People Make the Difference in B2C Fulfillment

Pick. Pack. Ship. How much easier could it be?

Those of you in the B2C fulfillment business understand the vast complexity of our business. Most traditional 3PL providers, born as B2B distributors, struggle mightily to engage electronically with the numerous e-commerce platforms being employed by today’s Internet retailers (“e-tailers”) to facilitate shipment from fulfillers directly to a customer’s home address. And bear in mind, the state-of-the-industry requires shipment within 24 hours of order receipt — 6 or even 7 days a week.

To be sure, in today’s complex worldwide supply chain, B2B is not child’s play. However, the game changes when average shipment revenue drops from around $1,000 (B2B) to less than $10 (B2C). For instance, a $13.5 billion B2B 3PL provider executed 14.3 million shipments in 2014 — and a $200 million B2C 3PL executed 67 million shipments in 2014. Apples and fruit salad…

B2B 3PL providers typically receive the well-vetted business addresses of consignees. B2C providers receive consignee addresses entered by the e-tailer’s customers — and between homemade abbreviations, cats walking across keyboards, and mobile phone “fat fingered” street addresses and zip codes — many of these shipments are destined for non-existing addresses — and are returned to the B2C 3PL provider. How often? In 2014, the USPS handled 4.1 billion pieces of undeliverable as addressed mail. Hell hath no fury like a customer (aka lost customer) who didn’t receive his/her online order on time!

The challenge before a B2C product company of outsourcing its warehousing and distribution to a 3PL provider is daunting. The wrong choice could literally put a B2C product company out of business.

So, what are the answers?

Technology is critical. A 3PL service provider must have the immediate ability to reliably and robustly integrate with the e-tailer’s e-commerce platform (aka “shopping cart”). Consider only B2C 3PL providers with many e-commerce platform integrations, and of course, look for yours. It is likely that you will find a competent 3PL provider that is already integrated with your e-commerce platform and will offer the integration to you for free! And if you find yourself locked into a new integration, look for a 3PL provider with at least a couple dozen e-commerce platform integrations under its belt. Clearly, these 3PL providers know how to integrate with your e-commerce platform.

Another critical component of the technology offering you seek from your 3PL provider is address validation. Your provider should be able to provide worldwide residential address validation, at no additional cost to you over and above your fulfillment order administration fee.

But as is always the case, people make the difference. “What’s your name and account number, please?” Do you really want to speak with the next customer service agent in the rotation when you call your 3PL provider with an issue critical to your business? “Who is this, again?” A stranger every time… Look for a fulfillment provider offering assigned account executives! You want to communicate with the same account executive each time, every time.  The result is a collaborative partnership with a fulfillment executive who knows YOUR business.  You will never have to painstakingly explain and justify your request or issue to a customer service agent that knows nothing of you or your business. A highly experienced fulfillment account executive will employ his/her knowledge proactively to offer state-of-the-industry solutions enabling you to serve your customers with world-class excellence and grow your business. An assigned account executive with the right B2C 3PL provider will be the best business partner you could ever have.

Pick. Pack. Ship. It’s not easy… especially for B2C transactions. The bells and whistles of technology are only noise without a talented and experienced account executive to turn that clamor into beautiful music.