment process is going to evoke because when it comes to getting your orders out the door and on the road, we aren't ones to lollygag. Orders received before 3 PM are packed and shipped same day, offering an almost instantaneous service. For orders placed after this cutoff, we ensure they are fulfilled first thing the next day. This swift process extends to our tracking system as well. As soon as an order is processed and scanned by USPS or UPS, customers receive an email confirmation along with a tracking number, keeping them updated every step of the way.

International shipping? Absolutely. We utilize DHL and UPS International for our global deliveries, although these rates are a bit higher. For those who prefer to use their own individual shipping accounts, we offer the flexibility to do so. This option allows our clients to potentially add a margin to their shipping costs if they choose.

However, when we handle the shipping directly, we maintain a straightforward approach with no added fees – a decision we've made to keep our system simple and transparent. So, never have clients emailing you wondering where their package is again, instead, surprise them and yourself with how quick a shipping and fulfillment service can be!

A Note On Returns:

For most brands in e-commerce, returns can be a messy business. A botched return can also break a customer's loyalty and the brand's reputation. That's why we handle the brunt of the return and exchange processing. Returns come back to our facility and we handle fulfilling the exchange. Your part is to simply email our dedicated customer service email, and tell us the reason for the return. You relay the updated information to the client and we handle the exchange or return on the back end, so we never deal directly with your customers. The result? You look like a return ninja and every part of the process is handled to keep inventory accurate and your customers happy.

The Benefits Of Outsourcing Fulfillment

Now that you know what is involved in the order fulfillment process, you might wonder about some of the advantages it gives your brand to outsource order fulfillment.

If you are already creating merch, this is the time to evaluate how you are currently handling fulfillment. Is it endless trips to the UPS store, standing in line and hoping it all goes well once you hand it across the counter? Meanwhile, you return to your apparel lair that used to be your guest room or garage, buh bye home gym!

Maybe it means that you are paying for a storage unit, running the risk of your product being ruined by mismanagement, and you find yourself there sorting and organizing, trying to figure out your inventory counts, and where the heck you set down the packing tape?

For merch-making virgins, we hope this blog gave you a walk down the hallway of consequences as you bring your designs to life and then wonder what in the world you are going to do when orders start rolling in.

We want every merch maker, brand creator, and business owner to feel completely supported from design to destination. Most brands come to us for quality and sustainability and stay for the kicka$$ order fulfillment.

You are a trendsetter, a force in your industry, and you have much better things to do than stand in line at the Post Office or pay endless vendors for each step of the process. Let Superior Ink Printing and Superior Pack reinforce what amazing things your business and brand are already doing. We'll worry about getting apparel made and in your customer's hands so that you can focus on building a brand that's a household name. Ready to get started? Click here to get in touch with us today for your printing and fulfillment needs.

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