If an organization is looking for a third-party logistics provider to handle e-commerce fulfillment there are seven primary factors to consider when evaluating potential partners for this key role:
- Low-Cost Distribution and Fulfillment Centers– Operating costs are lower in some regions of the country such as the Midwest than in many other areas. Using a 3PL with facilities in a low-cost region saves money. The less a provider spends on real estate, supplies, labor, taxes, etc., the better pricing he or she can offer.
- Central Location – If a company must ship goods throughout the United States or throughout all of North America, then choosing centrally located distribution and fulfillment centers will be beneficial. Utilizing facilities in the central United States in the middle of Mid-America will result in faster delivery times and lower shipping costs to the entire U.S. or to the entire continent. It doesn’t matter if customers are in California, Florida, Oregon, Maine, Mexico City or Montreal. The end result is improved customer service and more profit.
- Expert Staff and State-of-the-Art Facilities – Ideally companies want to work with a 3PL with a wide range of capabilities that can handle not just the current needs but also future needs should an organization expand and diversify. Partners that can provide fulfillment warehousing, pick and pack, container handling and fulfillment, assembly, kitting, packaging, web order processing and return processing will make the 3PL partnership more valuable.
- Warehousing – Depending on the type of products offered by a company, you may want to look for potential partners with expertise in particular types of warehousing, be it general merchandise, cold storage, food-grade warehousing or HAZ-MAT chemical storage. ISO 9001:2008 certified and/or AIB Superior food-grade rated facilities may be important factors in the evaluation of potential partners. Companies want to work with a provider with clean, well-organized facilities where goods are stored using racking systems that protect products and help assure accurate order fulfillment. Companies want to know that their potential partner has the capacity to expand operations as growth occurs.
- 24/7 Inventory Tracking – A 3PL partner should have an online management system that can keep its clients informed on the status of their shipments around the clock, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- Shipping Options – A fulfillment company should be able to provide a full range of shipping options such as UPS and FedEx. If goods include hazardous materials, organzations may also want to be sure that potential partners and certified by UPS and FedEx for small package chemical shipping and fulfillment.
- Enhanced IT Capabilities – 3PL providesr should have the in-house IT resources necessary to coordinate their warehouse management system (WMS) with the company’s software and systems so that their systems can be thoroughly integrated.
In addition, the potential e-commerce fulfillment partner should also be able to design and implement a custom solution to meet the organizations exact specifications and requirements. If products need to arrive at their facility in container loads and need to be broken down from bulk to individual case packs or single items, can they handle it? If companies need to send them pre-packaged case goods which are then processed from EDI online order to the end-user via direct-to-door delivery using UPS or FedEx, can they do it?
Can they receive goods via truck and rail? Can they barcode case packs or individual items as necessary? Can they store, stage and ship your products? Can they provide integration between the business’ ordering system and their warehouse management system (WMS) in order to more easily manage, plan and report the status of inventory levels and shipment history? Can they provide online pass-code protected administrative access so that the comapny can remotely manage and track inventory and distribution from virtually anywhere and anytime day or night?
Bottom line, companies want to partner with an e-commerce fulfillment company that can save money through efficient low-cost operations and buying power with the shipping services and on its high-volume purchases of packaging materials. Organizations also want to select an e-commerce fulfillment company with the expertise, flexibility and agility to provide excellent service for customers with the scalability needed to grow as the business expands. Companies will benefit from finding a 3PL provider that can depend on and trust to get the job done and done right the first time.
FW Warehousing is headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri with Midwest warehouse distribution centers in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana totaling more than four million square feet. Founded in 1949 with a focus on food-grade storage, FW later broadened its services to include general warehousing, dry storage, hazardous material and chemical storage, temperature-controlled storage and product distribution and fulfillment. FW Warehousing has more than 60 years of experience in third-party logistics and has been ranked in the top 100 Third Party Logistic Companies in the country by Inbound Logistics Magazine.