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How to find the right fulfillment partner

Choosing the wrong 3PL company can be detrimental to your short and long-term success. It’s vital to thoroughly evaluate any prospective partners before making a decision. We’ve outlined some crucial questions to ask before you commit to a 3PL provider.

You can download it by clicking here: 13 Questions for Finding the Best Fulfillment Partner

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Key Takeaways:

Know what to look for before committing to a 3PL provider. This process will take more time upfront but will save you time and money in the long term. There are 13 critical questions to ask a prospective partner that will help you focus on:

  • Pricing out your 3PL
  • Understanding integrations and customizations
  • Checking Reporting, performance tracking, and inventory management
  • Monitoring shipping and returns
  • Team and facility support

If you feel any part of the provider’s process about their service is unclear, raise a red flag immediately.

You’ll want to ensure your 3PL provides the following: 

  • Comprehensive order fulfillment services
  • A fully integrated system
  • Current technology
  • Proper management
  • Shipping options
  • Accurate and timely returns processing
  • A professional facility
  • Clarity on availability and solutions

Let’s take a look at the most critical questions to ask when interviewing prospective fulfillment partners.

13 Important questions to ask when choosing a fulfillment partner

1

Do you offer flexible pricing options based on overall business volume?

Flexible pricing is critical if your business volume shifts throughout the year based on seasonality.

Make sure the fulfillment partner you choose is upfront about service pricing from the beginning.

As you manage your e-Commerce store and forecast earnings, it’s crucial to be able to adapt costs as needed. A transparent pricing outline should be a non-negotiable as you decide how to move forward.

Be sure to assess and understand any contract requirements. As your business grows and changes—or if you experience a slow season—it’s essential to ensure that overhead costs will not destroy your bottom line.

2

Do you charge for system integration or system customization?

Technology is the cornerstone of fulfillment operations, so make sure their systems will fit within the scope of your retail business.

An intelligent and fully integrated system allows complete transparency throughout the process. This level of integration is critical as you choose to outsource your fulfillment needs.

Strategic system integration enables you to fully view the sales and fulfillment aspect of your business while you take time to handle other facets of development and operation.

Knowing and understanding how your 3PL provider’s platforms will work alongside your internal e-Commerce and fulfillment systems is critical. Ensure your 3PL’s integrations deliver all the sales data necessary to manage your business in real time.

3

Do you provide an online dashboard tool and activity reporting?

Dynamic online dashboards are an essential component when it comes to having visibility into what is going on with your business in real-time.

This tool is the key to providing clarity and insight based on historical sales data and other vital insights related to your business’s future success and scalability.

Your provider should be able to show you the capabilities of their software and integrations so you can decide if their service aligns with your business goals.

4

Do you ship internationally?

If you choose to expand internationally, your fulfillment partner must have direct experience in international fulfillment rules and regulations.

Selecting a provider with a solid background in international shipping and customs requirements is a must. International shipping can derail the fulfillment process if not done correctly.

It’s not an overstep to question your 3PL’s strategies in this area–even if you’re not ready to begin shipping internationally just yet.

5

Do you offer returns processing?

It is usually most efficient when the fulfillment partner can handle this process. It’s essential to ensure that your chosen fulfillment partner can process returns quickly and accurately, providing you with complete transparency throughout each transaction.

You must also be comfortable with their shipping partners (USPS, UPS, DHL, etc.). Ask your prospective 3PL about how they process returns. Do they repack returned items? What’s their restocking turnaround time? How will you know when returns are complete? What happens to inventory that is no longer sellable after the return?

Return processing is a critical part of the fulfillment process. Understand your provider’s role from all angles.

6

Are your employees incentivized to meet performance metrics?

Companies that compensate their employees appropriately will provide a better customer experience.

Ask your fulfillment partner about the workplace culture, employee turnover, and best practices. Employees who experience a high level of job satisfaction will perform better and deliver more desirable results overall. Clients will receive the benefit of high-performing employees.

7

Can we visit your facility for a tour?

If the answer here is no, choose another company. Your fulfillment partner is a critical player in helping you provide exceptional service and, ultimately, the success of your business.

Any prospective 3PL should excitedly give you a tour of their facility. While on-site, be sure to ask any questions and raise any concerns you have at that time.

Also, ask more precisely where and how your inventory will be managed. It’s helpful to visualize where your products will be housed so you can envision the whole process from start to finish.

8

What level of IT support do you provide?

If there is a technology issue, you will need immediate support from your 3PL provider. Understanding how your 3PL will serve you virtually or in person is essential.

Ask your prospective 3PL specifics about who will support you should you need assistance with any issues that arise.

9

What value-added services do you provide?

Some fulfillment operations provide additional services to help your business – thoroughly explain your operational requirements upfront to ensure they are a good fit for you.

Ask about value-added services in great detail. Remember, your 3PL works for you.

Get as much detail as possible so you can weigh the pros and cons of various 3PL providers to help you make the best decision for you.

10

Describe the inventory management controls you employ.

While fulfillment companies may use different controls and metrics, a system should be in place.

Your fulfillment partner should be able to explain thoroughly how their retail inventory management service works for you.

You must understand this portion of the process to guarantee transparency.

11

What are your order cut-off times?

Cut-off times are vital so you can let customers know when to expect their order to ship.

Your fulfillment partner should be able to provide this information as part of their service to you.

Ensure shipping cut-off times work for you and your customer base. Knowing your customer base (target demographic) well is essential to manage shipping expectations.

12

How quickly is inbound product received into inventory?

It’s essential to expedite the process of stocking inventory.

You don’t want any retail product you send to sit around for days, delaying order fulfillment. Ask your prospective fulfillment partner about their process for inventory management fulfillment.

This process should be timely and accurate. Your provider must help you to monitor and balance inventory levels to keep your bottom line moving in the right direction.

13

Do you provide a dedicated account team for my business?

If there is a problem with orders or anything else related to inventory, your business, or a customer problem, you want a contact that can help immediately.

Retail fulfillment isn’t a simple process, and you’ll need a team readily available to provide you with support and clarity at any point in the process.

Ask any prospective 3PL who will be your point of contact and how you can lean on that person or team to help.

Let’s continue the conversation on choosing a fulfillment partner

Now that you know all the right questions to ask when partnering with a 3PL, we invite you to reach out to see how we can help manage your fulfillment needs.

Kable Product Services has been a trusted partner in fulfillment since 1959.

We are happy to provide further education and information about our services and what you can expect in partnership with a 3PL provider.

We are here to answer any questions you may have now or in the future. Please fill out our contact form to get in touch with us.