Now, as a business owner, you understand the terminology and what they entail at the highest level. Let’s dive a bit deeper and build a clear picture of the logistical operations a 3pl provides.
Some work from paper and others work from QR codes but essentially the components any fulfilment operation will need to handle are:
Receiving is just that, the receipt of inventory into the warehouse. Your orders can’t be fulfilled without the product to do so. Most 3pl services will have some process or form to do this. Each form is unique, but they will all need certain types of information to handle your inventory correctly. Product SKU’s, box dimensions and weights, the total number of items, expected arrival date, fulfilment shipping begins to date. How this is handled is down to each company and they’re warehouse.
Remember, during receiving large volumes of products are in motion. Moving items once could take hours, moving them multiple times could take days!
It is extremely important to understand your warehouse intake process as mistakes here can incur series fees. Especially in a time when the tracking and tracing of items are of critical importance to world health, you need to be on top of your game.
We all want fast service, your customers and you included, getting the right labels on the right boxes can save you hundreds, potentially thousands of pounds. Don’t let your inventory be quarantined and your supply chain distributed over avoidable errors. For more info on avoiding hidden intake fee’s check out our article here.
Remember your service provider is your partner – speak to them when tricky situations present themselves, create an action plan to resolve the issue – ACTION THE PLAN!
Storing your products safely and in an easy to process way comes next. There are many different systems and practice’s used, but the aim of the game here is to make the most popular items easily found and easily replenished. Hiding your #1 seller in an attic for safekeeping might sound like a good idea but the practicality of climbing your loft ladder every time it sells is a lot worse.
How your products are stored depends entirely on the products themselves. From a legal perspective, we have the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 for guidance in the UK. Common sense dictates that smaller lighter items be placed higher and conversely heavier items closer to the floor.
Some warehouses are fully insured or bonded, some have refrigeration or heat rooms. The diversity of warehouse setups matches the variety of products sold online. More specialised solutions will have higher costs. If you’re starting a new product line, consider how it will be stored and handled and the associated costs before launching it. A good 3pl partner will be able to give you some insight during your planning phase.
The most important thing to understand is: Will this 3pl have the capacity for me now and into the future? Don’t partner with people who will hold you back later. Gear up for growth.
Picking is the act of collecting products from storage locations and delivering them to a packing station. Lots of 3pl services use barcode scanners to digitally track inventory as it moves through the warehouse, however, we’ve found this to be limiting and slow. QR codes are the next evolution of this technology, holding a significant amount more information combined with a faster read time makes for an overall more efficient pick process.
Some warehouses break up their space by a vendor, or by zones or by frequency of items picked. Selazar, being the innovators we are, has digitally mapped our entire warehouse. This allows our system to generate pick routes for staff, creating an extremely accurate and fast-passed warehouse. Not only that but we know exactly where every item is as they move through the multiple scan points in our operation.
Sounds simple but if miss-handled can lead to costly returns, slow order processing and unsatisfied customers. Not the headaches an expanding business need. Partner with the UK’s most accurate fulfilment service provider – US! 🙂
Once delivered by the pick team to the pack station, customers’ orders are ready to be packaged up and prepared for shipping. Here is where additional inserts for customers can be included. As a savvy eCommerce operator, you’ve been wrestling with creating an amazing unboxing experience for your customers, this is where you need to drill down with your provider and see if they can handle your perfect package. Not only can the handle it but can they handle it at scale and full speed.
There are many ways to pack orders depending on the materials available, the price point of your product, how fragile it is and its final destination. Some vendors see the value in ECO-packaging, others need their products delivered in exquisitely made branded boxes. Whatever your requirements are make sure they can be achieved. More importantly than that, find out what it takes to modify them at a later date! Ecomm is all about iteration and optimisation, don’t be hamstrung by outdated operations.
There is a practice of optimizing your shipments based on dimensional weight. Dimensional Weight (DIM) is the calculations carriers use to figure out the cost of each parcel shipped. Our partner Yodel has built this calculator which you can use to get an estimate of your shipping weights.
At Selazar, we work with clients to reduce their DIM and cut costs all along the supply chain. We’ve reduced shipping costs by a further 12% for clients by optimising their packaging size. We are happy to share our big picture expertise with our clients. For more information about packaging and the true value of inserts, click here.
The last leg of order fulfilment is the shipping process. Third-party logistics providers typically purchase and print shipping labels for you. Some compare prices from all available carriers while others have pre-established partnerships and negotiated discounted rates on your behalf.
Shipping comes down to delivery speed offered by your store in combination with the selection of the consumer. As eCommerce has developed and grown over the year’s customers are expecting high-speed accurate delivery. Some carriers are offering, in limited circumstances, next hour delivery alongside same day, 24hour and 48-hour services. The major drawback form online shopping is the delay from purchase to the receipt and the desire for instant gratification has driven the rise of these high-speed services. 52% of UK shoppers say that Next-Day delivery is the fast service they prefer.
While most wouldn’t consider returns to be part of the order fulfilment process, we know this just isn’t true anymore. 30% of all eCommerce purchases are returned in comparison to less than 10% of brick and mortar purchases. As a result, returns can pose a major headache for online retailers. Not all 3pl’s can handle returns and even fewer can handle the complete process of prepping and reinjecting your inventory ready for re-sale. Make sure you understand exactly how your 3pl will handle returns, what are their limitations? This is especially important for fashion retailers as even higher than 30% of returns are common.