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How to Choose the Right Apparel Fulfillment Center for Your Business

To choose the right apparel fulfillment center for your business, you’ll need to understand the nature of their services and how their technology, order options, shipping options, customization options, and return procedures will benefit your business. Once you’ve determined that their scope of service aligns with your needs as an e-Commerce retailer, you’ll be able to pick the perfect partner for your business. Let’s explore how to choose the right apparel fulfillment center for your business.

Key Takeaways

  • Understand the most critical items and services to consider when choosing a partner in apparel fulfillment services.
  • Learn about the value-added services and benefits that apparel retailers should seek in an eCommerce fulfillment partner.
  • Find out how scalability and technology in fulfillment can enable growth for a clothing company.

The importance of choosing the right fulfillment partner

The apparel industry faces many unique challenges that distinguish it from other sectors. The continued growth of online retail, consumer convenience, and the popularity of fast fashion brands are just a few of the critical items that have fueled the development of the apparel fulfillment services industry in recent years. That’s why a clothing retailer needs to do research and take time to vet the right fulfillment partner for its items.

Here are just a few of the top challenges facing today’s apparel retailers:

Fast Fashion and Short Product Life Cycles

The apparel industry moves fast. New styles and trends are constantly emerging. This poses significant challenges for long-term production planning, inventory management, and timely delivery. A 3PL can help with ever-changing inventory options and warehousing pain-points.

Seasonal Demand

Seasonal changes, fashion seasons, and holidays highly influence apparel demand. Failure to effectively manage seasonal variables can lead to missed sales due to understocking or excess inventory due to overstocking. A 3PL can help you meet seasonal demand, which takes the pressure off of you managing this in-house during peak seasons.

Size and Fit Inconsistencies

Managing size and fit consistency across multiple clothing brands and different product lines can be challenging for any apparel company. A flexible and easy-to-understand return policy and accurate sizing information on the retailer’s website is necessary to ensure customer satisfaction. A qualified 3PL partner will make the return process simple and hands-off for you. They will provide support from logistics to restocking.

Complex Supply Chain

The apparel industry often works with dispersed supply chains. This results in the need to coordinate across multiple stages of manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution. It’s a complex supply chain structure that requires expert oversight. You can trust your 3PL to understand and master the supply chain on your behalf, allowing you more time to focus on running your business.

Inventory Management Options

Inventory-related challenges are common in fulfillment. If not carefully managed, retailers may resort to product markdowns to clear out excess inventory, which impacts profitability. A 3PL will use sophisticated warehouse management software to ensure inventory is accounted for and in good standing.

Omnichannel Integration

Omnichannel retailing presents both warehousing challenges and opportunities for apparel businesses. But with seamless integration between offline and online channels, retailers can achieve reliable warehouse inventory visibility, efficient order fulfillment, faster shipping, and a consistent customer shopping experience. Your 3PL partner should be well-versed in integrating multiple sales channels to provide a seamless customer experience. This will allow you to focus on product delivery and running your business.

Customer Service

It’s challenging to master everything mentioned above and provide an outstanding customer service experience. The right fulfillment partner can help streamline these processes to manage order and shipping issues better as they arise.

Fulfillment services to consider for the apparel industry

If you’re a retailer considering a new apparel fulfillment partner, here are the key fulfillment services to look for.

Pick and Pack Services

Kitting is a commonly used service in eCommerce fulfillment. It’s the process of packaging clothing products together that might otherwise be purchased separately by a customer.

Pick and pack services are how the kits (the packaged products) get bundled. The various methods used all help to improve distribution efficiency and also help to manage high inventory complexity.

A goods fulfillment center will pick specific products from inventory and then re-package them for distribution. Piece picking, bulk picking, zone picking, and wave picking are a few of the standard methods used.

Seamless Integration

It is critical that your fulfillment partner’s software seamlessly integrates with your eCommerce platform, ERP, or CRM, and all the major e-Commerce platforms – Amazon, eBay, and Shopify are just a few.

Seamless integrations will give you 24/7/365 visibility to every aspect of your logistics and fulfillment operations and improve the accuracy of your inventory management, sales channel data, shipping data, return processing status, and more.

Strategic Location

Why is the strategic location of an apparel fulfillment center so important? Because having a centrally located distribution facility enables faster order fulfillment to customers – thanks to better access to transportation infrastructure, from highways to airports.
Having a strategic location also helps reduce freight and shipping costs and helps minimize the risk of delays or disruptions within heavily localized operations.

Fast, Affordable, Customizable shipping options

An experienced and reputable fulfillment partner will have relationships with the top shipping carriers and the ability to negotiate the best possible pricing for their customers.

They also have the flexibility to customize, and rate shop shipping options based on your unique business needs and ensure customer orders are delivered by the fastest and most cost-effective shipping method.

Inventory and Order Management

An apparel fulfillment center’s software and technology should provide a 360-degree view of critical operational data. This includes easy access to inventory and clothing order management data through a central dashboard.

A user-friendly, centralized dashboard allows the fulfillment center and retailer to see important analytics in real-time, 24/7/365 – from inventory and PO alerts to shopping cart data and top-selling SKUs.

inside warehouse

Returns Management

No other commerce industry sees higher online returns than the clothing industry. That’s why having a partner with excellent returns processing management capabilities is so important.

Returns management is a big part of the supply chain process. It involves a series of steps that, when done efficiently, can help minimize the number of returns and create a seamless returns transaction that leads to customer satisfaction.

The main steps in returns processing and management include receiving the return, inspecting returned apparel, repairing and reconditioning apparel if needed, providing an exchange if requested, disposing of damaged products, and returning qualified apparel back into inventory.

Custom Packaging and Branding

Gone are the days of receiving an online order in a plain, unmarked box. Today’s retailers, particularly apparel brands, must wow customers with a memorable package unboxing experience.

Through their kitting and co-packing services, fulfillment centers can help retailers create that impressive brand experience. It could include using unique packing material, custom inserts, or creating special collections, gift sets, or surprise boxes.

Ask about value-added services and benefits

In addition to offering the key fulfillment services highlighted above, there are other value-added services and solutions an apparel retailer should consider when deciding on a new apparel fulfillment provider.

Expertise in Apparel Niches

Many fulfillment partners have various apparel niches. At Kable Product Services, for example, we can warehouse and ship any apparel order that doesn’t require hanger storage. This includes but isn’t limited to dresses, uniforms, costumes, jackets, shoes, and accessories.

Proven Industry Partnerships

Ask a potential fulfillment partner about their successful track record of solutions for other apparel customers. How many apparel retailers do they work with? How many years have they serviced them?

A niche outdoor retail brand recently saved over 28% on operational order fulfillment costs when after transitioning to Kable Product Services.

Simple, Scalable Price Structure

Working with any new apparel fulfillment partner aims to achieve a streamlined operational product fulfillment model, enabling a larger, loyal customer base and long-term growth. 

A simple, scalable pricing structure that is flexible to adapt to each retailer’s unique needs will deliver cost savings and future success more easily.

Seamless Onboarding Process

The thought of moving from one fulfillment partner to another can seem overwhelming. But an experienced fulfillment provider will have proven processes in place that make the onboarding experience fast and as stress-free as possible. The goal should always be to have a seamless transition that is unrecognizable to the online customer.

Focus on scalability and growth

The apparel industry can be challenging, and you never know what future order sales might look like. That’s why working with a fulfillment partner with the flexibility to accommodate fluctuating order volumes is essential.

This includes having the capability to support expanding product lines or new apparel categories and having the ability to scale up or down to handle peak fulfillment seasons and special promotions.

Remember the importance of technology and support

Technology is the foundation for a successful eCommerce fulfillment operation regardless of industry.

Many factors go into having a best-in-class software solution. When talking with a potential fulfillment partner, ask about the following:

  • Customizable software solutions
  • Client-facing portal features
  • Reporting dashboard and order fulfillment capabilities
  • Service updates and IT Staff
  • Tech support/customer service solutions

Learn more about our integrations and partners

Ready for a new apparel fulfillment partner? Contact our team.

For over 40 years, Kable Product Services has worked with apparel retailers and brands worldwide to streamline their fulfillment processes and give them a competitive edge. Contact our team today to learn more about how we can help you.