When you choose your business's e-commerce fulfillment service and partner, you're setting the foundation for how your business delivers products and completes customer orders. Moving from in-house fulfillment to a third party will set the stage for scalable growth.
But without a solid, reliable foundation, your customers can't rely on your business and your internal teams face unpredictable work cycles and emergencies. According to SaddleCreek's analysis of an eMarketer report:
“The five biggest challenges facing merchants today include transportation, scalability, inventory management, order processing speed & accuracy, and profitability.”
You need a fulfillment partner that can steadily provide services so you can reach and exceed KPIs in all five areas. This guide will walk you through six key factors to keep in mind as you search for the right e-commerce fulfillment service for your business's unique needs.
1. Monthly Order Minimums and Maximums
Third-party logistics (3PL) companies often either have minimum order sizes or maximum order caps so they can manage and predict the services they need to provide. Some companies won't be able to offer the capacity for the minimum order volume you need, while others may have a minimum above your current business expectations. As you're shopping for your next e-commerce fulfillment services provider, look for one that:
- Offers a range between their minimum and maximum order sizes that nicely accommodates your current demands.
- Offers a range that also fits your expected business growth for the next year.
We recommend choosing a service that fits both right now and for your foreseeable growth. This ensures you can continue to grow without having to worry about hitting maximums or switching to a new services provider. Ideally, look for a service with a wide range or multiple different tiers of service.
2. Total SKU Count
Just like companies cap the order volume they can handle per client, they have measures to cap client complexity. Many 3PLs will set a maximum number of SKUs — or different products — they'll handle per client. This is because different products, even at low volumes, take up space and make their workflows more complicated.
Sometimes 3PLs will accommodate clients that have a high order volume in total or will allow more products so long as each product has a minimum product volume. If your business has a diverse array of products, we recommend reaching out to a 3PL that satisfies all the other requirements on your checklist to see what your options are.
3. Technology and Integration Capabilities
Your e-commerce business is probably already filled with dozens of integrations. Your blog analytics tool will speak to your main website, as well as your automated marketing system. Your invoice tools speak to your CRM. All of these integrations are essential for making your company scalable, so don't get short-changed with your 3PL services provider.
3PL integrations should automatically handle tasks like fulfilling incoming orders, recommending the best shipping options for safe and efficient delivery to your customers, and inventory assessments so you never run out of your products.
Integrations can also connect your e-commerce fulfillment portal with your invoicing tools, your client address list, and your order tracking dashboard. Then everyone on your team, from billing specialists to customer service representatives, has all the real-time information they need. Ultimately, the more integrations your 3PL offers, the better — both for you and your customers.
Look for services that offer these features and benefits:
- State-of-the-art software
- Automated fulfillment processes
- Integrations with the top e-commerce platforms on the market — specifically, the tools you use.
At Smart Warehousing, our e-commerce fulfillment services integrate with over 170 different systems and tools. We built our systems to accommodate various businesses, no matter what platforms you prefer now or what business tools you'll adopt in the future.
4. Data Tracking
The only way to scale your business is to have complete insight into your metrics so you can capitalize on growth areas and create solutions for the inefficiencies you uncover. E-commerce businesses need to be able to provide excellent customer service as a huge element of their brand differentiation, and that relies on having data at your fingertips. Choose a 3PL that offers these key data tracking capabilities in as close to real-time as possible:
- Inventory levels for each of your products (as well as predicted ordering schedules)
- Real-time customer order tracking for each of your deliveries
- Real-time inventory order tracking so you know your products are available
- Analytics for better insight into trends on product purchases
There are two key types of data tracking on that list: real-time tracking on a granular level, and the ability to see trends in the data over time. Both are essential for answering individual customer questions and forecasting changes to business operations in the future.
5. Order Accuracy
While timely deliveries are crucial for maintaining good customer relationships, order accuracy is just as important. More and more fulfillment centers are enabled with the technologies to box multiple orders together and streamline their distribution system.
But if they can't do it without making a lot of errors, you need to look for other options. Look for a company that has an adequate infrastructure of people, equipment, and processes. Also, check their reviews online to see what feedback other e-commerce companies have about their accuracy.
6. Warehouse Location
If you're a local business, you need a local warehouse. But if your e-commerce business serves customers throughout a specific region or across the entire country, you need to work with a 3PL that has a wide network of warehouses and distribution centers. The bigger their network is, the better you can serve your current customers and expand in the next few years.
Having a large geographic spread ensures that the 3PL can better handle one-day and two-day shipping because they stock products in multiple hubs throughout the system. A larger warehouse network also implies they have a distribution network to match.
Smart Warehousing is built to give your e-commerce business national coverage. With 34 warehouses strategically located throughout the U.S., we confidently offer two-day shipping to 99% of the nation.
Make Sure Your E-Commerce Fulfillment Services Can Fulfill Your Company's Needs
E-commerce fulfillment services make up an essential block of your business strategy. Look for a company with the resources and the expertise to manage your fulfillment needs now — but also look for one that will be there for you as you grow.
At Smart Warehousing, we have the solutions to match your company's current demands and your future fulfillment needs. Contact us today to get started.