The first step when you are ready to search for an eCommerce order fulfillment solution is to reach out for quotes. Typically you will have an exchange with a Sales Representative which will get an idea of the scope of work and services you need and then provide you with an order fulfillment quote and service agreement. Seems fairly simple right? Choose the cheapest solution and off you go. This is a case of buyer beware.
Not all order fulfillment operations are created equal. Not by a long shot. Opting for the cheapest solution at face value could lead to a tremendous amount of costs down the road when you find yourself switching 3PL order fulfillment providers, need to move your inventory over, and establish new software connections. You need to look at these quotes three-dimensionally, and you need to ask the right questions to make sure you sign on for long-term, cost-efficient, and sustainable order fulfillment services. Here are some important things you should ask prior to signing on the dotted line that will potentially save you money and time in the long run.
Does the potential fulfillment service provider specialize in the field you are looking for?
Specialization is key when looking for an order fulfillment centre. When reviewing their website content and speaking with their sales representative, are they truly speaking your language? You can learn a lot by asking the right questions about your field. If you are a company that focuses on Walmart Marketplace sales, ask the company if they are familiar with shipping orders placed on the Walmart Marketplace and what the user experience is like. If you also make a substantial amount of sales on Shopify, ask them how orders are received and how fulfilled orders tracking numbers and order statuses are transmitted back to your website. If they have all the answers in stride, you are probably in the right place!
Does the 3PL order fulfillment operation have the inventory space you need?
Warehouse storage space is a crucial element when it comes to logistics. Most order fulfillment operations are not in the business in cost-effectively warehousing a ton of inventory. It is important to know that the operation can provide storage for inventory throughout the entire year. Do a proper analysis of how much inventory you will need to have on hand at their facilities and ensure that they will have enough space to accommodate you when the time comes to restock.
Can the order fulfillment operation handle fluctuating order volume as you run promotions or as your business grows?
Inventory levels aren’t the only thing that can fluctuate, it is important to be transparent about, and share your order volume. But it doesn’t just end there. Your business is growing. Be honest about your projections and ensure that any surges in orders you may experience will not delay order processing. This is particularly important when considering the 4th quarter of the year, also known as the holiday season. Share your projections and confirm that you will be able to serve your customers effectively throughout the year.
Are orders shipped out the same day they are received?
It seems the eCommerce consumer wants their order the day before they even placed it. This can be an absolute pain, particularly on your customer service team. You want your orders shipped out the same day and a tracking number in your customer’s hands as soon as possible. Ask the question. Confirm the daily order cut-off time for your orders to have them processed and shipped the very same day. If you’re an eCommerce merchant, and the fulfillment service provider does not offer same-day shipping, you just may want to look elsewhere!
Is it possible to automate your order submission process?
As an eCommerce merchant, you very likely want to take full advantage of the technology you use on a daily basis. During the quotation process, you want to share your sales channels and ensure you will be able to have your orders transmitted to your order fulfillment service provider without cumbersome data entry. If you use WooCommerce, make sure that the fulfillment company offers a cost-effective and easy to establish a connection to their system. Go one step further, and ensure that order statuses and tracking numbers are transmitted back to your website and customers in real-time, keeping everyone in the loop. Your customer should place an order, the fulfillment company should automatically receive the order in their system, and as soon as the order is shipped, both you and your customer should be notified and given a tracking number. All this without you lifting a finger!
Are any future sales channels you may be considering supported?
eCommerce businesses are always growing and changing. If you’re considering selling on a new sales channel in the near future, take the time to make sure you can connect your sales channel to your 3PL provider’s system. Say you’ve been considering sending products to retailers in the future, or you’re exploring new marketplaces. Take the time to ask questions to understand the process in advance so that you are ready to go when you launch. Don’t take this for granted. Some fulfillment operations lack the know-how and flexibility to grow alongside your business.
Is it permitted to use your very owned branded packaging materials?
You have been using generic shipping supplies since your company’s launch, but soon you intend on using your own. Many fulfillment companies are not equipped to allow the use of your own packaging materials or even have policies against it. It is always best to ask what your potential 3PL provider’s policy is regarding your own packaging materials. Not only does using your own materials provide a unique branding opportunity, but can even save you money in some cases. Be ready by taking the time to understand their policy beforehand, so that if you have your own branded packaging materials you are able to use them with your shipments.
Does the software used by your business and the fulfillment operation offer inventory sync?
As your orders get shipped out, your inventory will deplete. Typically all this information is readily available in your order fulfillment partner’s customer portal. In the case of InterFulfillment, you can even download this information in various file formats for external use. That being said, it is important to confirm that the potential order fulfillment operation’s system can also transmit these inventory numbers back to your connected sales channels. This will allow you to see your inventory levels simply by logging in to your connected sales channels like Shopify or WooCommerce, and you won’t need to access the order fulfillment customer portal to keep tabs on how much inventory you have on hand!
Is there any way to geographically filter order transmission?
You have an order fulfillment partner already in place in the United States for orders shipping to the United States. What you’re looking for now is a similar Canadian order fulfillment partner to provide shipping for your Canadian orders. Here is the catch, you want to connect both 3PL provider systems to the same website, but you don’t want them to fulfill all of your orders. You only want them to ship orders for their region. To achieve this type of flexibility on a single sales channel you need to know your fulfillment provider has a geographic order filtering solution that is fully automated. This is something too many eCommerce merchants take for granted and assume is a given. That is not the case. If you do not communicate this requirement before signing on it could cost you a lot of time and money, and subject you and your team to intense manual order management. Before you sign on, explain your order automation intentions and expectations, so you know that the potential fulfillment operation is equipped to meet your expectations!
What are the carrier shipping services options and offerings?
When it comes to carrier shipping services, you want flexibility. You want to know you can ship any segment of your orders with the specific carrier service that best suits them in regards to costs and timeframe. Take time to request a full overview of what carriers and carrier services the potential 3PL service provider offers. Ask about advanced features with have very much become industry standards such as rate shopping which allow each of your orders to automatically get paired with the most cost-effective shipping rates available. Doing this will go a long way in saving you money all while bolstering your customer experience and satisfaction. If you often need orders shipped quickly and with specific carrier services, this is a crucial factor to consider when shopping for the right order fulfillment partner!
Taking the time to be thorough and ask comprehensive questions will be welcomed by any premier order fulfillment company. Asking questions like the ones listed above will let them know you know exactly what you need and what you’re looking for. It will put you in a position of power in which you understand exactly what you’re getting today and what you can expect in the future.
Sometimes in business going the absolute cheapest route can result in a lot of headaches, hidden costs, and logistics nightmares. If the cheapest candidate meets all of your requirements, then great! But if not, take the time to weigh the pros and cons of each quote and what they are offering you. This is how healthy 3PL order fulfillment partnerships should start!