How to Choose a 3PL Provider for Your Ecommerce Business
A 10-Step Process to Choosing the Right 3PL for Your Ecommerce Business
Trust. It’s hard to gain and easy to lose. Yet, it is essential for any ecommerce business looking to Partner with a third-party logistics provider.
When a customer orders an item from the business’s website, it is ultimately the 3pl provider responsible for ensuring the package is delivered on time, accurately, safely, intact, and presentable. That is a lot of responsibility to put in the hands of a company that is not yours. Therefore, whoever you decide to Partner with, you need to trust that they will always represent your ecommerce company with the same level of excellence and care you would.
Whether your company has scaled to the point that handling logistics in-house has become a point of contention, or if you currently work with a 3pl that just isn’t adhering to the level of excellence you are looking for, here is a 10-step process to selecting an ecommerce supply chain operations Partner.
Table of Contents
- Step One: Know Your Ecommerce Product and How it Likes to Live
- Step Two: Think Inside the Ecommerce Box
- Step Three: Are Your Ecommerce Fulfillment Needs Always in Season?
- Step Four: Does Your Warehouse and Fulfillment Center Offer Room to Grow?
- Step Five: The Difference Between Ordinary and Extraordinary is the Little Extra (Extra Ecommerce Distribution Solutions, That Is!)
- Step Six: Your Brand Isn’t Like Any Other. Why Should Your 3PL Be?
- Step Seven: Powered by Technology
- Step Eight: For Ecommerce Order Fulfillment, Locations Matter
- Step Nine: The Last Mile (Service) Wins the Race
- Step Ten: Customer Service – What Makes a 3PL Partner
Step One: Know Your Ecommerce Product and How it Likes to Live
We don’t just mean identifying that it is a surfboard, a cupcake, or a meal kit. We mean how much space will your product take to store. What is the exact temperature required for your product to live its best life? Sometimes a few degrees matter a lot! Does the product need to be stored alone? Maybe it can only be positioned above certain other types of products. When you determine your product’s ideal lifestyle, you can rule potential 3PL Partners in or out. For example, if your product likes temperatures that resemble Boston in the Winter, you shouldn’t consider a 3PL that stays at 70 degrees. Your product will not survive in that environment. Another consideration is, do different items packaged together require different temperatures, and can your logistics Partner accommodate that properly? At Burris Logistics, we are committed to temperature-controlled warehousing. In fact, cold chain storage is our specialty. If you have a product like ice cream that wants to live in an environment that feels like Alaska in the Winter, we’ve got you covered. Likewise, if your product thrives in 60 degrees Spring day environment, we have that too! No matter where your ecommerce product falls on the temperature preference spectrum, we can ensure your product exists in that precise environment, maintaining food safety and maximum quality.
Step Two: Think Inside the Ecommerce Box
It’s not enough to keep your product stored at the ideal temperature. Your product needs to be shipped at the perfect temperature too. When looking at ecommerce distribution solutions, it is essential to know their packing capabilities. Maybe it is enough to just grab a box and toss the product in, but most likely, it’s not. If your product is partial to the cold, your ecommerce supply chain operations plan needs to include a coolant, likely gel packs or dry ice. Can your logistics Partner provide these options, and do they have experience working with them? It isn’t as simple as tossing a gel pack in and calling it a day. You must know how many gel packs to use and in what order to pack the box. Too many gel packs and your product might freeze. Not enough gel packs, and your milk will go sour. If your product is more of a dry ice fan, that brings additional requirements. You should ask your 3pl if they produce dry ice on-site like our Waukesha location. Making dry ice in-house helps to reduce outside supply chain risks and costs. (Learn seven reasons to ship with dry ice here.) In addition, when it’s time for shipping, certain products must be packed in certain areas of the truck to transport properly and maintain temperature. Does your 3PL have this knowledge and capability? Do they work with a carrier that has this capability? Knowing your 3pl can box and ship your product properly is a massive piece of choosing a Partner.
Step Three: Are your ecommerce fulfillment needs always in season?
Is your product seasonal? Will you have a considerable variation in warehousing and fulfillment needs based on the time of year? Is there a drastic difference in the number of orders in November and April? Will you need to stock more of your product in the summer? Is your third-party logistics Partner okay with that, and do they have the space for the more prominent seasons? For example, if your most significant selling months are November and December, October is not the time to find out your logistics Partner doesn’t have the space or capability to handle the influx.
Step Four: Does your warehouse and fulfillment center offer room to grow?
Every ecommerce business wants to grow. What’s the point otherwise? However, growth can cause logistical challenges if you are unprepared, especially if it happens suddenly. What if you air on a popular TV show and suddenly your orders double overnight? Will your 3pl be able to handle the influx? That isn’t the time to look for a new Partner. Instead, it’s essential to talk to your third-party logistics company about what process they have in place to support scalability. Hear from our Senior Account Executive, Megan Caruso, on how Burris Logistics works with our Partners to scale.
Step Five: The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is the little extra (extra ecommerce distribution solutions, that is!)
Now that you have narrowed your list of potential 3PL Partners down to those you know can store and ship your product correctly, handle the ebb and flow of your specific business, and scale with you, it’s time to look at the extras. It’s about more than just throwing products in boxes and adding some tape. What extra services does your logistics Partner provide that can save you time, effort, and money or improve accuracy? Does your product lend itself to kitting? Do you use specially branded boxes, and is your logistics Partner okay with that, or is it a one-box-fits-all? What do you know about liners? Can your 3pl help make sure you are using the right one? When a big promotion comes, will they stuff boxes with flyers? How do they feel about dropshipping? What about cross-docking? Sometimes it is the little things that make the most significant difference.
Step Six: Your brand isn’t like any other. Why should your 3PL be?
Does your third-party logistics Partner offer customization? Don’t change how you want your product packaged, presented, and handled. Instead, find a 3PL willing to do it your way, and, even better, help you find the best, most efficient way. Some ways to customize your ecommerce order fulfillment experience include labeling, kitting, packing in a particular order, package design, types of coolants, package sizing, turnaround times, allergy requirements, proprietary technology, etc. At Burris, we thrive at customization because we like solving tough problems and want your business to succeed. We have experience customizing all of these pieces of the chain and more!
Step Seven: Powered by Technology
We have determined your 3pl Partner can store, ship, and box your product as needed, but do they have the ability to integrate with your technology? This is crucial. No one wants to manually enter every order. That is unrealistic and is the opposite of saving time and money. Whether you are using Shopify, Ship Station, or a proprietary tool, you want to ensure the 3PL completing your ecommerce order fulfillment has the IT capability to integrate and act quickly should a problem arise. In addition, it is essential to ask how long the integration process will take. At Burris Logistics, we have over 60 full-time IT members working to ensure our technology integrates seamlessly with all of our Partners, no matter their platform.
Step Eight: For Ecommerce Order Fulfillment, Location Matters
We live in a world of Buy Now to Hi There Package in two days or less. When you deliver nationwide, two days is not a lot of time. We can do it, though! It is important to know how many households your Third-Party Logistics company can deliver to in two days or less and in how many states. How many warehousing and fulfillment centers do you have? At Burris Logistics, we have eight warehousing and fulfillment centers in Federalsburg, MD; Jacksonville, FL; Lakeland Annex, FL; Lakeland, FL; McDonough, GA; New Castle, DE; Oklahoma City, OK; Waukesha, WI. Because of that, we can deliver in two days or less to 215 million households across all 50 states.
Step Nine: The Last Mile (Service) Wins the Race
A huge part of ecommerce supply chain operations is last-mile service, meaning USPS, UPS, and FedEx. Last Mile Service is part of the supply chain that delivers the package to the customers’ door, and it is crucial to consider this when choosing a 3PL. Does your ecommerce order fulfillment center have Partnerships with USPS, UPS, and FedEx? How often do they pick up? Does your 3pl get discounted shipping rates, and is that passed on to your ecommerce business? At Burris Logistics, all major providers pick up regularly, often multiple times a day, and we offer group parcel rates that our customers are welcome to join.
Step Ten: Customer Service – What makes a 3PL a Partner
At this step, you know any 3PL contenders still on the list have the knowledge, experience, and capability to provide ecommerce distribution solutions to your business. Now it comes down to experience. A logistics Partner is a crucial part of your business’s growth and success, so you want to make sure whoever you choose is just that, a Partner. You want to ensure you have a dedicated person to call when you have questions. You want to know how often they will contact you and provide updates. You want to know how they handle when something doesn’t go according to plan. It is vital that when you select a third-party logistics company, you are both working toward the common goal of making your ecommerce business successful. Hear from Megan how Burris Logistics strives to be a true Ecommerce Partner.
Choosing a 3PL provider can be a daunting task, but when you select the right Partner, it can be the boost your ecommerce business needs to continue to grow. Following this 10-step process can ensure you find a Partner that is the right fit for you and give you the confidence to know you made the right choice.
About Burris Logistics
Burris Logistics is the operational brand of Burris Logistics offering traditional cold storage, distribution, and direct-to-consumer fulfillment for E-commerce companies. Since 1925, this family-owned company has expanded its networks of warehouses from Florida to Maine, and now out to the pacific coast of California. For more information about us please visit www.Burrislogistics.com.