Finding the right fulfillment provider is to a brand what finding the right cosmetic or skin care product is to a consumer. Find the one that works best for you, and it’s worth its weight in gold. So, how do you find the right fulfillment partner, and what difference is there between one “store it-pick it-pack it” facility and another? You might be asking yourself, “Aren’t they all pretty much the same? Aren’t they all just giant storage facilities with a cast of elves that get stuff out the door each day?”
It is true that part of the foundation of any fulfillment provider is the physical space that it offers and the team that gets the work done. However, a good fulfillment provider is much more than just the warehouse, and a good team can put Santa’s elves to shame. By selecting the right fulfillment provider, you can create a marketplace advantage for your brand.
Finding the Right Partner
So how do you find the right partner? What are the criteria for which a fulfillment provider should be selected? You may likely be thinking “We just need a place to receive, store, pick, pack and ship our products on time and at a good price.” However, any brand’s requirements will invariably go well beyond these basics. Today’s brands need their fulfillment providers to be their eyes to issues and their partner in providing agile solutions to ever-changing market-driven requirements. This brings us to how you can identify a good provider of fulfillment services for your brand.
5 Traits of a Good Fulfillment Provider
- Be your brand’s partner in that it acts not only as your logistics facilitator but also as an adviser.
- Alert you to potential issues such as problematic packaging that might get wet in transit, inaccurate labeling and slower sell-through products, just to name a few common problems that can occur.
- React to new marketing initiatives from your brand, even if those initiatives launch with little notice to the provider.
- Offer IT resources to ensure that the fulfillment-related processes and reporting, directly impacted by a new marketing promotion, are available when you need them.
- Review your requirements and make suggestions. Good providers provide best practices but are in sync with client needs and know when and how to amend or modify standard solutions to fit client specifics. This can take the form of shipping solutions that increase delivery time and/or reduce shipping costs, dimensional threshold allowances, and better visibility to data such as a portal access to inventory turns, tracking, return reasons and more.
Your Channel Mix
When selecting a fulfillment provider, you want to be sure that the provider fits your channel mix. Often, ecommerce brands are surprised to find that the third-party logistics firm they selected is not able to maintain the service levels required for fluctuating ecommerce orders levels. How can this be?
Since the recent explosion in direct to consumer business, numerous logistics companies have entered the direct-to-consumer fulfillment business. Many of these new entrants previously specialized in doing business-to-business logistics. But the ability for a B2B provider to handle B2C requirements is not self-evident.
So, if you have a branded site, you’ll want a fulfillment provider who:
- Understands the demands of end consumers.
- Can staff up to meet unpredictable order fluctuations.
- Knows the difference between securely packing and shipping single consumer orders versus carton or pallet shipments going to a retailer or distribution center.
- Understands both B2B and B2C fulfillment and has the systems to expedite this business mix. One such example is that of warehouse management systems that allow for maintaining inventory at the pallet, carton, inner carton and individual unit levels. This eliminates the need for maintaining separate inventories by channel and eliminates migration of product from one channel’s inventory to another, thus reducing time spent on inventory management and improving inventory accuracy (inventory transfers often lead to inventory discrepancies).
- Can exchange data with your retailer partners and/or point of sale system.
- Is well-versed in routing guides compliance.
- Has internal IT resources who can quickly and efficiently bridge any gaps between critical systems.
- Can provide a specific person, preferably one with direct experience in your industry, as an account manager who will serve as your primary point of contact the provider.
Match Your Culture
The discussion of fulfillment personnel touches on a less-than-concrete aspect of selecting a provider: finding a provider that is the right cultural fit. You know your brand and your corporate culture. So if you have a dynamic brand that is rapidly emerging and evolving, you are not going to be well-served by a fulfillment provider with a “this is how it is done” kind of attitude.
You may want to consider working with a group that understands that your business today is not what it may be tomorrow. You will likely need a provider that can keep pace with your business, and one that relishes the challenges of supporting a brand on the move.
If you have an already-taxed IT team or limited IT staff, you might need a provider that can offer you IT support and help counsel you as new systems or upgrades to platforms come about.
Focus Your Energy
The beauty of finding the right fulfillment provider is that once you have a good partner, you can focus on building your business while letting your fulfillment partner get your product where it needs to be on a daily basis.
Just as the right makeup regime or skin care cream can make your customers look great and feel ready to take on the world, a good fulfillment provider can allow your brand to head out into the world, amongst a plethora of competitive brands, ready to tackle the competition to win and retain customers.
The accurate and on-time arrival of each package at its final destination also reinforces your brand’s good image with your customers, whether they are consumers or business partners. That’s beautiful.
Chris Mushinsky is a marketing agency veteran with 16 years in advertising and marketing luxury products. She was instrumental in building Warwick’s current client roster including numerous European based accounts. In her spare time, she is an avid physical fitness and nutrition geek.