The COVID-19 pandemic has precipitated a huge increase in online ordering; people are shopping online for everything from food staples to home improvement supplies. All of these things need to be delivered to the consumer, so the demand for 3PL services has grown exponentially. Ecommerce fulfillment during a pandemic brings additional concerns and complications. It is causing many to reassess their business partners. You may be wondering whether your vendors, suppliers, and manufacturers will survive. You may be worried about your warehousing, your supply lines, and your delivery services. You know your brand depends on the customers’ whole experience, and ecommerce brands can’t control the destiny of each of their business partners. You can control which 3PL you work with, however, and a careful appraisal of potential 3PLs can help allay your worries.
Ecommerce Fulfillment Challenges
The logistics industry as a whole has suffered from the Coronavirus pandemic throughout the world. Because of the global nature of manufacturing and distribution, supply chain operations have experienced disruption and uncertainty. Different countries have adopted different procedures to diminish virus transmission; in the spring of 2020, some countries locked down entirely, and transportation of all except the most essential items came to a halt. Now, with social distancing in place in warehouses, and many office employees working from home, maintaining efficient and cost effective logistics is a tremendous challenge. Within the United States, the differing approaches of different regions, and the rapidly changing nature of outbreaks means that supply chains that were secure two weeks ago can suddenly become paralyzed. Understanding some of the difficulties the logistics industry is confronting helps you to focus on 3PLs most likely to provide you with the services you need.
It has always been a good idea to look for 3PLs that are experts in the field, especially if you have particular logistics requirements. Now more than ever, navigating the complexities and uncertainties of logistics requires experience and expertise. While no one can claim to have experience of working within the constraints of a global pandemic, established 3PLs have the experience of working within the industry under a wide variety of difficult and demanding circumstances. The best 3PLs have extrapolated from their experience to anticipate pandemic-related issues and have moved to meet these new demands.
The restrictions imposed because of COVID-19 are present to ensure everyone’s safety. So before you choose a 3PL, you should find out how rigorously it is enacting safety procedures. The workers who are fulfilling orders need to be protected, and their protection means that your end customers are protected too. Ask if all workers wear masks and gloves in the warehouse; inquire about the loading and unloading procedures. What procedures does the 3PL have in place for home delivery and how do they differ from retail delivery? When you make sure your 3PL places safety first, you demonstrate concern for the health and safety of your customers.
With the decreased numbers of people on site, 3PLs that have incorporated automation into their systems may be a good option. This may be important for medium to large companies; smaller companies may be more concerned with other logistics offerings. Certainly, if picking and packing is automated, or even partially automated, the disruption due to COVID-19 regulations will be diminished.
Disruption of transportation and increased and/or variable demand for warehouse facilities require 3PLs to innovate. And with COVID-19’s impact on order volume, ecommerce fulfillment needs a great deal of warehouses. the best warehouses acted as trusted advisors to their customers by offering product fulfillment workflow best practices. To deal with this situation, some 3PLs have started short term storage identification services. That means that the 3PL identifies unused space in a variety of warehouses. It then informs its clients about warehouse capacity near the manufacturing facility. Having that information and coordinating it with the transportation options gives you tremendous advantages.
Integrated technology provides the best way of assuring uninterrupted logistics services. When 3PLs have to send their employees home to work, if they have integrated technology, they should still be able to control inventory, optimize pick and pack with workers in the warehouse, and coordinate delivery from the warehouse to the end customer. A 3PL that offers integrated technology gives you and your customer both the opportunity of real-time tracking.
The COVID-19 crisis has placed an unprecedented strain on transportation and logistics resources. Choosing the right 3PL ecommerce fulfillment partner has never been more important.