What is a 3PL?

The ability to deliver goods efficiently and quickly to your customers is a major factor in the growth of your e-commerce operations. Refining your warehouse management allows you to optimize the way you store, handle, and ship products. While many companies keep order fulfillment and logistics in-house, some choose to work with third-party logistics (3PL) providers – also called simply 3PLs. Since handling your own logistics can be a large source of expense, you may find third-party logistics to be a cost-effective solution that frees your time to center on your core business.

3PL is simply having an expert third-party organization that specializes in logistics manage and perform this part of your business for you.

What is logistics?

Third-party logistics may seem to be a dense technical term. However, it is easy to understand once you break it into its parts. Let’s look at logistics first.

Logistics is the planning and execution of efficient storage and transportation of products between their origins and customers. Initially used for managing the movement of goods, equipment, and personnel within the military, today logistics typically references the movements of commercial goods between points in the supply chain. Excellent logistics is both cost-effective and fast.

Success with logistics management meets the following needs:

  • having the goods you need when you need them;
  • getting them in impeccable condition to the proper location; and
  • delivering them to the right customer, whether internal or external.

What is 3PL?

3PL is simply having an expert third-party organization that specializes in logistics manage and perform this part of your business for you. Experts on managing the various elements of fulfillment and procurement, 3PL providers offer outsourced logistics services. You can get powerful warehouse management and distribution through a 3PL while not having to incur the expenses of personnel training and management, equipment handling, facilities, and vehicles.

Third-party logistics does not need to be comprehensive but applies to any service related to storage or shipment. The functions organizations typically seek from 3PL providers include the following:

  • fulfillment services including pick, pack, and dispatch;
  • supply-chain stock picking;
  • local, nationwide, and worldwide shipment of products;
  • last-mile delivery; and
  • compliance with transportation laws locally, nationally, and internationally.

Difference between 3PL & fulfillment

Another term that is typically associated with e-commerce is fulfillment. In contrast to the broader realms of logistics and 3PL, fulfillment is simply steps taken by a merchant to deliver orders to customers. This concept specifically refers to the process by which you receive, package, and ship product orders. The fulfillment process includes inventory storage, picking and packing, and shipping orders.

Example of how 3PL works

While a book publisher has experience in hiring and contracting with authors, editors, and graphic designers, they do not want to handle the book ordering and shipment process. The book company works with a 3PL to fulfill orders and ship its freight.

Rather than maintain a supply and distribution capacity in-house, the publisher is able to contain costs and focus on book production through a 3PL services contract.

Why work with a 3PL?

Beyond allowing you to focus on other aspects of your business, there are various other reasons that companies form partnerships with third-party logistics services. Five of the top reasons are the below:

  1. risk mitigation – By having a third-party handle logistics, you pass off the responsibilities it entails. If goods are lost or damaged, you are protected. If shipment is delayed, the 3PL must expeditiously find an alternative way to fulfill the orders.
  2. insight – You can benefit from the knowledge and experience of a third-party specialist, particularly if you are just launching. The logistics operations of your business can be immediately improved as they are guided by specialists in the field.
  3. cost reduction & savings – Working with a 3PL makes you part of a larger operation. Since these organizations have many different customers, you gain access to that higher order frequency and volume. In turn, you take advantage of greater negotiating leverage with carriers. Plus, you can save significantly by not having to maintain your own staff and space.
  4. stronger customer experience — Through the more established and efficient distribution network of a 3PL, you can expedite delivery. Making delivery ultra-fast with next-day or same-day options is increasingly critical given the Amazon effect on customer expectations.
  5. scalability — Typically the demand for businesses’ goods will rise and fall at different times of year. Instead of having to invest capital for a level of operations you may not always need, you can better manage your peaks and valleys with a 3PL.

Your 3PL strategy

While you may be interested in exploring third-party logistics, selecting the right 3PL is critical to your success. At Distribution Alternatives, we have been distributing merchandise for more than 80 years. Explore our flexible and accommodating 3PL solutions here.

How to Prevent and Fight Retailer Chargebacks

 chargebacks are so common from retailers, it is critical for suppliers to consider how to minimize them.
Chargebacks are so common from retailers, it is critical for suppliers to consider how to minimize them.

Suppliers are all too familiar with chargebacks. There are many reasons they might occur, such as not submitting the appropriate EDI transactions, sending the shipment behind schedule, not meeting packing specifications, and not correctly labeling a carton.

With a chargeback, the next payment made to the vendor is reduced. It could go down a flat amount or a certain amount per order, shipment, or box.

This problem is not going away. A 2018 survey from Supply Chain Digest found that 58% of vendors and 43% of retailers believed chargebacks would increase over the next five years. Just 21% of each group thought chargebacks would reduce over that period.

Since chargebacks are so common from retailers, it is critical for suppliers to consider how to minimize them. This article looks at methods to prevent chargebacks from occurring and how to fight them when they do happen.

How to prevent retail chargebacks

First, here are some steps toward prevention of chargebacks:

Designate a dedicated compliance specialist. Appoint a professional to try to get refunds with reference to your previous compliance record and efforts at improving your processes, as well as questioning chargebacks that are incorrect. Your compliance head should study issues to keep them from continuing; update your systems; distribute requirements to your staff; and go to vendor seminars and training sessions. This person should also be in touch with everyone in the supply chain, such as third-party logistics (3PL) providers.

Use electronic data interchange (EDI) to transfer data. When you send information manually, it is challenging to keep pace with all your customers, their locations, and all the various requirements. Through EDI, you can be sure that your data is correct, and you can benefit from a range of efficiencies (e.g., in pickup and delivery, invoices, and order processing). Make sure that you regularly test any EDI system that you use to verify that the data transfer is accurate.

Make sure all technology parameters are being met. You want to be certain that you are meeting all technology-related rules. Some of the top ones to consider are the following:

  1. Make sure that the retailer does not have any problems scanning labels upon receipt by maintaining your label printing equipment.
  2. Carefully review the bills of lading for special information and notes.
  3. Check that parts of barcodes are not being left off, so that they are completely scannable.
  4. Examine labels to ensure that unit and store codes have the right number of characters.
  5. Verify that packing lists have the correct data components that are required. Be certain that carrier PRO and SCAC numbers have the right number of characters and are in the right format.
  6. Make sure that the number of characters and format of the routing confirmation and load authorization numbers in the ASN and on the bills of lading are correct.
  7. Confirm that the right parameters are met for the barcode labels’ quiet zone margins.
  8. Be certain that the SKUs within the retailer’s system are aligned with those in your own system.

Know the retailer requirements, and keep abreast of any updates. Retailers vary on their rules. Know exactly what the requirements are for each one. Put systems in place that take all these retailer needs into account so that you can comply with each one. At least once a year, go through all these rules to make sure you are staying in tune with them. Often a retailer will not let its suppliers know when they make tweaks to their requirements – so it’s key to be proactive.

Make use of the Vendor Compliance Federation. This organization can help you greatly in staying compliant with all the requirements of various retailers. The VCF makes adjustments to their vendor and routing guides regularly. It has information for 155 of the biggest retail outfits within the data of its “compliance clearinghouse.”

Understand why chargebacks are occurring. Reasons for chargebacks include using the incorrect shipping provider, sending to the wrong shipping location, substituting products without authorization, and problems with the labeling (whether they’re non-scannable, erroneous, or missing). In order to mitigate the chargeback issue, you want to know when and where chargebacks are taking place, along with any other details related to them. Make sure you are tracking all chargebacks that occur so you can identify any minor problems before they develop into huge issues.

Determine how much chargebacks are costing you. Figure out a fair number that estimates the cost of your chargebacks. Once you have that cost calculated, you have a better argument for putting in place systems and individuals who can help keep this issue at bay. You can get some of the information you need from accounting, which should be providing information on chargebacks to the distribution center or to logistics. You will have a little more difficulty determining additional costs. If the retailer does not accept the shipment, your costs will include extending the cash cycle for a short period, re-palletizing the item, and the freight cost for the return.

Implement a warehouse management system (WMS). If you want to reduce human error and to be aligned with all retailer requirements, it is best to have a WMS system in place – especially if it is a Tier 1 WMS. If you want your shipping and order data to be consistent, full, and on-time, it’s important to be linked with your trading partners. You can minimize your chargebacks by having all your order fulfillment platforms – such as the WMS and ERP – integrated, and by streamlining your handling with automated data transmissions.

Partner with a 3PL service. You can improve the consistency of your compliance and documentation through a 3PL, which can assist with compliance as well as transportation, warehousing, and international shipping. Select a 3PL that has a proven ability to mitigate chargebacks and maintain compliance.

How to fight retailer chargebacks

Being able to dispute chargebacks means to first follow all the above methods for prevention. You want to keep all your routing guides and standards updated through steady tracking of their vendor compliance requirements. You want to work with a carrier network that is carefully selected to be able to follow all the standards and timing specifications of retailers.

When you want to fight chargebacks, you will need proof. That means keeping records of all your communications, timestamps, and freight documentation. You will also be greatly assisted by having a mediator on your side, as necessary, through a third-party logistics provider.