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5 Common 3PL frustrations (and how to avoid them)

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There are several key reasons that brands choose to partner with a third-party logistics (3PL) provider for their ecommerce fulfillment needs, such as keeping their inventory organized, fulfilling orders quickly, and getting shipments out in the most cost-effective way possible. 

But working with a 3PL isn’t always easy. If your 3PL isn’t functioning as it should, you might see misplaced inventory, incorrect orders, and delayed or lost shipments. While a one-off situation is easy to manage, it can put a serious dent in your bottom line if these issues are happening on the regular.

Let’s take a look at 5 of the most common frustrations that brands encounter when partnering with a 3PLand what to look for in a reliable 3PL partner.

1. Lack of experience with your industry

Different industries entail very different requirements from a fulfillment standpoint, from packaging and labeling to SKU management. Some products have very stringent requirements for storage and shipping, which can cause difficulties for your business if your 3PL isn’t able to stay on top of changing regulations.

Moreover, a lack of industry experience means that your 3PL will struggle to design a fulfillment strategy that’s tailored to your needs. As order fulfillment becomes a bigger competitive differentiator for brands, one-size-fits-all approaches are no longer effective.

By partnering with a 3PL that offers industry-specific fulfillment services, you can be confident that your provider can handle any curveball that’s thrown at them. Whiplash offers dedicated fulfillment services for apparel, footwear, cosmetics, and more to ensure best-in-class fulfillment for a range of high-demand markets. 

2. Difficulty scaling

Scalable fulfillment isn’t always a brand’s top priority when they start looking for a 3PL, as pricing and proximity to their warehouse often take precedence. But as your business grows, you need to know that your 3PL has your back and is able to manage a sudden increase or decrease in order volumes. 

If your 3PL cannot respond effectively to changes in demand, you may be forced to maintain a ‘just in case’ approach to inventory management. This means paying warehouse space that you don’t need year-round, or maintaining labor levels that go underutilized during quieter periods.

Peaks and troughs in demand are most common during the holiday season, where most brands experience a short-lived peak in sales activity followed by a drop in demand. But even with solid demand forecasting, predicting order volumes is very challenging. This is why you need a responsive order fulfillment process that can be scaled up or down as your business requires.

Scalable ecommerce fulfillment is especially important for emerging brands, who can experience a rapid rise in orders with little warning. Check out the experience of Rad Power Bikes, who relied on Whiplash’s scalable fulfillment network to capitalize on the sudden popularity of ebikes during the COVID-19 pandemic:

“Rad Power Bikes has seen massive growth every year since the company was founded, and as demand and interest for ebikes has surged, we needed the ability to scale quickly. With a Seattle presence and a nationwide operation, Whiplash was a clear choice for a fulfillment partner that allows us to deliver an unrivaled customer experience.”

Mike McBreen, Chief Operating Officer at Rad Power Bikes.

3. A lack of multi-node fulfillment capabilities 

Being able to distribute your inventory across multiple fulfillment centers enables your business to lower last-mile delivery costs and speed up shipping timeframes to your end customers. But if your 3PL only offers centralized fulfillment or doesn’t have facilities at locations that are close to key transportation routes, your brand is missing out on valuable opportunities to optimize your shipping and fulfillment strategy.

This is why it’s important for merchants to vet their partner’s multi-node capabilities to ensure that distributing inventory in multiple locations is a viable option, even if you plan on using just one facility at the beginning. This is because having only one facility available can leave your fulfillment operation much more vulnerable to disruption, such as a power outage or weather event that leaves your 3PL unable to fulfill or ship orders.

Boasting a nationwide network of 24 facilities in strategic locations across the United States, Whiplash can deliver enhanced speed and flexibility to customers like SodaStream across 6.5 million square feet of multi-client omnichannel distribution space: 

“When the pandemic took hold back in March-April 2020, we were faced with our online order volumes surging beyond what we would normally handle even during peak season.” Whiplash was able to scale up fulfillment activities at our West Coast location ten-fold within just two weeks, and then scale down just as efficiently when normal patterns resumed in May. Their capacity to meet our newfound needs so quickly has made them an invaluable partner during such a challenging time.”

Robert Hedwall, Manager of Supply Chain and Logistics at SodaStream.

4. Outdated fulfillment technology

With so many orders going out across different sales channels and so much inventory to keep track of, it’s almost impossible for today’s 3PLs to stay organized without the right technology. However, many 3PL companies are still relying on outdated systems that don’t have the capacity to handle a high volume of orders or a complex SKU base.

Unless your 3PL has a high-powered WMS and inventory management system, you’re looking at a much higher likelihood of bottlenecks in the fulfillment process. Products could be allocated to the wrong distribution center, or orders fulfilled inaccurately. This means dissatisfied customers and higher levels of customer churn. 

A high-quality 3PL will have the technology to manage and track every single SKU in your inventory, as well as any outstanding orders. The Whiplash platform is an intuitive ecommerce technology system that enables merchants to get an overview of their entire operation in just a few clicks. Pause, filter, and edit your orders, set up inventory tracking, and manage returns all in one place.

5. No customization opportunities

The point of delivery offers ecommerce brands numerous opportunities to create a memorable customer experience that enhances brand loyalty – but only if you’re partnering with a 3PL that has the ability to offer custom fulfillment services.

Being able to supply branded packaging or include engaging inserts in your packages is a major competitive differentiator in a marketplace that’s dominated by plain cardboard boxes. But if your 3PL doesn’t offer any customization capabilities, it’s near impossible to build a meaningful relationship with your customer post-purchase.

In addition to offering a full suite of value-added services including kitting and subassembly, the Whiplash platform makes it effortless for brands to design their very own custom packing blueprints for different SKUs and order types. The Order Rules functionality allows you to automate the use of different packaging or promotional items, making it easier than ever to control the brand experience.

What to Look for in your next 3PL

Your 3PL partner shouldn’t just get the basics right – they should also have the infrastructure and expertise to go above and beyond for your business. You can avoid the common frustrations we talked about above by being on the lookout for the following in your 3PL provider:

Investments in technology. Your 3PL should identify technology as a key pillar of its approach. Modern and streamlined automation technology helps your orders get to the right place at the right time. Today’s systems can help consolidate SKUs, manage inventory, and even give you insight into how to lower costs.

Cost transparency. When it comes to third-party shipping, you tend to get what you pay for. But partnering with a 3PL should be an investment in professional services — not in extra fees that hurt your bottom line. The 3PL you choose should also offer detailed invoices that give you insight into where your money is going and where you might be able to save by rate-shopping or getting new routing rules for packages.

A commitment to customer satisfaction. Your 3PL shouldn’t be satisfied with providing barebones, one-size-fits-all services. They should strive to ensure that you feel like a valued client. The right 3PL will offer dedicated account managers and customer success teams with an intimate knowledge of your business’s unique needs.

Whiplash: Powering advanced omnichannel fulfillment solutions

Whiplash is a best-in-class omnichannel fulfillment provider that delivers memorable brand experiences and seamless fulfillment to both emerging and established retailers. Whiplash is committed to accuracy, speed, and transparency so that your products are in the right location at the right time.
With dedicated account managers, the latest fulfillment automation technology, and decades of industry experience, Whiplash has the tools and the know-how to flawlessly execute even the most complex fulfillment strategies. Contact Whiplash today to find out the difference that a high-powered 3PL partner can make to your business.

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