Order clerks receive and process incoming orders for a wide variety of goods or services, such as spare parts for machines, consumer appliances, gas and electric power connections, film rentals, and articles of clothing. They are sometimes called order-entry clerks, customer service representatives, sales representatives, order processors, or order takers.
Orders for materials, merchandise, or services can come from inside or from outside of an organization. In large companies with many work sites, such as automobile manufacturers, clerks order parts and equipment from the companys warehouses. Inside order clerks receive orders from other workers employed by the same company or from salespersons in the field.
Many other order clerks, however, receive orders from outside companies or individuals. Order clerks in wholesale businesses, for instance, receive orders for merchandise from retail establishments that the retailer, in turn, sells to the public. An increasing number of order clerks work for catalogue companies and online retailers, receiving orders from individual customers by either phone, fax, regular mail, or e-mail. Order clerks dealing primarily with the public sometimes are referred to as outside order clerks.
Computers provide order clerks with ready access to information such as stock numbers, prices, and inventory. Orders frequently depend on which products are in stock and which products are most appropriate for the customers needs. Some order clerks, especially those in industrial settings, must be able to give price estimates for entire jobs, not just single parts. Others must be able to take special orders, give expected arrival dates, prepare contracts, and handle complaints.
Many order clerks receive orders directly by telephone, entering the required information as the customer places the order. However, a rapidly increasing number of orders are now received through computer systems, the Internet, faxes, and e-mail. In some cases, these orders are sent directly from the customers terminal to the order clerks terminal. Orders received by regular mail are sometimes scanned into a database instantly accessible to clerks.
Clerks review orders for completeness and clarity. They may complete missing information or contact the customer for the information. Similarly, clerks contact customers, if customers need additional information, such as prices or shipping dates, or if delays in filling the order are anticipated. For orders received by regular mail, clerks extract checks or money orders, sort them, and send them for processing.
After an order has been verified and entered, the customers final cost is calculated. The clerk then routes the order to the proper departmentsuch as the warehousethat actually sends out or delivers the item in question.
In organizations with sophisticated computer systems, inventory records are adjusted automatically, as sales are made. In less automated organizations, order clerks may adjust inventory records. Clerks may also notify other departments when inventories are low or when orders would deplete supplies.
Some order clerks must establish priorities in filling orders. For example, an order clerk in a blood bank may receive a request from a hospital for a certain type of blood. The clerk must first find out if the request is routine or an emergency and then take appropriate action.
Order clerks held about 362,000 jobs in 1998. About one half were in wholesale and retail establishments and about one quarter in manufacturing firms. Most of the remaining jobs for order clerks were in business services.
Job openings for order clerks should be plentiful through the year 2008, due to sizable replacement needs. Numerous jobs will become available each year, to replace order clerks who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force completely. Many of these openings will be for seasonal work, especially in catalogue companies or online retailers catering to holiday gift buyers.
Employment of order clerks is expected to grow more slowly than the average through the year 2008, as office automation continues to increase worker productivity. As the economy grows, increasingly more orders for goods and services will be placed. Demand for outside order clerks who deal mainly with the public or other businesses should remain fairly strong. The increasing use of online retailing and toll-free numbers that make placing orders easy and convenient will stimulate demand for these workers. However, productivity gains from increased automation will offset some of the growth in demand for outside order clerks, as each clerk is able to handle an increasingly higher volume of orders. In addition, orders placed over the Internet and other computer systems are often entered directly into the computer by the customer; thus, the order clerk is not involved at all in placing the order.
Employment growth of inside clerks will also be constrained by productivity gains due to automation. The spread of electronic data interchange, a system enabling computers to communicate directly with each other, allows orders within establishments to be placed with little human intervention. Besides electronic data interchange, extranets and other systems allowing a firms employees to place orders directly are increasingly common.
Other types of automation will also limit the demand for order clerks. Sophisticated inventory control and automatic billing systems allow companies to track inventory and accounts with much less help from order clerks than in the past. Some companies use automated phone menus accessible with a touch-tone phone to receive orders, and others use answering machines. Developments in voice recognition technology may also further reduce the demand for order clerks.
(See the introductory statement on records processing occupations for information on working conditions, training requirements, and earnings.)
An industry employing order clerks that appears in the 2000-01 Career Guide to Industries: Wholesale