Date: June 2, 2020
Order fulfillment is one of the most important parts of the supply chain, which is why 86% of domestic Fortune 500 companies used 3PLs for logistics and supply chain functions in 2019. With more ecommerce businesses rushing to expand their reach and serve increasing global demand, the need for third-party logistics providers who can ensure a smooth cross-border experience for customers is growing.
But, for many fulfillment partners and third-party logistics providers, the existing process for high-volume international shipping is still very much a manual process — from data entry and managing inventory, to maintaining connections and integrations with shipping carriers. Not to mention the inherent complexities of shipping internationally.
To successfully manage international shipments, 3PLs need a breadth of knowledge on customs regulations for any given country. Many 3PLs currently rely on ballpark estimates from archaic rate tables to calculate the total cost of an international shipment, which creates a lack of confidence and makes it hard to provide efficient cross-border services.
If you’re one of the many 3PLs struggling to manage international shipping, here are 4 strategies that will help optimize your supply chain workflow for increased international reach.
Instead of the traditional checklist ecommerce merchants use to vet a fulfillment partner — How much volume can you handle? What tracking system do you use? What type of customer service is provided? — you may have noticed a new question rising in popularity:
Do you provide international fulfillment?
In today’s economy, even smaller merchants are now looking to take advantage of the trillion dollar ecommerce market. They want a third-party logistics provider that acts as an extension of their brand experience to help service customers in new countries.
By positioning your 3PL as a “Global Fulfillment Provider,” you’re not just increasing the organic search traffic to your site from ecommerce brands interested in expanding their borders. You’re also creating the opportunity for more networks and partnerships to build as you continue to improve your services. In short, positioning your brand as a global fulfillment provider will help you grow your business and drive more revenue.
Shipping can be an incredibly complicated portion of ecommerce — even without the added complexities of international fulfillment — and it’s important to have solutions in your back pocket that help eliminate manual processes.
Accuracy matters and, naturally, a manual process is going to yield some errors. Knowing when to outsource responsibilities to a third-party provider can make or break a business. And, particularly for fulfillment providers, the cost-benefit analysis weighs in favor of integrating supply chain management tools into your workflow. Doing so allows you to focus more on creating the best experience for your customers, as well as to save on time and labor costs in the long run.
From warehouse management systems to enterprise resource planning tools, there is a wide selection of technology solutions on the market aimed at helping you better manage, automate, and customize your logistics and fulfillment processes. These solutions empower you to scale global operations quickly and affordably, which is the key to success when shipping internationally.
A shipping API is another tool that can be used to automate and streamline your shipping workflow and to continue optimizing and saving on fulfillment. An API allows you to integrate shipping functionalities directly between your online store and the various shipping carriers available around the globe. When researching the best Supply Chain Management tool, be sure to ask if they have an integrated shipping API (connected to international carriers) to help with simplifying this process.
Identifying opportunities and assessing demand can be a great way to inform how you adapt and grow your 3PL. Utilizing a supply chain management tool can provide you with the big data needed to forecast customer behavior — for example, where and how often users are shipping internationally.
The “Amazon Effect” is another great example of this. Prime shipping has become quite the disruptor in the supply chain and logistics industry, and it continues to set a precedent for consumer expectations. A recent study found that 88% of consumers reported that Amazon’s shipping options have increased their expectations for other brands. This in turn means that brands need 3PLs that help them meet those heightened expectations.
Although many consumers do not expect 2-day international shipping each time they send a package, timing does matter. A 3PL’s ultimate goal should be anticipating and meeting the future needs of its customers — so that it can offer real value when a prospect is trying to choose between competing 3PL options.
Time is money. By digitizing and automating a large part of your fulfillment workflow, you not only improve efficiency, but you also free up schedules and resources to focus on what matters most to your business — providing the best 3PL service to your customers.
The biggest value add you can give when it comes to global fulfillment is being able to maintain profitability while meeting consumer expectations. After all, that’s why many ecommerce merchants turn to 3PLs to manage order fulfillment for their businesses in the first place — so that they can make money while delighting their customers. The right 3PL can also provide deeply discounted shipping rates, more visibility on total landed costs, and the ability to scale a business safely with minimal investment in warehouses and distribution centers.
Want to learn more about international shipping in today’s ecommerce world? Download ShipEngine’s new ebook — “Expanding Borders: The International Shipping Playbook.”
ShipEngine is a multi-carrier shipping platform that provides best-in-class shipping functionality directly to ecommerce stores, logistics and warehouse providers, system integrators, ecommerce application integrators, and new application developers. ShipEngine powers shipping through 3PL Central’s Unified Small Parcel Shipping Suite.
3PL Central provides cloud-based WMS solutions for 3PLs so they can transform paper-based, error-prone businesses into service leaders focused on customer satisfaction, efficient operations, and growth.