If your business focuses on producing goods, then you understand that getting them (and the tools needed to provide your services) to the right place at the right time is essential for keeping your customers happy. And if you can keep costs down – well, that’s even better.
Unfortunately, the logistics of order fulfillment optimization are not areas of expertise for many business owners. When their companies grow to a size that packing and shipping orders in-house takes too much time, many consider partnering with a fulfillment company.
What is a fulfillment company?
Fulfillment services companies typically receive, package and ship your orders for you. With advances in technology, their capabilities have become very sophisticated and more efficient than ever, with many companies offering services that include integrated logistics, inventory control, reverse logistics, and outsourced email and call center customer service support.
When should you start looking for an order fulfillment company?
Not everyone chooses to outsource their fulfillment for the same reason. Below are common questions businesses ask when they’re approaching the need for fulfillment outsourcing.
- Are orders piling up, and just not getting out the door as quickly as your customer would like?
- Are your sales increasing, but in an unpredictable way that makes it difficult for you to accurately scale your staff and warehouse needs?
- Are you struggling with using a piece of software that is designed for sales processes, and not order fulfillment?
- Do you want to change your packaging, or start combining products from different sources, and are just not sure how to make it work?
- Has your company recently expanded into new regions that are difficult for you to service efficiently?
Overall, when your operations become more sophisticated and complex, flexible and up-to-date fulfillment systems are critical to success. If you have been struggling with any of these issues, outsourcing your fulfillment may be the answer.
A Checklist for finding the right fulfillment company
Most businesses that need help in this area do not employ full time experts in order fulfillment, and they don’t need to. Outsourcing to a fulfillment company lets your business focus on what it does best. However, you still should thoroughly vet and qualify prospective fulfillment companies, just as you would any business partner. Here’s our checklist for finding the fulfillment companies that will best fit your business.
- Do they have the locations that you need? The fulfillment company’s distribution center locations can also impact order delivery times and fulfillment costs. Utilizing multiple fulfillment centers can significantly improve service and reduce costs. Make sure you find a fulfillment provider with facilities in locations that align with your clients’ locations and needs.
- Do they offer automated solutions? This is one of the biggest reasons to outsource your fulfillment needs. Hand-picking 100 orders each day is possible; hand-picking 10,000 daily orders is not the best choice for most companies. The best fulfillment companies offer automated solutions that increase efficiency and throughput while maintaining order accuracy as sales volume increases.
- Do they have experience in your industry? You need expert assistance. Look for a provider who can apply creative processes and best practices, preferably with proven experience handling your type of product or special requirements. These considerations can include large-sized or high-value items, customization needs, and shipping to consultants or directly to customers.
- What else do they offer aside from fulfillment? Finding an order fulfillment company that offers a range of integrated services, such as warehousing, packaging, customer service, and transportation, can be a valuable resource. A single-source solution can streamline your business.
Pitfalls to avoid when choosing a fulfillment company
Not all fulfillment companies are equal. Here are a few red flags to watch out for and avoid when you are evaluating candidates.
Slow startup times and inflexible process
Most of us can’t afford downtime, so be sure to ask about the provider’s start-up process. Can they get your operation up and running right away, without a break fulfillment service for your customer? If your fulfillment needs change, do they have the flexibility to easily and quickly implement the changes? You want a company that is agile and proactive.
Out of date tools and technology
One of the main reasons to outsource your fulfillment processes is the fact that you get the best tools available – without having to invest in them yourself. Getting your products into the hands of consultants and customers quickly, accurately and cost-effectively is easier with the right technology.
Look for a provider with up to date processes and automation capabilities to ensure fast, accurate order fulfillment. Motorized conveyors, pick-to-light technology, logistics software, and automated labeling are just a few examples of modern fulfillment systems that can greatly speed up your business’ shipping and logistics.
Lack of attention to detail
Can they give you the level or service you need, and help you through the final mile? If you have a high-end product, you do not want it to arrive at your customer’s home in a torn up box, or damaged due to poor packaging. If your product is too large for customers to move or assemble themselves, can they provide help?
Make sure that you choose a fulfillment company can adapt its services to your business. You don’t want your customers to be left high and dry because you’ve discovered too late that they can’t serve your particular requirements
No quality assurance processes in place
When researching potential providers, ask about their quality assurance processes. What protocols do they have in place? How do they handle problems when they arise? How will they keep you updated? This is also a good time to learn how they communicate with clients like you. Researching other customers’ experience with them will help you decide if they’re reliable and trustworthy, and that they will fulfill their obligations.
Do your homework, and don’t rush
Outsourcing to a fulfillment company has the power to make or break your growing business. They are taking care of two of your most valuable assets: your products and, most importantly, your customers. If you choose to outsource, you’ll want to make sure you go with a an experience and effective company that provides customized fulfillment solutions. Take your time, and consider multiple options before you choose your new partner.
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