Ecommerce fulfilment and its challenges to 3PL logistics services

The world of commerce is in turmoil with everything from prescriptions to new cars being ordered online. Wherever there’s an online order, there’s usually a delivery need. It’s a challenge to every part of a business, but where there’s a challenge there’s also a chance to beat the opposition, and this guide will help you chart your path through the ecommerce fulfilment jungle.

Click and collect statistics

There was a happy dream a few years ago that we’d all collect our online orders from lockers in convenient locations – shops, local libraries, even the gym…so what happened? Well while 74% of people do consider click and collect when shopping online, 32% have experienced problems with click and collect systems that cause them to not use them again. Especially for rural customers, click and collect can be a non-starter as the collection points may not be accessible and finally, there are a lot of things, from mattresses to treadmills, that you just want to have delivered to your door.

Customer fulfilment should be your number one priority

For online commerce, quality of delivery is king. This means that working with a 3PL provider means that they – and not you – are the direct link with the end customer and that means you need to be utterly confident that your logistics service excels in delivery. At we’ve seen the evolution of 3PL partnerships to give the client substantial amounts of control over the delivery process. For example some warehousing clients have their own ‘style manuals’ which give their 3PL a clear process to follow in everything from packing up the goods to picking up returns.. Others require random inspections to spot check the processes being used in handling their orders. These customised 3PL procedures are becoming commonplace and help each retailer to develop a distinctive brand that runs right through the delivery flow.

Find yourself and forget the rest

Business gurus talk a lot about core competencies which can be a meaningless buzzword, but for an ecommerce supply chain it’s also a matter of survival. Supply chain logistics can easily become a central focus for an organisation that is experiencing growth and success, leading to a bigger budget, a larger management team and a stack of KPIs in an area of business that just isn’t central to that organisation’s success in the first place. The simple, painful exercise of writing down what makes your organisation both unique and successful rarely includes your delivery processes, so focusing too strongly on them is usually a detour from key business decision-making. This is the time to find a 3PL partner – ecommerce logistics have become extremely complicated and if you feel that you’re running to keep up, why not get out of the race and leave it to somebody who’s already equipped to run it for you?

Find a 3PL with a transport focus

As the recent DHL/KFC debacle reveals, big names in transportation aren’t always the best solution provider. Seeking reliable, high-quality fulfilment services can be part of your 3PL’s remit or may be something you prefer to handle yourself. Either way, you need to have an effective monitoring system to avoid any problems that may result from your carrier not achieving the fulfilment you’d desire.

Basic monitoring processes including;

  1. checking that your packages arrive in a good condition,
  2. having a clear audit line that reports whenever an order fails to get to its destination on time, or even at all,
  3. testing the way that your delivery system handles questions, problems or unexpected events such as bad weather or ‘Acts of God’.

Obtaining the information is only half the issue – the other half is ensuring that the communication between you, your 3PL and your transport solution is rapid and seamless.

Consider inventory synchronisation as a priority

Finding the perfect balance between restocking and carrying excess isn’t easy, particularly if your business is moving fast. It’s vital to avoid the negative customer experience of finding your product online but then discovering that when they get to checkout their size/colour/style isn’t available. Equally important is the need to not carry excess inventory, which can incur more warehouse cost and can leave you with unsalable stock. Working with a 3PL might not seem likely to help you find the ideal inventory level – but questions that your 3PL can help you answer include such essential information as the predictability of demand, time taken to replenish inventory, likelihood of sourcing alternative supply if your primary supplier can’t help and even inventory costs. The answers to these questions can help you determine how much inventory to hold, when to re-order and even whether it’s time to start looking for new suppliers to maintain your customer loyalty.

Examine value-added costs

One of the key benefits that businesses discover from working with a 3PL is that they can increase their value-added service without necessarily adding to their overhead. This is because many third party logistics providers offer services as standard that it would be costing you a considerable amount to develop for yourself. For example, many 3PLs offer kitting as an integral part of their service and may offer value-added delivery options such as:

  • Custom packaging
  • Personalised messages
  • Sending out samples
  • White glove assembly
  • Cost effective returns.

While these may still be seen as optional extras, white glove assembly and removal of unwanted goods alongside a delivery are becoming increasingly expected by customers buying expensive or bulky products. While the average retailer would find it costly and time-consuming to establish such services for themselves, it can be advantageous to explore offering them to your customers on a limited risk basis such as having them provided by your 3PL. Of course, none of these bells and whistles should take the place of efficient, reliable delivery services, so your first concern should always be to find the third party logistics provider who gets your goods to the customer exactly as promised, exactly when promised.

We specialise in sourcing professional warehouse space and warehouse services throughout the UK. If you require warehouse space for rent, we can help by sourcing the right size warehousing and distribution service, to suit your businesses requirements.

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