Clarifying your operational needs when selecting a 3PL efulfilment company

If you are looking for a 3PL efulfilment supplier, having clarity on your operation needs is absolutely crucial.


PART 1: The 3PL landscape is diverse – how do you find the perfect match'

Without a clear understanding of your needs, it's easy to choose a provider that doesn't align with your specific requirements, leading to inefficiencies, frustrations and potentially higher costs. By investing time in clearly defining your operation needs, you empower yourself to make informed decisions, optimise your fulfilment process and build a successful and lasting partnership with your chosen 3PL e-commerce fulfilment supplier.


Your Operational Needs will fall into the following:

Although this may seem overwhelming, it isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list but designed to get you thinking in the right way, so you have a better understanding of the detail you’ll need.


a) What does your SKU catalog look like'

An SKU catalog is a record of all the products a business stocks, identified by their individual Stock Keeping Units (SKUs). It's essentially a database containing information about each product, like:

SKU: The unique alphanumeric code assigned to each product for identification and tracking within the business.

Product Name: The official name of the product.

Description: A detailed description of the product's features, specifications, and variations.

Image: A visual representation of the product.

Price: The cost of the product.

Inventory Level: The current quantity of the product available in stock.

Supplier: The manufacturer or vendor who supplies the product.

Category: The product's classification within the company's inventory system.

Attributes: Additional details about the product, like size, colour, material, weight, etc.

Special Notes: Are there any special handling, storage needs or custom packaging requirements'

Turnover rates: This can be categorised into fast moving (x units per week) medium (x units per month) and slow (y units per year).

An accurate and up-to-date SKU catalog is essential for any business that sells products, whether online or not. But if you're looking for a 3PL efulfilment partner, it ensures any parties you engage with have all the information they need - and you avoid any nasty surprises.


b) What's the geographical factor'

Are you selling into a specific region or the UK mainland' What about Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man'

Are you selling overseas'

To effectively partner with a UK-based 3PL for efulfilment beyond the UK, it's crucial to provide them with detailed information about the countries you sell into (and those you have aspirations to sell into). This enables them to tailor their services and expertise to best serve your needs and optimise your international operations.

Here's a breakdown of key information your 3PL partner will need:

Country-Specific Details

Destination Market: Name of the specific country or region you're selling into.

Order Volume & Frequency: Expected order volume and frequency for each destination.

Product Mix: Types of products you're selling in each country, including any variations or customisations.

Customer Segmentation: Different customer segments you cater to within each country, if applicable.

Local Regulations & Compliance: Information on any specific regulations or compliance requirements related to product safety, labelling, packaging and customs clearance for each country.

Delivery Preferences: Preferred delivery methods, shipping terms (Incoterms) and desired delivery speeds for each market.

Returns & Exchange Policies: Your return and exchange policies for each country, including any specific requirements or timeframes.


c) Logistics & Operational Information

Inventory Management Strategy: Your desired inventory management approach for each market, e.g., just-in-time, bulk warehousing, etc.

Picking & Packing Requirements: Any specific picking and packing requirements you have for each product or market.

Value-Added Services: Any additional services you require, such as kitting, assembly, or labelling.

By providing your 3PL partner with this comprehensive information, you enable them to develop a customised fulfilment strategy that aligns with your business goals and specific needs for each international market. This ensures efficient operations, minimises risks, and contributes to overall customer satisfaction.


d) Delivery timescales and options

When looking at creating a Service Level Agreement (SLA) for a 3PL efulfilment partner, you need to think about the customers’ expectations. Do your customers care about whether they receive their order in 3 versus 5 business days'


Don't let operational desires cloud your judgment

You’ll need to clearly communicate delivery options and costs to customers during checkout. So, dive into these questions to identify your brand's true must-haves, and align delivery options with your target audience's expectations and purchasing habits.

You may want to offer several delivery options or a single solution, but here's what you need to have clarity on:

Delivery Speed: Do your customers care about whether they receive their order in 3 versus 5 business days'

Standard Delivery: Define the expected delivery timeframe for regular orders within the UK and each international market.

Expedited Delivery: Outline options and associated costs for faster delivery services within both domestic and international zones.

Guaranteed Delivery: Consider offering guaranteed delivery options with strict delivery timeframes and potential penalties for missed deadlines.


i) Delivery Methods

Carrier Options: Define the specific carriers or shipping methods available for different destinations and delivery speeds.

Incoterms: Specify which Incoterms (International Commercial Terms) will apply for different delivery options, clarifying responsibility for costs and risks at each stage of the journey.

Tracking and Visibility: Specify the level of tracking and visibility provided for shipments, including real-time updates and estimated delivery windows.


ii) Delivery Cost Structures:

Flat Rates: Set fixed fees for specific delivery options within designated zones or for certain order values.

Tiered Rates: Implement tiered pricing based on delivery speed, destination or order weight/value.

Dynamic Pricing: Consider options for dynamically adjusting delivery costs based on real-time factors like carrier availability or fuel prices.


iii) Additional Considerations

Delivery Exceptions: Clearly define any situations where exceptions to your normal delivery options might occur, such as during peak periods or for remote locations.

Delivery Notifications: Specify how customers will be notified about their expected delivery timeframe and any tracking information.

Delivery Attempts: Define the number of delivery attempts made before deeming a package undeliverable, as well as procedures for handling such situations.

Saturday Delivery: Decide whether Saturday delivery will be offered and at what additional cost, if applicable.

Set realistic and measurable SLAs for each delivery option and time frame.

Define penalties or compensation mechanisms for SLA breaches by the 3PL partner.

Regularly review and update your SLA as your business and market needs evolve.

By carefully considering these delivery options and incorporating them into your SLA, you can ensure a transparent, efficient, and customer-centric delivery experience for your e-commerce fulfilment operations.


We’re personal, approachable, and happy to help you create a benchmark formula to compare us against others.

  • We provide Pay-as-you-go efulfilment solutions
  • We are experienced with all major ecommerce platforms
  • We guarantee we’ll be different to others in a good way

If you’re looking for a 3pl efulfilment partner to help you grow – get in touch.

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