Your fulfillment partner can make or break your expected growth goals. The wrong third-party logistics partner will make unreliable deliveries, not give you the insight you need into your inventory, and bog down business expansion.
The right partner can help you exceed customer expectations and free up your in-house team's time to focus on customer service, marketing, and other revenue-based pursuits. In fact, partnering with a 3PL organization you can trust is one of the most important ways to keep your business lean and growing, as Shopify says:
"Leasing warehouse space and hiring a fulfillment team increases your overhead. Maintaining fulfillment assets is costly. Working with a 3PL can minimize costs so capital can be directed toward return generating endeavors."
But your fulfillment services can only help you grow and streamline expenses if they have the capabilities your business needs. So look for fulfillment partners with these seven crucial characteristics:
1. Omnichannel Fulfillment
Fulfillment partners need to be able to handle retail, e-commerce, and business-to-business (B2B) order fulfillment, all through one location. Your brand and products need to be able to reach consumers through every viable channel available, including home delivery and in-store shopping.
This creates a better customer experience because they can pick their preferred options and you can reach more customers. If a fulfillment partner you're considering can't offer omnichannel fulfillment, you need to move on so you don't limit your brand's growth potential.
2. National 2-Day Coverage
E-commerce shoppers expect fast and convenient shipping. This is essential for both satisfying their need for fast delivery at the point of sale and finishing the interaction with a positive experience as the customer receives their item.
Slow, multi-day shipping processes (or, even worse, delays) create a negative shopping experience. As more and more retailers, not just Amazon, are continuing to offer two-day or even one-day shipping, you need to be able to compete and offer reliable two-day delivery. Look for a 3PL that guarantees two-day coverage across the country.
While many companies may advertise two-day coverage, there are few ways to make sure they can actually fulfill that promise. First, look for companies with warehouses spread across the country. While they don't need to have one in every state, they do need to have clear distribution points to all major regions. This national footprint allows them to reach any continental US address quickly.
Second, identify how many warehouses they have. Too few, even if they're spread across the country, lead to potential delays and poor coverage. At Smart Warehousing, we have 34 warehouses and are adding more locations to deepen our national footprint.
3. Warehouse Ownership
Reliable 3PLs need to do more than have access to warehouses; they need to outright own them. This ensures that they have more fine-tuned control over the entire warehousing and distribution process, with no risk of interruption from third-party property owners or facility managers.
3PLs that own their own warehouses can establish the processes, size allotments for inventory, and even the system hardware that picks and packages the orders. This complete ownership makes performance more consistent and reliable.
4. Real-Time Data Reporting
If you don't have constant real-time insights into how orders are being fulfilled, you can't effectively manage or improve the process. Ideal 3PLs have automation software and constant connectivity so you have data about real-time order statuses, inventory amounts, payments, and trends in shipping prices. Data delays can make you miss trends, savings, and even warning signs that a problem is developing.
At Smart Warehousing, we use our Smart Warehousing Inventory Management System (SWIMS) to create a complete, real-time system of record. Our clients can see the details of every transaction, in-progress order, and more. All of these insights are available through the cloud for easy management from anywhere. You can also manage orders and inventory through our Bubbles app for Apple and Android devices.
5. Universal E-Commerce Integration
Distribution and shipping are only two parts of e-commerce, and every element has to work together seamlessly to create a high-quality customer experience. Retail sales are going to continue to grow, but your business has to face fierce competition for shoppers' attention. Modern consumers want to be able to browse and customize products online, know their availability, and quickly receive those products at home.
These shopping experiences can occur on store websites, through social media product catalogs, on in-store platforms, and everywhere in between. You may have a Shopify storefront, a website that integrates with WooCommerce, and parent brands that prefer Salesforce. Your 3PL partner has to be able to integrate with every major platform so you can provide a consistent experience across every digital space where your customers shop.
6. Frozen Order Fulfillment
Frozen orders are a challenge for both online retailers and the 3PLs they partner with. But if you sell products that need reliable freezing storage conditions in both warehouses and during every stage of delivery, you need a partner you can depend on to provide zero-failure compliance with regulations.
Frozen orders require additional space, equipment, and logistics expertise to handle. Smart Warehousing offers dependable frozen warehousing services so your frozen goods can arrive at their destination in safe, optimal conditions.
7. Custom Order Fulfillment
Custom goods are increasingly popular, either on the individual consumer level or through white-labeling and diverse product line offerings. But while consumers prefer them, they can add complexity to managing inventory, maintaining set minimums of increasingly large product catalogs, and other tasks associated with custom orders. Look for fulfillment partners that can flexibly manage custom goods and provide custom kitting services so you can reach these markets.
Choose a Fulfillment Partner You Can Trust
3PL services are crucial for any business that wants to scale up and have a lean business structure. Not every 3PL offers the services, coverage area, and technological capabilities you need, but Smart Warehousing does.
Contact us today to learn more about our warehousing capabilities and how we can support your business as your trusted warehousing and fulfillment partner.