If you are looking for a third-party logistics provider to handle your e-commerce fulfillment there are seven primary factors you should consider when evaluating potential partners for this key role:
- Low-Cost Distribution and Fulfillment Centers – Operating costs are lower in some regions of the country such as the Midwest than in many other areas. Using a 3PL with facilities in a low-cost region saves you money. The less your provider spends on real estate, supplies, labor, taxes, etc., the better pricing he or she can offer you.
- Central Location – If you will be shipping goods throughout the United States or throughout all of North America, you will want to use centrally located distribution and fulfillment centers. Utilizing facilities in the central United States in the middle of Mid-America will result in faster delivery times and lower shipping costs to the entire U.S. or to the entire continent. It doesn’t matter if your customers are in California, Florida, Oregon, Maine, Mexico City or Montreal. The end result is improved customer service and more profit going to your bottom line.
- Expert Staff and State-of-the-Art Facilities – Ideally you want to work with a 3PL with a wide range of capabilities that can handle not just your current needs but also your future needs should you expand and diversify. You want a partner that can provide fulfillment warehousing, pick and pack, container handling and fulfillment, assembly, kitting, packaging, web order processing and return processing.
- Warehousing – Depending on the type of products you offer, you may want to look for potential partners with expertise in particular types of warehousing, be it general merchandise, cold storage, food-grade warehousing or HAZ-MAT chemical storage. ISO 9001:2008 certified and/or AIB Superior food-grade rated facilities may be important factors in your evaluation of potential partners.You want to work with a provider with clean, well-organized facilities where goods are stored using racking systems that protect your products and help assure accurate order fulfillment. You also want to know that your potential partner has the capacity to expand operations for you as you grow.
- 24/7 Inventory Tracking – Your 3PL partner should have an online management system that can keep its clients informed on the status of their shipments around the clock, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- Shipping Options – Your fulfillment company should be able to provide a full range of shipping options such as UPS and FedEx. If your goods include hazardous materials, you may also want to be sure that potential partners and certified by UPS and FedEx for small package chemical shipping and fulfillment.
- Enhanced IT Capabilities – Your 3PL provider should have the in-house IT resources necessary to coordinate their warehouse management system (WMS) with your software and systems so that their systems can be thoroughly integrated with yours.
In addition, your potential fulfillment partner should also be able to design and implement a custom solution to meet your exact specifications and requirements. If your products need to arrive at their facility in container loads and need to be broken down from bulk to individual case packs or single items, can they handle it? If you need to send them pre-packaged case goods which are then processed from EDI online order to the end-user via direct-to-door delivery using UPS, FedEx or DHL Express, can they do it?
Can they receive your goods via truck and rail? Can they barcode case packs or individual items as necessary? Can they store, stage and ship your products? Can they provide integration between your ordering system and their warehouse management system (WMS) in order to more easily manage, plan and report the status of your inventory levels and shipment history? Can they provide online pass-code protected administrative access so that you can remotely manage and track your inventory and distribution from virtually anywhere and anytime day or night?
Bottom line, you want to partner with a fulfillment company that can save you money through efficient low-cost operations and buying power with the shipping services and on its high-volume purchases of packaging materials. You want to select a fulfillment company with the expertise, flexibility and agility to provide excellent service for your customers with the scalability needed to grow with you as your business expands. You want to work with a 3PL provider who you can depend on and trust to get the job done and done right the first time.