What to Look For When Choosing a Fulfillment Center

You have your products and you’ve developed your brand. Your business could be flourishing like a hydrangea or just starting to sprout. With so many options available, outsourcing your eCommerce fulfillment might seem like a stressful or even impossible task… but it doesn’t have to be that way. With some digging, and maybe a little help from us, you’ll be able to lock down the perfect solution. Read on to learn how to do just that and what you should consider before taking your next big step forward.

Available Services

Think about how you’re currently fulfilling your orders. Or, if you’re just starting out, think about how you’d like your fulfillment process to be. What kind of steps are in place? Are your orders highly personalized or standardized across the board? Do you have any special requirements, like fragile packaging? A fulfillment center should be able to provide you with the following services:

  • Inventory receivings
  • Return processing
  • Kitting and assembly
  • Packing
  • Shipping
  • Software integrations
  • Customer service 
  • Order and inventory management

If you need anything besides what is listed above or have a specific way in which you would like something to be done, make sure to bring it up when you speak to a fulfillment specialist.

Geographic Locations

Some fulfillment centers operate locally, while others operate worldwide. When it comes to considering where your fulfillment center will be located, our biggest tip is to stay realistic. For example, there’s no sense in wanting multiple, worldwide locations if you only ship domestically and aren’t quite ready to start processing international orders. 

That’s why it’s essential to ask your 3PL about where they’re headed. How fast are they growing? Are they interested in opening international locations? Will they focus on only one geographic area? Even if you’re still unsure about your own direction, knowing where your fulfillment center is going will help prevent any surprises in the future.

Customer Service

Customer service is a pretty big deal, especially when it comes to choosing a fulfillment center that’s ideal to you and your business. First impressions are absolutely key, so an unpleasant initial experience will most likely foreshadow problems down the line. Since you’re trusting the 3PL with your business, you’ll want to get to know the people you’ll be working with. Find out about their support process and how they handle any issues that may arise. Who and how do you contact them when something pops up? Even better, is there a go-to person who will be familiar with your account? (Ahem, like our Happiness Engineers.) 

While you’re shopping for a fulfillment center, make sure to use every method of communication available to you, like calls and emails, to get a taste of what you’ll be in for later.

Technology

While technology may not be everyone’s cup of tea, what goes on behind the boards is the basis of much of what you’ll experience. That’s why thoroughly investigating your 3PL’s software is essential. Before anything else, check to see if they integrate with the shopping cart or marketplace you’re using and definitely ask for a demo. You’ll want to look for software that packs a punch but is still intuitive and user-friendly. 

Experience

There are pros and cons to differing levels of experience. A newer fulfillment center could have a fresh perspective and more technological versatility, but only having a few years under their belt may be a real drawback for more complicated projects. On the other hand, an older fulfillment center can handle just about anything, but they may have a harder time keeping up with changing trends and technology of such a rapidly-evolving industry.

It comes down to personal preference, but you might find it helpful to run through hypothetical scenarios and see what they have to say. If it syncs with what you’re envisioning, chances are they’re a good fit!

Client References

While some companies have NDAs with their clients, there are plenty of ways to find out more about your prospective 3PL. Think case studies, testimonials, and online reviews. Pay special attention to companies who ship similar products to you, as it’ll give you a good idea of what to expect. If any concerns arise, make sure to bring them up! 

Terms and Conditions

Before making your final choice, take the time to carefully read through the Terms of Service for each potential candidate. Pay special attention to the following:

  • What they are and are not responsible for
  • What you are and are not responsible for
  • Service fees, including what happens in case of a late payment
  • Their cancellation policy
  • Insurance information, as well as the procedures for when a product is lost or stolen

If you feel iffy about what you’ve read, you might find it helpful to ask a legal professional for advice. Remember, never sign anything when you don’t feel entirely comfortable! Any company worth their salt will not mind explaining their terms once, twice, or however many more times to clear up any doubts you may have!

We know that the process of choosing a fulfillment center can be highly personal. By taking into account your goals and needs, while also staying realistic and objective, the decision-making process becomes significantly narrower and less overwhelming. And, if you happened to land on us while shopping for a fulfillment center, we would be more than happy to walk you through any of the above. Simply drop us a line to get started!