How to choose the right e-commerce fulfilment partner for you.
We can buy pretty much anything online these days, and e-commerce looks firmly set to continue as the primary method through which consumers do most of their shopping. If you are running or just starting an online business, there are so many factors to consider – collecting payments, site security, how to list your products, photography, social media, marketing campaigns…. We have been there!
So, what can you do to make sure that your products are stored safely, that you are working with a reliable and trustworthy fulfilment centre, and that your orders will reach your customers presented perfectly, and on time?
Here are a few tips and suggestions of questions you should ask. The best fulfilment warehouses will be more than happy to discuss their processes with you and may be able to give you new ideas and ways of making your business as cost effective as possible.
Location, location, location
Is your e-commerce business international, or domestic? Is there a specific geographical area your customers tend to be based, and is there a benefit to choosing a fulfilment centre located in the region?
For many e-commerce retailers, this isn’t so much important an issue as having a reliable and speedy delivery service, but having a fulfilment warehouse within easy reach of major ports, airports and motorways can be a bonus as it makes their ability to collect inbound stocks for you, manage larger consignments or avoid delays in dispatches that much greater.
We would recommend always trying to visit your fulfilment centre in person if you can – being able to see where and how your products will be stored & meet the staff who will be handling your products is a great opportunity to be able to explain the specific detail about what you would like your deliveries to look like, and any special handling instructions that you would like to discuss in person.
Sending all your brand new stock to a 3PL centre can be nerve wracking! How can you be sure it will be looked after safely?
One key way to have assurance as to the professionalism of your fulfilment company is to ask for their accreditations. Most reputable fulfilment companies will have an affiliation with one trade member association, as the audit and inspection process required to be a member helps them to demonstrate the high standards they work to, to their customers.
Examples include UK Warehousing Association, British International Freight Association, Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme, Road Haulage Association
The trades with which your fulfilment warehouse is associated will depend on the services they are providing you with – but making sure to ask for accreditations & then taking the time to verify them via the trade body website is a simple way to verify the authenticity of any company you are considering working with.
Value of your business
How many dispatches do you expect to make a week? How many clients does your fulfilment warehouse work with? We have heard many stories about huge fulfilment centres, and despite their excellent resources and facilities, smaller clients struggle to receive the level of service they want for their customers, due to being a very small part of the business for their 3PL provider.
That is not always the case, and some big fulfilment companies provide outstanding service, but it is worth considering the value of your business – to help you succeed you want to work with a fulfilment partner who really cares about your business, takes the time to understand your products, and wants to provide an exceptional service to ensure every customer is happy, so that your respective businesses can grow together over time.
Many products have specific requirements – whether this is the temperature at which they are stored, the way in which products are stacked, the packaging which they require – or another factor.
Before you begin working with a fulfilment partner, make sure they understand your catalogue of products and have the right facilities and equipment to manage your products to make sure they reach your customers exactly as intended.
Many fulfilment warehouses bulk buy packaging, tags, labels etc – so if you need specific sized or shaped packaging, or safety packaging for example for glass, it is worth asking for their help in sourcing as you may find yourself saving some money!
Particularly when beginning work with a new fulfilment partner, we would always recommend drawing up a simple contract or Service Level Agreement. The intention is not to tie anybody down, but to clearly established exactly what service you can expect, what the rates are for each aspect of that service, and what the terms of your agreements are.
This is critical to ensure that, should you ever run into any problems, both the e-commerce seller and their fulfilment partner have the same understanding about what services are being provided, and avoids any unnecessary confusion with you both working from the same page.