Is your 3PL an integration expert? 4 key questions to ask before signing a contract.

In the beginning, you thought you could do it all: the sourcing, the packaging, the shipping and fulfillment. However, as time went on and demand for your products grew, managing it all became too much. Without the tools to streamline your processes, you found yourself struggling through mountains of orders, manually fulfilling each one and dealing with the inevitable mistakes. Before long, you hit a wall, and your brand began to suffocate as you realized you’re neglecting important tasks like product design, branding, marketing and sales. You really know you have a problem when your Google reviews start taking a hit.

It’s at this point that most brands realize they need a better solution; a scalable fulfillment service that could accommodate a growing number of orders with accuracy and efficiency. The answer is usually to seek out a third-party logistics (3PL) provider like Evolution Fulfillment to integrate your operations with. It’s a “good kind of problem”; your brand is growing and you need professional fulfillment support to take it to the next level. However, the decision to choose a 3PL is fraught with risks, costs and hidden pitfalls. Once you integrate with a 3PL, you are locked in, for better or for worse.

That’s why it’s critical for a brand to dig beyond a 3PL’s website and ask some precise questions about a 3PL’s fulfillment-related integration capabilities before choosing one. Let’s explore the benefits and risks of 3PL integration and how a brand can choose the right 3PL partner from the get-go.

4 key questions to ask any 3PL

Most 3PLs claim to integrate with your sales and order platforms, but the devil is in the details. The hard truth is that not all 3PLs have the systems, know-how, personnel or boots-on-the-ground experience necessary to provide a frictionless integration experience that is so critical if you want to realize efficiency gains. We spoke with seasoned distribution and fulfillment experts and have distilled their advice into four key questions you can ask to determine if your prospective or current 3PL partner is indeed an integration expert:

1. Do they use intermediary software to connect multiple systems into one hub?

Best-in-class 3PLs use intermediary software to connect their warehouse management systems with a brand’s sales, order, inventory and accounting systems. One example is Blastramp; a multi-channel inventory management software that connects multiple sales channels (Shopify, JOOR, etc) into a centralized hub, allowing all of a brand’s orders to pull from one inventory. The payoff is that orders keep flowing and the brand gets real-time visibility into live inventory numbers. It also instantly synchronizes any new data across channels so that everything from product availability to delivery status is always up-to-date for everyone involved in the supply chain.

2. Do they have an in-house development team that can handle setting up integrations, troubleshooting synchronization issues, and creating custom integrations?

An in-house development team signifies that your prospective 3PL provider has dedicated resources to manage and customize integrations according to your specific needs. This is important if you require custom solutions that fit your unique operational requirements; if you’re looking for quick resolution of any synchronization issues; and if you need a 3PL that can adapt and scale as your business grows or as technology and integration standards change.

3. Do they have existing two-way integrations with all the major players (e.g. Shopify, WooCommerce)?

Two-way integrations with major e-commerce platforms like Shopify and WooCommerce ensure seamless communication and data exchange between your sales channels and the 3PL’s systems. This is important if you want to reduce errors and ensure that order information, inventory levels, and shipping status are consistently updated. It also empowers you to save time by automating many aspects of order fulfillment and inventory management and minimizes the risk of data discrepancies, which can lead to issues like overselling, overstocking and delayed shipments.

4. Do they have the ability to integrate all your systems directly into their warehouse management system (WMS)?

Instead of relying on email communications, spreadsheets, and phone calls, direct integration with your 3PL’s WMS allows for more streamlined and efficient operations. This is important if you want immediate visibility into your inventory levels, order status, and other critical data. It also reduces the need for manual data entry and communication, lowers the risk of human error, and ensures that all parties are working with the same information, which improves coordination and reduces the potential for misunderstandings and delays.

In addition to employing a full-service, in-house development team, we at Evolution use Blastramp’s apparel integrations to connect with the most popular e-commerce, wholesale, accounting, and shipping platforms, as well as popular ERPs and dropshipping partners. It won’t come as a surprise that Evolution Fulfillment has developed a reputable as the gold standard 3PL in Canada for brands that are serious about expanding their market reach.

The benefits of integrating with your 3PL

Picture a world without spreadsheets, pivot tables and a cluttered inbox. When you integrate with a 3PL provider with true integration expertise, your inventory will be synchronized in real-time with the 3PL’s warehouse operations. New orders from your ecommerce or wholesale platforms will immediately trigger the fulfillment process (aka “pick and pack”) at the warehouse. Not only will you see the real-time status of a particular order, but so will your customers through automated alerts. Instead of the guessing game of assigning inventory across multiple sales channels (ecommerce, wholesale, drop ship, major retails, Amazon, etc), all your orders can pull from a single, consolidated inventory; avoiding lost sales and unhappy customers.

The ultimate promise of true integration with your 3PL is that you supercharge your brand’s growth with higher efficiency, greater accuracy, enhanced forecasting capabilities, and lower costs. Naturally, this translates to a better customer experience, more sales (and less lost sales), fewer fulfillment mistakes, and more time and money to spend on core business functions like product design and marketing.

The risks of integrating with your 3PL

While the benefits of integrating with the right 3PL provider are deeply appealing to a growing brand, the risks of integrating with the wrong 3PL provider are too great to ignore. Not all 3PLs are the same and what complicates the matter is that every 3PL seems to claim integration expertise.

Integrating with a 3PL system that is a poor fit for your company could result in your information, such as orders and inventory counts, being processed inefficiently, lost or stolen. Or it results in poor information as the data in your systems doesn’t reflect what’s in the 3PL’s system. This works against your efforts in improving customer satisfaction through efficient, reliable fulfillment and harms your ability to keep tabs on the health of your business. Because 3PL relationships are painful to disintegrate, we highly recommend that you take the time to choose the right provider the first time. But is a brand able to separate the good from the bad? The answer lies in asking precise questions before signing a contract.

Choosing the right 3PL partner

The right 3PL partner will have an advanced system of integrations that is compatible with all of your needs and integrates seamlessly with your business. With that said, however, it can be difficult to know the difference between a quality 3PL partner and one who may limit your growth. Fortunately, there are a number of signs you can look out for that will indicate whether or not the 3PL you are considering is right for you.

Signs your 3PL may be limiting your growth

Working with a given 3PL may limit your growth if their technology and processes are outdated, their geographic reach is limited, they don’t have experience in your industry, they are inflexible and don’t have the capacity to scale with you, and/or they are outrageously expensive with a pricing structure that includes numerous hidden fees and surcharges. Such things will typically not be disclosed on their website, so be sure to screen for each of these potential restrictions before committing to a 3PL partnership and always read the fine print on your contract before signing.

Signs your 3PL has the right integration expertise

A quality 3PL will, at the very least, have operational know-how, modern technology and processes in place, a broad regional presence, relevant industry experience, flexibility and capacity to scale, and a transparent pricing structure that fits your budget. If all of these apply, you may have very well found a quality 3PL to partner with. However, there is more to consider if your goal is to determine their integration prowess.

Once you have completed the initial screening, the next step is to evaluate your potential 3PL partner’s integrations to ensure they are compatible with your own. Most businesses require specific e-commerce integrations like Shopify, ShipStation, Loop Returns, NuORDER, JOOR, Amazon, Quickbooks, etc. If your 3PL does not have the key sales, order, inventory or accounting integrations that you need to smoothly run your business, even a competent 3PL will not be able to integrate effectively with your company.

A last word: Before choosing a 3PL partner, dive deep into their online reputation through websites like Clutch, GoodFirms or Google and exploring what actual customers say about their experience. Be on the look out for integration-related commentary or the mention of platforms that your brand also uses.

Supercharge Your Brand’s Growth with Evolution Fulfillment

If you have an established brand in need of scalable shipping and fulfillment solutions to reach the North American marketplace, consider Evolution Fulfillment. As the gold standard 3PL in Canada, we provide professional-grade 3PL fulfillment services that you can rely on to supercharge your brand’s growth.

With over a decade of working directly with major retailers and boutique stores, we know exactly what it takes to work with your customers. On top of that, we have the inhouse expertise to ensure your key business systems are seamlessly connected to our warehouse operations. Needless to say, we can confidently answer the 4 key questions above with a unambigous ‘yes’.

Whether your goal is turnkey expansion into the Canadian and American marketplaces or to simply gain a trusted 3PL partner in Western Canada, we invite you to explore what our clients have to say and come evolve with us.

Looking for the top 3PL in Canada? Visit Evolution Fulfillment and click on REQUEST QUOTE or contact us to book a free distribution and fulfillment strategy consultation.