In the world of ecommerce, few things can top the excitement and anticipation of receiving a package on your doorstep. That was certainly the case in our house, as I recently surprised my daughters with a newly released Harry Potter Lego set. I ordered online and looked forward to its speedy arrival. Thankfully, I (and more importantly, my daughters) weren’t disappointed — the package arrived on time and intact. In fact, we got to spend the whole weekend building a new wing of Hogwarts! 

This is the moment of truth, the moment a merchant fulfills their brand promise to its customers. As our kids spent hours fitting all the pieces of Hogwarts together, building out Dumbledore’s office and the prefect’s bathroom, I couldn’t help but think of everything that went into getting the package to our door—all the interconnected pieces that made it possible. 

The ordering and fulfillment process for Legos — and millions of other products — can be either awful or awesome, and indeed can make or break a brand’s relationship with a customer. My kids would have been crushed (and let’s be honest — me even more so) if our order hadn’t arrived when expected.

 

What is order management? 

Order management systems are the not-so-secret sauce that determine outcomes like this. 

Order management has historically been thought of as everything that happens after a customer hits the buy button on your online storefront. This includes all the downstream operational processes, people, systems, and partnerships required to fulfill an order. But the foundation of modern order management systems goes even deeper. 

Consumers expect the whole order management process to work seamlessly, from the moment they check out to the moment a package arrives at their doorstep. Not only do they expect fast and easy shipping, but complete transparency around order status. Consumers want to know if there’s a problem in transit, and they want hassle-free returns. 

 

So what exactly happens after a shopper hits the buy button?

Once upon a time, order management systems were relegated to back-office systems, typically within the logistics division of a company. But that doesn’t work in a customer-centric economy, because order management is so central to the overall customer experience. Everything brands have done in the customer relationship management (CRM) lifecycle — awareness, marketing, site experience, consideration, acquisition, conversion, and more — leads to this one moment. In fact, this is the most important moment of value exchange. If brands fail to deliver on their end of the value exchange (money for goods and services rendered), does anything else that came before really matter? 

Now more than ever, order management systems need to deliver on that brand promise and the expectation that has been set with the consumer. 

So what happens after a shopper hits the buy button? Once a shopper places an item in their cart and begins to checkout, an intricate dance required to carry out the order begins. Frequently, there are up to 39 different systems that a storefront may interact with to complete an order; the most common are tax, payment, fraud, inventory management, accounting, ERP, and shipping.

First, a merchant must have an accurate view of inventory counts to prevent sell-throughs and overstocks. This view helps inform shipping origin, as products can be shipped from multiple locations, or split across multiple warehouses, distribution centers, stores, or even a third party. 

After inventory is confirmed, order routing takes place. Is the product a standard item, or is there a customization process that may require routing to a specific warehouse? For special order items, there may be a team waiting to receive instructions to hand construct a personalized product at a specific fulfillment location.

Next up, shipping integrations. Having fast and flexible shipping options is absolutely critical to earning the loyalty and trust of shoppers. In a 2018 State of eCommerce Delivery study, 58% of consumers said they chose one brand over another because they provided more delivery options. Further, 61% said that a positive delivery experience incentivized them to shop with a brand again. 

Once the items have been picked, packed, and prepped for shipping, payment is captured, and the goods are on their way to the customer. 

Order management is the brains behind each step in the fulfillment journey, the conductor of an intricate orchestration of business logic and workflows required to take an order from the shopping cart to the doorstep. 

 

Transforming customer experience with great order management

Ordering and fulfillment are at the heart of an exceptional shopping experience, and next-generation order management systems will be increasingly customer-centric and an integral part of the front office. Why? Because these moments in the shopping journey can either annoy or amaze shoppers, and help determine whether a shopper completes a transaction and becomes a loyal customer, or clicks over to the competition. Let’s look at some of these moments. 

 

Providing flexible shipping/delivery options

Customers demand flexibility, from one-hour in metro areas and weekend delivery to in-store pickup and next day delivery, and they expect these options to be displayed clearly on the product page. 

 

Providing accurate product availability information on the storefront

Don’t disappoint your customers with an out-of-stock notification after they’ve added an item to their cart. If a product is out of stock or running low, state so on the product page. 

 

Offering self-service order status and returns 

Customers should be able to check order status and receive updates on their terms, including text and email updates, and should be able to change shipping details. Returns, too, should be self-serve, including printing out return labels and choosing how and where to return an item.

 

Empowering service agents 

Service agents are on the front lines of the customer experience, and they need to be empowered to assist customers with their orders in every way possible. That means they need complete visibility into orders and customer activity, and systems that enable them to place orders on behalf of customers, and make shipping/delivery changes to existing orders. 

All of these add up to the greatest moment of value exchange between a brand and a consumer. Everything that a brand does in the customer lifecycle — awareness, consideration, conversion, and more — leads to this moment. Integrated order management systems drive operational excellence by orchestrating the entire supply chain. 

Order management today is not just about processing orders, it’s about integrating all of the customer-facing systems that impact the post-purchase experience (ERP, CRM, service, and commerce, for example) and making that available and accessible to all stakeholders in a single unified platform. 

We at Salesforce call this customer-centric order management, a single platform for managing orders, customer records, fulfillment, inventory visibility, business processes, payments, customer care, and invoicing. We’re driving this sea change with Salesforce Order Management (generally available in February 2020), the most customer-centric and flexible order management system. It’s powered by Salesforce CRM for a complete data record, pre-connected to Commerce Cloud, and natively supports Service Cloud for a single customer view of both order and transaction history. It’s also an integral part of a robust ecosystem that supports thousands of pre-built connectors, all leading to faster time to value and, more importantly, happier customers.

Order management systems are evolving to support a new magic moment of truth in ecommerce: delivery. Indeed, how the customer experiences order processing, shipping, and delivery will determine their view of and relationship to the brand. 

Are you excited about the Order Management category yet? I am! Learn more here.