How 3PLs Support Omnichannel Retailers Through Uncertain Times
E-commerce and brick-and-mortar retailers are caught in a vortex of clamor about inflation, a potential economic downturn, and what some expect to be a shopping slowdown. At the same time, research shows there’s reason to be hopeful. Even if shoppers pump the brakes on spending, retail sales are still likely to increase some 4 percent to 6 percent, according to Deloitte’s annual forecast.
Brands can’t control what may or may not happen with the economy, but they can remain focused on creating positive experiences for shoppers, from discovery to delivery. Fortunately, brands don’t have to be experts in logistics and shipping to ensure warehouses are stocked, orders are delivered on time, and returns run smoothly. This is where third-party logistics (3PL) partners come into play.
Here are five ways 3PLs can support omnichannel retailers:
No. 1: Control
It may come as a surprise, but working with a 3PL doesn’t mean brands give up control of their logistics operations. In fact, by partnering with an end-to-end provider that handles every aspect of retail logistics — warehousing, inventory management, picking, packing, shipping, last-mile deliveries, and returns — brands can actually retain control at every step.
The opposite occurs if elements of a retailer’s logistics operations are outsourced to numerous partners. When brands take a piecemeal approach to logistics, they increase the difficulty of keeping things running smoothly and largely give up control. And in retail, where it’s all about exceptions management — i.e., knowing how to respond, when to respond and the best way to respond to eliminate disruptive events — brands need to retain as much control as possible.
No. 2: Flexibility
With so many economic uncertainties, brands need to be aware, agile and responsive to market conditions to meet shopper demands. Their 3PL partner should support the ability to respond to every situation in a swift, appropriate manner.
Take inventory management and warehousing when a retailer works with an end-to-end 3PL partner as an example. Operating from a central warehouse that holds a retailer’s inventory, a 3PL can handle both online order fulfillment and inventory replenishment at brick-and-mortar locations. Partnering with one 3PL provider for all their logistics needs keeps brands flexible and more easily adaptable to situations — e.g., dwindling on-shelf inventory — that may arise.
No. 3: Accountability
One of the most harmful things to a retailer’s reputation is when a shopping experience crumbles at the finish line. They've put in the work to get their products right. Their inventory is where it needs to be. Shoppers have been acquired and converted. The shopper buying experience is personalized and simple. Then, the last step fails. A delayed, lost or damaged delivery could undo everything a retailer has achieved up to this point.
It’s critical that brands partner with a 3PL that’s accountable to their shoppers. The right 3PL should understand the pressure brands are under to ensure shoppers have a positive experience from the beginning to end of every purchase. Whether a 3PL handles last-mile deliveries or manages every facet of a retailer’s logistics operation, it must be accountable for seeing through orders until the moment they arrive at a shopper’s door. What’s more, when mistakes are made, 3PLs should be proactive in making changes to prevent them from happening again.
No. 4: Expectations
When shoppers are told their order will ship in three days to five days, brands are on the hook for meeting this expectation. So, if brands are partnering with a 3PL to receive their goods, store inventory, keep track of merchandise, and ship orders out on time and undamaged, that’s what the logistics provider should do. Expectations have been set. Now they need to be met.
In logistics, providers get caught quickly if they oversell their offerings. That’s why it’s important for brands to conduct thorough discovery to lay out exactly what their business needs and find out if a 3PL can actually fulfill their requirements. Partnering with a 3PL that understands what's expected at each stage of the logistics journey can lead to complete ease of a retailer’s logistics operation. And when logistics expectations are met, brands and shoppers are content.
No. 5: Visibility
Shoppers have come to expect complete transparency from brands. Especially during the busiest shopping season, they want assurance that brands are giving them the best prices and that delivery promises will be kept. A 3PL partner can deliver on the latter.
Today’s shoppers want to know exactly where their order is and when it will arrive. With a tech-forward 3PL, shoppers can gain access to real-time tracking that gives visibility into every step of their order’s fulfillment — from confirmation when their order is received to when it’s shipped and real-time updates of the shipment journey up until confirmation of delivery.
Brands also need complete transparency into their fulfillment, delivery and reverse logistics operations. Utilizing the latest technology, 3PLs can monitor thousands of SKUs stored and shipped from warehouses, and optimize shipping to ensure the most efficient approach is being taken with each order’s fulfillment and delivery.
Truth be told, no one really knows what to expect right now. Will e-commerce sales skyrocket? Are shoppers making a big return to brick-and-mortar locations? We don’t have the answers.
All things considered, one thing remains clear: all this talk about what could happen, and why, is actually pulling brands away from what should be their main focus — their shoppers. With the help of an end-to-end 3PL partner, brands can focus on ensuring their products, promotions, and both online and brick-and-mortar shopping experiences are top notch. The right 3PL can cut through the static to handle the rest.
Mark Ang is the co-founder and CEO of GoBolt, a technology company building the first sustainable and vertically integrated supply chain network that partners with merchants to deliver a complete end-to-end customer experience.
Related story: The Future of Retail Logistics Hinges on the Vertical Integration Model
Mark Ang co-founded GoBolt out of the University of Toronto, where he obtained his Bachelor of Commerce. He was also selected to participate in the Creative Destruction Lab as part of the MBA program, an incubator/accelerator focused on scaling disruptive businesses.