As e-commerce continues to become the preferred shopping method of the future, consumer demand is quickly reshaping the landscape of online order fulfillment. Major players like Amazon and Walmart are finding ways to continuously improve their e-commerce fulfillment processes, making it faster than ever to order products and get them delivered to customers’ front doors. So how can small and medium-sized business compete? Many are turning to 3PLs to enhance their fulfillment process. If you’re thinking of doing the same, this article will share with you the seven pillars of 3PL wisdom that you should keep in mind when choosing a third-party fulfillment partner.
Read on to learn the seven pillars that all great 3PLs must master, and find out the considerations and questions you need answers to before you pick a third-party logistics partner.
Pillar #1: C.R.E.A.M. (Customers rule everything around me.)
In the famous words of Method Man, if you wanna “get the money,” then you have to respect the source of the cash – aka the customer. Consumers are the driver of ecommerce, so every step in the order fulfillment process should be driven by what’s best – and most enticing – for the consumer.
One of the most common reasons people shop online is that ecommerce allows easy comparison shopping. The ability to instantly find a variety of sources to purchase a product puts all of the power in the hands of consumers. How do your product offers stack up against competition?
And when choosing a 3PL partner, how do your options impact your ability to serve your customers at the highest level? The right third-party logistics partner will enable your brand to become better, faster, and stronger while giving you the benefits of scalability and flexibility.
Fast order fulfillment is vital to the sustainability of your ecommerce company. When is your 3PL’s daily fulfillment cutoff time? Where are their warehouses located? And, most importantly, how quickly can your 3PL get an order out the door and into your customers’ hands?
Free shipping is another customer-driven policy that has become almost a given in today’s ecommerce landscape. So in order to offer free shipping, it’s necessary for fulfillment costs to be predictable and sustainable. When choosing a fulfillment partner, make sure they have transparent pricing. The last thing you want is an invoice full of unexpected fees that eat up your profit margins.
Pillar #2: Seamless automated communication.
How does your 3PL handle order fulfillment? Can they offer seamless automated integrations that instantly import customer orders, so your multichannel ecommerce fulfillment strategy is truly scalable?
When it comes to partnering with a third-party, seamless automated communication between all vital systems is what allows the third-party partnership to thrive. A 3PL’s warehouse management system should be easy for you to interact with, so you and your team understand exactly where inventory and orders are at all times.
Important factors to consider include:
- Does the 3PL use custom API integrations to sync your current shopping carts with their order fulfillment system?
- How quickly and seamlessly do orders import? Is there any manual effort involved?
- Does their system notify you of flagged orders that need further verification?
- Is order status clear?
- Do customers get notified of their order status via email?
- Can you easily manage your inventory directly in the 3PL software?
- Do you get alerts when inventory is low? How easily can you reorder from suppliers?
- Can you process and manage returns in their 3PL portal?
The technology that a 3PL uses should be robust yet flexible, while being able to connect all parties including your company, your suppliers, and your customers. There is zero excuse for outdated technology in the 3PL world – and it’ll only result in lost orders, lost data, and lost customers.
Pillar #3: Have a GSD (Get Sh*t Done) attitude.
If there’s one thing true of all businesses, it’s that business is unpredictable. Needs pop up unexpectedly all the time – from surprises in the supply chain to significant fluctuations in customer demand. The best 3PLs employ a “get sh*t done” attitude because they understand the importance of accommodating and adapting to your company’s needs. Can your 3PL accommodate special projects without charging you an arm and a leg?
Pillar #4: Knowledge is power. Knowledge shared is power multiplied.
Your 3PL should be an expert in fulfillment. That means you should be able to get their support and insight on all of your logistics needs. A third-party logistics partner should want to see your business succeed, which means helping you make the right choices for your business.
From ecommerce shopping carts and shipping methods to packing materials and delivery presentation, the right fulfillment partner is one who is both willing and able to support you in making the best decisions. Does your 3PL partner have a point of contact to help you with all of your burning questions when they arise?
Pillar #5: Take ownership.
It’s only two words, but it makes a world of difference. A great 3PL is fueled by the concept of taking ownership for their role in the customer experience. From the speed of order fulfillment to the rate of mistakes to the unboxing presentation, a third-party logistics company should take pride and full ownership of their performance.
Essentially, a 3PL should take care of your products and your customers as if your company was their own. As a business owner, you need to be able to have full confidence when outsourcing fulfillment to a third-party. After all, their performance sets up your customers’ experience of your brand. How well does your 3PL represent the brands of their customers? Do they take responsibility when mistakes are made?
Pillar #6: Fuel the supply in “supply and demand”.
When choosing a 3PL, consider how they can help you seamlessly facilitate your entire supply chain. Although you can’t truly control your suppliers, your 3PL should be able to empower a more seamless and automated communication between all aspects of your supply chain.
This includes helping you understand when to reorder products, how to predict inventory needs, and being able to quickly and efficiently accept your deliveries as they arrive to the 3PL warehouse. Innovative software is key to maximizing the efficiency of these processes.
Pillar #7: Transparency and visibility are paramount.
The best 3PLs understand that you, your team, and your customers need to know exactly where orders are at any given moment. Choose a 3PL that gives you real-time access to all of the data you need to succeed – via easy-to-use fulfillment software. The more information you and your employees have access to, the better decisions you can make – and the better you can serve your customers.