One Box, Two Boxes, Three Boxes: Approaches Vary For Multi-Product Orders

You order three products: peanut butter, jelly and a loaf of bread.

When the delivery arrives, the box only contains jelly. Cardboard and jelly — not going to make the best sandwich.

Another delivery truck arrives. This time…just peanut butter. Another day passes. Another delivery truck arrives with a third box full of bread. And, finally, it’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich time.

In this scenario, a single order for multiple products resulted in multiple packages and multiple deliveries. And, that’s not uncommon.

StellaService set out to study multiple product orders by ordering three products in the same order from 97 retailers. StellaService Analysts placed two multiple-product orders – one in September 2013 and another in October 2013.

Here’s the breakdown of how those 194 orders were delivered:

  • 56% of retailers delivered three products in a single package for both orders
  • 10% of retailers delivered two packages for both three-product orders
  • 12% of retailers delivered three packages for both three-product orders
  • 22% of retailers were not consistent in the number of packages for both orders

Multiple product orders are common, particularly in categories like apparel. In fact, Amazon.com has given multiple product orders enough consideration that they see it as an engineering challenge. Algorithms define everything.

MIT Technology Review spoke in November with Dave Clark, Amazon’s vice president overseeing warehouses and fulfillment centers. “We constantly try to drive down the percentage of air that goes into a shipment,” Clark told Technology Review. The idea of shipping goods in a needlessly bulky box (and paying a few extra cents to United Parcel Service or other carriers) makes him shudder. Ship nearly a billion packages a year, and those pennies add up. Amazon over the years has created more than 40 sizes of boxes– but even that isn’t enough. That’s the glory of Amazon’s packaging patent: when a customer’s odd pairing of items creates a one-of-a-kind shipment, Amazon now has systems that will compute the best way to pack that order and create a perfect box for it within 30 minutes.

And, interestingly, StellaService found that multiple product orders don’t necessarily slow the fulfillment process for some retailers. In fact, four companies in the study had same-day fulfillment for both multiple product and single product orders during the same time period. Those companies were:

It’s a tricky balance for retailers, as they must consider the cost of freight and packaging for multiple orders, but also potential frustration from customers who receive multiple boxes for a single order.

What’s your approach to multiple-product orders?

Previously on Bright:

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