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The six traits of successful fulfillment providers (and why they matter)

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Not all fulfillment is carried out equally; for every positive customer experience, there are likely to be several that are underwhelming. 80% of companies surveyed believe they offer a ‘superior’ customer experience – but only 8% of consumers agree – according to a survey by Bain & Company.

The reasons for this are wide-ranging, but the fulfillment process plays a major role in customer satisfaction. To tick this box, you need a fulfillment provider who can exceed – not just meet – rising consumer expectations.

So, what separates a regular fulfillment provider from a truly successful one? We’re here to break it down for you in this post about the six traits that all successful fulfillment providers have in common:

1. Fully configurable fulfillment solutions

There’s no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ solution when it comes to fulfillment; different retailers have different needs, and so require a tailored approach to meet the demands of their products and customers. 

A successful fulfillment partnership is one where the 3PL works with your business to optimize the following areas:

  • Storage and warehouse flows
  • Pick/pack strategies
  • Staffing levels
  • Shipping strategies
  • Returns workflows

If a 3PL is unwilling or unable to configure its processes to fit your needs, this is a red flag that they won’t be able to run your fulfillment effectively – and this has major knock-on effects on the efficiency of your fulfillment operation.

2. The ability to scale with you

The growth of the D2C fulfillment model has poised brands to achieve rapid increases in order volumes within short timeframes. This means that your current fulfillment strategy is likely to be different from what you need a few years – or even a few months – down the track.

It’s a common scenario for a merchant to start fulfilling with one 3PL, only to switch to another a short time later because they were unable to handle increases in scale. Moving warehouses is a complex and time-consuming process, and will slow down your fulfillment if the transition doesn’t go smoothly. 

A good fulfillment provider is one who can work with you to manage unexpected peaks and provide additional customer care when needed. This allows you to maximize growth opportunities for your business and address logistical issues as they occur.

3. Seamless integration

Successful fulfillment requires both speed and accuracy – and this is virtually impossible to achieve if your provider doesn’t have proper integration with your existing ERP or ecommerce platform. 

Without integration, you have to rely on sending manual updates relating to orders, inventory levels, and returns. This means your 3PL will always be a step behind and unable to respond effectively to events like order updates or exchanges.

An effective fulfillment provider will be able to integrate its WMS software directly with major ecommerce platforms like Shopify to update orders and inventory levels in real-time. This gives your business up-to-date insights regarding shipping and fulfillment, which you can communicate to customers for an enhanced level of service.

4. Multiple facilities

It may feel more straightforward to run your fulfillment operation out of one warehouse, but this can create major inefficiencies as your business grows. For example, if your fulfillment provider’s facility is located a long way from key customer hubs, this can mean longer and more expensive shipping – which may put some consumers off from purchasing.

Furthermore, your operation has a lot less flexibility if the unexpected happens. If your facility experiences a power outage or is affected by a natural disaster, your ability to pivot your operation is very limited.
Providers who utilize a multi-node network of facilities can offer retailers a much more nimble fulfillment strategy that puts SKUs closer to the end customer. This means shorter delivery times and reduced shipping costs – and happier customers!

5. Sophisticated omnichannel capabilities

Omnichannel is no longer the ‘future’ of retail – it’s the present. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed consumers to seek out alternative shopping journeys both online and offline, and this new-found flexibility has rapidly accelerated the desire for hybrid retail experiences.
With BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick Up In-Store) and in-store return options now an expectation by many consumers, a successful fulfillment provider is one that can facilitate these activities for you by coordinating seamless transfers of SKUs on your behalf.

6. Value-added services

When choosing a fulfillment partner, the devil is always in the details. While you likely have a growth plan, it’s difficult to account for every individual service you might need in the future – and this can lead to complications in the fulfillment process. 

For example, you may want to introduce gift wrapping during the holiday season for a memorable customer experience or require subassembly for some new SKUs. A well-resourced fulfillment provider will be able to offer extra services like these in addition to basic fulfillment. This allows you to future-proof your business against future fulfillment needs that may crop up – preventing you from needing to switch providers at an inconvenient time.

No matter what it is you sell, order fulfillment can be the difference between becoming a successful brand or a flatlining one. Partnering with a flexible fulfillment provider who offers superior infrastructure and advanced technological capabilities is the key to offering your customers a seamless, end-to-end experience with your brand that drives repeat purchases.

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