This is part two in a two-part series. You can read part one here.
In part one of this two-part series, we introduced some basic questions you should always ask a 3PL or fulfillment service before committing to a long-term partnership.
Once you’re tied to a 3PL, it can be difficult to leave without disrupting business or spending a great deal of money to get a new 3PL online at the same time, so it’s vital that you choose one that will work for your business today and is flexible enough to still meet your needs tomorrow.
The first five questions should have been good for eliminating some 3PLs from your list, and these questions will help narrow the field even further:
How difficult will it be to implement your services? Coming online with a 3PL is a process, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Some 3PLs are better at implementation than others, but it helps speed things along if they’re capable of doing shopping cart integration with your existing software. That way once your inventory is transferred you won’t still be waiting for your data to do the same.
What kind of data can you provide my company? It’s one thing to hand off your inventory to a third party, but it’s another to do so blindly. Instead, insist on as much data as possible related to your products, from the moment they move from the shipping truck through the eventual pick, pack and ship process. Accurate, to-the-minute inventory, statistics on how quickly your packages move and data on the popularity of individual items can help you better plan for future sales.
What can your warehouses handle? You might not be too worried about distribution centers today, but eventually poorly maintained warehouses could be quite problematic for you and your team. Is the facility temperature-controlled? Is it immaculately kept? Is there 24/7 personnel or surveillance? What kind of space capacity does the warehouse have and is that flexible?
What cost-saving measures do you utilize? A good 3PL can have a huge impact on your bottom line. After all, their relationships with shippers and knowledge of the whole process should result in cheaper shipping. If they don’t intend to utilize their networks and processes like cartonization to help save you money, keep shopping 3PLs.
Do you handle returns management and reverse logistics? Merchandise returns can be tedious, but someone has to handle them and promptly. Quick returns mean that items can get back into sales inventory before they expire or go out of style and that customers are happier with their experience. A 3PL that handles return logistics is a winner – returns are an often-overlooked part of retail sales.
Your 3PL should be your partner for years to come, so it’s important to thoroughly interview each potential candidate. Price should never be the determining factor when it comes to 3PLs, instead you should be focusing on how much they’re willing to do to provide the ideal service for your business as it grows.