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Evaluating a fulfilment partner: Definitive questions to ask

Vallabh Daga
August 31, 2020
12
mins read

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A fulfilment partner is responsible for receiving and storing inventory, along with picking, packing and shipping of orders to the customers.

A smooth, uninterrupted supply chain is an elementary requirement for a successful ecommerce business. If you've made the decision to outsource to a 3PL, warehousing and order fulfilment won't be your headache anymore. This would allow all other business operations to press ahead with full steam without being held back by faltering operations.

Unrealistic expectations and regrets often go hand-in-hand. Thoroughly vetting your fulfilment partner is critical, you need to ask questions which ensure that your expectations are in line with the capabilities of your fulfilment partner.

Questions to evaluate

There are many reasons why outsourcing your order fulfilment has substantial benefits over in-house fulfilment. Finding the partner that’s going to not only catalyse your business growth but also bring some kind of value addition requires some serious consideration. Here are some definitive questions you should ask yourself regarding the characteristics of a fulfilment partner before making a final choice:

1. Is it reliable and consistent?

In today's dynamic ecommerce ecosystem, customers have high expectations and very little tolerance to accept incorrect or delayed orders. To keep your customers content, you need to provide a fast and flawless delivery experience.

That’s why you need a fulfilment partner who’s reliable and can guarantee:

  • Real time inventory visibility
  • Accuracy in order processing
  • Cover your losses in case of damages or pilferages

SLA (Service level agreement) is better than a handshake! You need to understand the SLA policy of the fulfilment partner before you collaborate with one. The stature of your fulfilment partner on the marketplace determines their effectiveness. For example, having a gold standard on Flipkart ensures 99% successful delivery rate.

Also, a fulfilment partner should have clear policies to provide transparency in the fulfilment process. To authenticate:

  • Ask existing clients of the 3PL about their overall onboarding experience
  • Analyse KPIs like Order defect rate (ODR), Return on investment (ROI),etc.

Eshopbox has an on-time order processing rate of 99.63%, enabling your customers to feel completely secure about their purchase.

2. Is it easy to understand their pricing?

It's essential to find a service provider that facilitates cost-effective services. When it comes to pricing, what you are paying for is the foremost thing to consider. Is there any recurring fee? Is there any per order or per-transaction fee? A 3PL might try to attract you with a low base rate and ask you for an abundance of costs after you've committed and signed a contract. Also, you need to check if your fulfilment partner has set any minimum amount that they will charge if your order fulfilment or storage costs don't reach a certain threshold.

Is their pricing simple and transparent?

To understand pricing, enquire about all the types of fees they charge. Also, analyse whether you'll be able to validate the invoice raised by the service provider with the pricing plan you have subscribed. You must understand if any hidden fees are applicable for you during the engagement. Before a lucrative proposal convinces you, try and identify avenues where hidden fees could be applicable.

For example, do they charge extra for working on Sundays or holidays? How much will you pay for value-added services? Don't forget to ask whether the order volume affects pricing.

Eshopbox offers clear and transparent pricing for businesses of all sizes. No need to deep dive into the pricing to identify hidden costs, all the fees applicable would be clearly visible.

3. Is it integrated with established sales channels?

If you want to integrate quickly and efficiently, choose a fulfilment partner that offers a tech-enabled platform having established integrations with marketplaces and shopping carts. Their platform should synchronise inventory and orders between sales channels and warehouses, enabling you to automate your commerce operations.

A fulfilment partner like Eshopbox who uses a top-notch technology will have:

Native Integration: These are pre-built integrations with marketplaces like Amazon, Flipkart, Myntra, Nykaa, Ajio, & more. Also, shopping carts like Shopify, Woo-commerce, and Magento. You can connect your system to established sales channels in a matter of minutes.

Custom Integration: This allows you to connect your system to a custom sales channel. Developers can leverage the capability of fulfilment software to make integration with a sales channel of your choice through developer-friendly APIs.

To validate, you need to check whether they have:

  • Developer-friendly API's to ensure successful integration
  • Testing environment for User Acceptance Testing (UAT) before going live
  • Ongoing support in case of discrepancies

You can also request a demo from the service provider to check whether the technology used for integration is suitable for your business.

You can leverage Eshopbox's pre-built integrations with marketplaces, shopping carts, ERP, accounting software, and analytical tools to completely automate your operations. You can connect these applications to your system with a few clicks and no developer effort.

4. Is it secure?

Security is one of the crucial aspects to consider while evaluating a fulfilment partner. Breakage, shrinkage, and theft can negatively impact your sellable inventory. Choose a fulfilment partner who:

  • Monitors operations via security cameras
  • Has multiple sources of power backup
  • Can provide 100% up-time
  • Has access control measures such as bio-metrics, key-cards, etc.
  • Conducts full background checks of all warehouse employees
  • Has metal detectors at entrances and exits

5. Where are it's warehouses located?

Fast delivery is a significant aspect of customer satisfaction. A fulfilment partner having multiple warehouses across all zones in the country helps you split inventory, reduce carrier charges and ensure speedy delivery. Using multiple fulfilment centres, you can:

  • Guarantee customers next day delivery
  • Establish a geographic footprint in various regions

The location of your service provider's fulfilment centre will determine the estimated delivery time of orders.

41% of consumers are willing to pay a charge for same-day delivery while nearly a quarter (24%) of shoppers said they would pay more to receive packages within a one-or two-hour window of their choosing.

In order to authenticate, check whether your fulfilment partner has its warehouses:

  • Nearby metro cities
  • In close proximity to your high-sale zones

Let’s say you’re serving in 5 zones of India; East, West, North, South, and Central India. Your fulfilment partner should have warehouses in at least three zones, covering at least 60% of your potential market.

Eshopbox has fulfilment centres spread across India, enabling you to sell your merchandise without worrying about your customer's location.

Fulfilment centre locations

6. Does it provide any value added services?

Due to growing consumer demands, tastes and preferences, the requirement for ecommerce business organizations to excel in their field, regularly comes down to the fine subtleties in product delivery and order fulfilment.

As a response to these demands, fulfilment providers are offering a multitude of amenities known as 'value-added services'.

Value-added services are provided by a 3PL to increase flexibility and improve customer experiences.

Before choosing a fulfilment partner, check whether they provide value-added services like:

  • Kitting & virtual kitting
  • Express delivery
  • Refurbishing
  • Returns management
  • Custom packaging and marketing inserts

By incorporating custom workflows and value added services suitable for your business, Eshopbox helps you extend the branded experience through the order fulfilment process.

7. How does it handle returns?

You need to choose a fulfilment partner which handles returns effectively on two fronts:

Returns for your customers

  • Improve the customer experience with self-service portals
  • Generate printable shipping labels for your customers
  • Help customers track their return status from upcoming to completion
  • Get notified if returns are not received in the expected time

Returns for businesses

  • Identify and inspect items in your returns for damages or pilferage
  • Repackage, re-label and refurbish to shift items to your sellable inventory
  • Record and reconcile returns with refunds to ensure every return is correctly accounted for
  • Generate Claim Filing Report (CFR) if the return is damaged
  • Identify and highlight products with high return percentage for corrective actions

Eshopbox aims to make returns your competitive advantage, not a problem statement by providing efficient returns management for you and your customers.

8. Does it offer 'Amazon prime' and 'Flipkart assured'?

'Amazon prime' and 'Flipkart assured' are quality and speed badges applied to select products in key categories, you can consider it as a benchmark in online shopping.

To facilitate, a service provider should have:

  • Nation-wide warehouse network that allows rapid, affordable shipping to the vast majority of the country
  • Advanced software that integrates directly with Amazon and Flipkart, and gives real-time visibility into order status and metrics
  • Focused customer service: support and returns management
  • Tech-enabled smart fulfilment
  • Priority pick and pack for express orders
  • Facilities operational on Sundays, national holidays, etc.
  • Periodic Inventory replenishment

Eshopbox offers both Amazon prime and Flipkart assured, enabling you to bolster your merchandise with these widely recognised quality and speed badges.

9. Is it equipped to handle spikes in order volume?

There are some situations where you experience spikes in your order volume. These usually happen during festive seasons, or if you’re running a flash sale.

You need to have the right service provider who has expertise in handling high order demands. A competent 3PL should be able to process inventories, orders accurately ,and deliver it to the customers within the SLA.

Evaluate a fulfilment partner who can handle the spike in order volume by offering a robust network and technology:

  • To decide where to store inventory, based on customers’ location
  • To highlight insights pertaining to demands, stocks, packaging, and deliveries
  • To set a notification for replenishment when inventory levels are low
  • To provide real-time visibility of your inventories across fulfilment centres

From processing large order volumes to occasional order spikes, Eshopbox has expertise in handling all the variability. No more working overnight to fulfil your orders during seasonal sales, all you need to do is plan the marketing strategy, and the rest will be taken care of.

Bottom Line

Choosing a competent fulfilment partner would be a substantial piece in your overall business puzzle. It will determine the current and future stature of your business. Picking the right 3PL is equivalent parts of analysing information and building a relationship. However, selecting an unfavourable fulfilment partner can hurt your business in irreversible ways.

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