In the first part of this two-part series, we discussed some of the most important things to know about your top fulfillment service contenders when you’re trying to form a new partnership, but there’s always more to know about complicated business transactions like this.
In the second part of this blog series, we’ll be looking at features that can help you cut your frontrunners down to a manageable list. Although not all fulfillment services will have these options, an SMB looking to grow shouldn’t consider a 3PL without the following key offerings:
Centralized distribution centers. Whether your 3PL has one or many warehouses, it needs to be centrally located for your entire customer base. If you intend to sell nationally, that means keeping the bulk of your items in warehouses throughout the center of the country so that both the east and west coasts are served in equal time. Companies looking for global fulfillment services may also benefit from warehouses located near shipping piers to speed transportation, depending on the global shippers they use.
Seasonal flexibility. It’s unlikely your business always sells the same number of items in April as it does in December, so that means you’re going to need flexible storage and fulfillment services that will only charge you for what you’re actually using. If you need more space, an ideal future 3PL will gladly open up spare areas of the warehouse to your products; when those items have sold out and your busiest sales seasons are over, you’ll be under no obligation to restock to the same levels.
Lots of data. Logistics companies should be home to massive amounts of data, most track everything from the time it takes to pick a box to how many steps on average it is from the picking area to the packing area. They should also be tracking data on your inventory and orders, including how many items are in stock, what items are running low, which items are frequently ordered together, what items are the most popular and how many pick errors your packages have generated.
Data like this can help both you and your 3PL improve your service, but if you aren’t allowed access to it, it’s worthless. Ask about what data they’ll report to you and how frequently it’s updated—if you can get self-serve access to accurate real-time data, that’s ideal.
Additional services. Although a 3PL that does it all might make you worry it is a jack of all trades, it’s not always the case that they’re master of none. Many offer additional services that complement warehousing and fulfillment, including reverse logistics, customer service call centers and even print shop services.
This type of fulfillment service can come in extremely handy as you’re expanding your business and will save you time having to find someone who can handle these aspects of your company as you grow too large to be able to deal with them on your own. Getting price quotes on additional services while you’re making a final list of 3PLs is a great idea so you can plan for your shop’s future.
Whether your next fulfillment service is your first or your last, you don’t have to make the decision blindly. Armed with a list of questions to ask and a punch list of services that absolutely must be available will not only help you better show each 3PL how they can serve your business, but save time for you both.