3PL Checklist & Must-Ask Questions
by Paul Vinuelas
As a growing e-tailer, partnering with a trusted 3PL allows you to focus your energy, resources, and capital towards your core company strategy, rather than exhausting your business over operational overhead costs. As Sarah Hague, Executive Director at Glossier, put it in her interview in Eye For Transport's recent report on Supply Chain for Omnichannel Retail, "Opening up your own 3PL [or fulfilling in-house] is like opening a separate business yourself. When you're small and scrappy and just trying to get by with as much as you possibly can, it's not something you take on lightly."
Taking the time to research different 3PLs is crucial in finding the right partner for you and will be a huge cost and time-saver in the long run. Set specific criteria for what you are looking for in a 3PL and ask thoughtful, strategic questions that lead you to check 'yes' or 'no' on your fulfillment boxes! We've outlined some 'must-haves' and 'must-asks' below:
Find a 3PL with...
1. A mature carrier network
Question to Ask: How do you ensure that shipping carrier and service time are being optimized? What carriers do you work with?
2. Experience in omnichannel fulfillment solutions
Question: Will you integrate with my shopping cart and sales channels? (Shopify, Amazon, Etsy, etc)
3. Innovative Technology
Question: Do you use automation in your warehouses or other advanced forms of technology to increase efficiency and accuracy in your fulfillment processes?
4. Experience handling peak volume
If you are a seasonal business or have frequent flash sales, this is a big one.
Question: Do you have experience handling peak volume? How are you preparing for the holiday rush? Do you handle flash sales?
5. Clear Inventory Receival Guidelines
Ensure that your fulfillment partner can receive your inventory with accuracy and efficiency, and make sure that you understand their process for receiving.
Question: How do you handle receiving inventory from your vendors? Will I need to palletize and/or barcode my inventory?
6. A record of trusted inventory control
Question: How do you handle lost inventory or order errors?
7. A thorough pick/packing process
Question: Are items scanned at the point of final packing and shipment? How does your warehouse team ensure that the right SKU is picked and packed with the right shipping label?
8. A clear cost structure
Ensure that you are working with a 3PL that does not nickel and dime you with separate charges for receiving, pick/packing, and shipping. These seemingly small charges will add up.
Question: Do you charge separate fees for receiving, pick/packing, warehousing, and shipping, or do you have an all-inclusive pricing model?
Ultimately, find a partner, not just a service provider.
Anyone can pick, pack and ship, but who's going to help you grow your brand? Who's going to fill the gaps that you have on your team?
Find a fulfillment partner that you can grow with and who you can trust. Being strategic and thoughtful in your 3PL selection process will save your business from logistical headaches as you scale.