Before the molehill of supply chain management becomes a mountain of chaos, let’s look at the many possibilities of a 3PL. Managing the replenishment, logistics and fulfillment of your supply chain doesn’t have to feel like you’re lost without a map. In fact, you can think of a 3PL as your personal chauffeur.
What is a 3PL? A third-party logistics partner (otherwise known as a 3PL) is a resource for businesses that want to gain the benefits of outsourcing supply chain management. From inventory management and warehousing to everything fulfillment, 3PLs offer financial and technological benefits that help sellers reach their goals faster.
Supply chain challenges are making it increasingly difficult to meet customer demands. Take a look inside the 3PL supply chain management process and you’ll find out why so many businesses are turning to this logistics solution.
Behind the Scenes: The 3PL Supply Chain Management Process
Wondering what happens inside a 3PL? Here’s a look inside the entire supply chain process when you partner with a full service 3PL.
1. Receiving and Replenishing
The supply chain management process with a 3PL begins when sellers ship inventory to the 3PL warehouse. The 3PL then accepts and stores this inventory, so it’s ready for delivery.
Inventory management can be a big headache for businesses large and small. One key benefit of 3PLs is that they can take leadership of this process and use innovative technology to achieve great results.
At Smart Warehousing, we’ve created a modern information management system we call SWIMS to provide a system of record for inventory. As a result of this innovative technology, our clients get real-time access to inventory insights, transaction-level updates and a total summary of activity whenever and wherever they want it.
The process begins when your organization ships inventory to our closest location. Then, our software guides distribution within our warehouse network so your products get as close to their final destination as possible and delivery meets customer demands as quickly as possible.
2. Warehousing for Your Needs
Your inventory has to have somewhere to go. In a 3PL, each item you send is stored in a fulfillment center. Every 3PL will have its own method for storage.
Warehousing technology is at the core of Smart Warehousing. Our specialized warehouses and teams can handle any product whether frozen, temperature controlled or anywhere in between with our cold chain expertise.
Our warehouses also have the capability to handle big and bulky products. No matter the size or care needed, we’ve got you covered. Our inventory management system gives you the ability to go lean. This smart software provides data so you know what amount of inventory is needed in the network. That means your business can run leaner on inventory minimums.
3. Picking Orders Efficiently
Once an order is placed, the fulfillment process begins. In this next stage of supply chain management, with your orders now integrated in the 3PL system, the real fun begins. Each order comes to the warehouse picking team, who receives a list of items needed for the order and where they’re located in the storage location.
Our Smart Warehousing staff ensures only the best products make it to your customers. Our focus is efficient and accurate picking no matter the order size.
4. Packing in Perfect Condition
After order items are picked, it’s time to pack. A 3PL will securely package your items for shipping to your customers, taking yet another to-do off your plate. The exact packing material, pricing and process will depend on your 3PL. However, sellers can rest easy. 3PLs have plenty of experience shipping and determining the type of packaging that ensures products are delivered in perfect condition. Common packing materials include unbranded boxes, bubble mailers, poly bags, packing tape, and dunnage (like bubble wrap or packing peanuts). Some 3PLs will charge for packing materials as a separate line item, while others include them as part of their fulfillment management services.
As experienced shippers, the 3PL will choose the best packing materials to both protect your products and achieve the lowest practical dimensional weight. They will also optimize packages so that you don’t have to split shipments.
At Smart Warehousing, we make sure your customers see exactly what you want them to see. Rather than requiring businesses to use our branded boxes (like some 3PLs do!), Smart Warehousing is focused on your brand. We’ll use any custom tape, packaging and processes you want to make sure you’re growing a relationship with customers at every corner.
In the packing step of the supply chain management process, our warehouse staff packs items appropriately, adding gel packs or dry ice as needed. Plus, we have our own dry ice machine! This is just another way that we’re able to cut costs and share that reduced expense with our clients.
5. Shipping on Demand
With the order picked and packaged, it’s on to shipping. 3PLs handle shipping labels and work with carriers. Working with a large number of clients means some 3PLs can negotiate costs and get your business a much more affordable shipping fee. That expertise can truly pay off for your organization’s bottom line.
With an expansive shipping network, Smart Warehousing can find you the most reliable shipping options at the right price. That’s because we receive discounted rates from major carriers that we pass on to our clients. In times of shipping delays and rising costs, having a first-rate 3PL by your side is a big bonus!
Another big shipping benefit we like to offer at Smart Warehousing is the ability to offer free shipping. Did you know that the biggest reason for shopping cart abandonment is not offering free shipping? It’s true! With our Smart Replenishment program, you’ll be able to make this valuable offer to customers because you’ll be reaping the benefits of transportation savings and zone skipping.
Our system makes sure your product is always within just a couple of zones from the end user. Therefore, you can avoid paying the national freight rate and only pay the regional cost at the local destination of delivery. That’s right. We not only offer nationwide coverage, with 1-2 day shipping for 99% of the country, but we also offer discounts on transportation due to our strategic relationships with multiple national carriers.
6. Managing Returns
For a complete supply chain management experience, you’ll want a 3PL that manages returns. Customers simply ship items back to your 3PL and they process the return. They’ll also return, restock or dispose of the product based on your preferences. You can even have your 3PL insert return shipping labels into orders to streamline the process. Can you imagine the ease of outsourcing in-house returns?
And having an excellent return system in place has never been more significant. As online sales grow, retailer return rates have reached new heights. Retail returns jumped to an average of 16.6% in 2021 versus 10.6% a year ago, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation and Appriss Retail. Therefore, selecting a 3PL partner who excels in return management is of the utmost importance in the supply chain.
Here at Smart Warehousing, we’ve created proven processes to manage returns as easily and efficiently as possible. Our team is well-practiced in managing returns of all types with a focus on helping you bring costs down and save precious time.
The Supply Chain Management Solution Starts with Smart Warehousing
Logistics and inventory management seem more difficult than ever. That’s why Smart Warehousing is here to help as your omni-channel 3PL.
With more than 38 warehouses in 12 different markets comprising more than 12 million square feet, Smart Warehousing can help you meet customer demands across the country. We offer dependable transportation services in a time when dependability has never mattered more.
Smart Warehousing is committed to being more than a 3PL provider, but a 3PL partner. Consider us your very own back-of-house solution. With our technology, workforce and expertise, supply chain management can help you exceed expectations and reach your biggest goals. Want to partner with a 3PL that does things the smart way? Learn more about Smart Warehousing.