Effective warehouse operations hinge on a careful balance of inventory management, staff productivity, order fulfillment, and proactive forecasting. As eCommerce brands scale or expand to meet new market demands, they often outsource their warehousing and retail order fulfillment to a third-party logistics partner.
So how does a 3PL turn the chaos of your growing supply chain into a cohesive, well-oiled machine?
The secret lies in a mix of industry expertise and tech enablement. Many 3PLs leverage a Warehouse Management System (WMS) to keep things running smoothly behind the scenes. A WMS gives your 3PL real-time insights on:
However, a 3PL's software does more than keep their operations on track. It also streamlines your business across channels, gives you new data-driven insights, and helps you prepare for future initiatives.
In this blog, we'll walk through four ways an effective WMS, managed by the right 3PL partner, can benefit your eCommerce operations and set you up for long-term success.
When your retail order fulfillment processes aren't automated or tech-enabled, staff spend their time processing orders manually, jumping between disparate retailer portals, cart integrations, data systems, and paper spreadsheets. A simple slip of the keyboard from W to S can have far-reaching consequences, so employees spend hours ensuring each line item matches and carries over to the next system without error.
Then, picking teams hunt down inventory by reading tags or shelf labels before taking items to the packing area. There, assembly teams flip through binders of handling requirements and packing details to ensure each shipment contains the correct items, in the proper packaging, with the appropriate labeling and identification.
This practice may work for home-based small businesses, but it's simply not sustainable or cost-effective for a full-scale eCommerce brand.
A 3PL provider uses their WMS to automate all of these processes and give teams clear guidelines for the person-led parts of retail order fulfillment. Orders are automatically pulled in from external systems or retailer portals using a real-time Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) integration and routed to the correct warehouse team.
Then, teams reference detailed inventory data to find the right items on the shelf and follow pre-defined digital protocols to pack and ship each order according to delivery times and recipient preferences.
Manual processes don't just slow down fulfillment teams; they can also leave room for errors or mis-clicks that result in time-consuming rework or unhappy customers.
In a WMS, product SKUs, packing manifests, retailer documentation, and other essential data are aggregated and stored in an automated system.
This approach virtually eliminates the risk of a manual error and prevents orders from falling through the cracks as they move from your customers' shopping carts to their front doorsteps.
If you work with retail partners, order accuracy can impact your scorecards and your ability to expand or develop new sales channels. Plus, robust retailer handling guides with requirements for packing, shipping, and delivery dates make manual management seemingly impossible.
The right 3PL software eliminates the headache by keeping orders on track automatically, with inventory monitoring and QA capabilities to catch and resolve inaccuracies before orders leave the warehouse floor.
Pre-defined assembly guides and detailed inventory updates keep your warehousing teams on the same page. Plus, your 3PL can integrate their WMS into your eCommerce website to share real-time product availability and shipping estimates with customers, then send new orders directly to the warehouse for fulfillment.
It's no secret that data drives business improvements in and out of the warehouse. The more you know about inventory usage, customer demands, and team productivity, the better equipped you are to make strategic decisions and identify new opportunities with your stakeholders.
Operators are constantly balancing these high-level initiatives with day-to-day operations. As a result, their time is precious, and without the right tools at their disposal, they'll likely miss out on critical insights that could impact the future of their organization.
Unlike traditional word-of-mouth reports on warehouse status or inventory needs, tech-enabled 3PL software breaks down internal silos. It organizes every aspect of your fulfillment data in a single location, giving you access to metrics related to:
Your 3PL will translate pages of system data into clear, digestible reports in configurable dashboards that you can adjust or share across your teams as needed. They should also establish periodic performance reviews with your leadership teams to discuss the WMS reports and other critical business development opportunities.
With an up-to-date, accessible source of truth that accounts for every step in the fulfillment process, you'll be able to uncover hidden errors, optimize inefficient processes, and create data-based strategies for growth or improvement.
All of these benefits help you save time, maximize your investments, and ship accurate orders out on time. However, the real value of your 3PL software builds over time.
The right partner will introduce data-driven growth strategies, WMS integrations, and adaptable service models designed to support your eCommerce operations at every step: whether you're establishing a new brand, balancing rapidly growing demand, or running a well-established global enterprise.
With a new, streamlined fulfillment process in place, you'll maintain a great rapport with retailers and eventually grow your relationships to include larger order volumes or new retail locations.
Plus, word gets around. A reliable, efficient service model will open up new business opportunities, and you'll be able to meet growing demands with confidence since your partner is there to support and adapt as your needs evolve.
A well-run Warehouse Management System can drive efficiency and support your eCommerce fulfillment needs as you grow. But your 3PL software is only as effective as the 3PL partner behind it.
At Materialogic, we leverage years of logistics experience, eCommerce expertise, and an innovative WMS to simplify complex fulfillment workflows and deliver measurable results in the long term. In fact, we created our own 3PL software – the Infoplus WMS to provide ultimate flexibility for our clients without increasing cost or sacrificing efficiencies.
Could your fulfillment operations benefit from an outsourced 3PL partnership? Download the whitepaper Are Your Fulfillment Operations Getting In The Way of Growth? to find out if your logistics 'growing pains' are actually signs you’re ready to outsource.