No matter what type of product you’re selling or what industry you’re in, 73% of online shoppers expect fast shipping at an affordable price. The good news is it’s not unrealistic to accomplish — as long as you choose the right third-party logistics (3PL) partner for your business.
There are a multitude of factors to consider, but most importantly, you’ll want to ask a potential 3PL company questions related to fulfillment center location, technology, and key value-adds that significantly benefit your eCommerce brand.
Here are the 3 top questions you should always ask a potential fulfillment provider:
1. How many fulfillment centers do you have and where are they located?
When it comes to shipping orders as quickly as possible, location is key. Choose a 3PL that owns and operates one or more fulfillment centers where most of your customers reside.
To start, analyze your order history and see where a majority of your orders are coming from. Using this data, identify if the potential 3PL offers fulfillment locations closest to your customers.
As you’re gathering this data, take time to research shipping zones (the geographical areas that carriers determine and ship to). Understanding shipping zones will give you better insight into how much it will cost to ship from your fulfillment location(s) to your customers.
A good 3PL should be data-driven and help provide an analysis of transit times and shipping costs by zone, using scenarios of different fulfillment centers.
A good rule of thumb is to choose fulfillment center locations near major hubs or metro areas that have the potential to reach a large volume of your customers.
It’s also beneficial to note that being near your 3PL partner is not a requirement, although there’s nothing wrong with it. Once you have a good sense of the location you want to be in, ask your potential 3PL to take you on a tour.
When deciding on which locations to start with and which ones to consider in the future, the right 3PL partner will help you make those decisions on how to further scale as you grow. Expanding into additional fulfillment center locations is just one way to do this.
2. How does your technology stack up?
Along with having fulfillment centers located where your customers are, you’ll want to look for a 3PL that combines in-house fulfillment with technology that sends important information to you while powering its fulfillment network.
A tech-enabled 3PL delivers the following two components:
- The ability to easily integrate and connect to your online store, and
- Reliable, accurate, & transparent fulfillment data
A modern 3PL will make it easy to integrate its eCommerce fulfillment and shipping technology with your online store(s). This will allow for orders to be automatically sent from your eCommerce platform or marketplace to the fulfillment center with the ordered inventory that’s closest to the customer.
They should also help with everything from inventory management and order tracking to forecasting and managing returns. With reliable and timely data, you have the advantage to make better business decisions, identify purchasing trends, and foresee any potential issues before they arise.
3. How are you different from other 3PLs?
To ensure you’re getting the most from your fulfillment provider, choose a 3PL that goes beyond the pick-pack-ship model by delivering value-adds that will highly benefit your business. Think about the unique needs of your product and customers, and ask specific questions that relate to those needs.
A few value-adds some 3PLs provide include:
- The ability to ship internationally
- The ability to use your custom branded packaging
- Responsive, helpful customer service and a dedicated account manager, and
- Kitting, B2B, or additional service
Along with value-adds, ask your potential fulfillment provider to describe the customers that they’ve had the most success with (e.g., type of products or industries, SKU count, order volume, product dimensions and weights, etc.) and request case studies and customer testimonials.
Hearing how other eCommerce businesses have benefited from your potential 3PL will help you establish a peace of mind and understand if it will be a mutually beneficial partnership.
Ultimately, you’ll want to partner with a 3PL that offers fulfillment centers near your customers, best-in-class technology, and value-adds that match the unique needs of your business.
Choosing to outsource your fulfillment is no easy task, but if you take the time to choose the right 3PL, you’ll save time and money as you continue to grow your business.