How To Start Working With A 3PL For The First Time

Written by:
Brandon Rollins


March 18, 2024


March 18, 2024

For many growing businesses, outsourcing fulfillment to a 3PL is a rite of passage. Here's how you work with one for the first time.
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For many growing businesses, outsourcing fulfillment to a 3PL (third-party logistics company) is a rite of passage. To need a fulfillment partner in the first place means having steady order volume, more work than can be done in-house, and enough money to hire help. But like all partnerships, the one between an eCommerce company and its 3PL requires effort on both sides.

Having a 3PL makes so many things easier, especially managing inventory, shipping orders, and handling returns. Some even offer additional services such as kitting and assembly or freight brokerage. But the 3PL still needs information from each and every one of its clients in order to do good work.

In this article, we’re going to discuss what you need to share with your 3PL so it can do its job well and keep your customers happy.

Provide accurate information about your products.

One of the simplest ways your eCommerce company can ensure a good relationship with your 3PL from the get-go is simply to provide detailed, accurate information about your products. In particular, 3PLs need to know the following information:

  • Product weight
  • Product dimensions
  • HS code (for international shipping and customs clearance)
  • Special considerations (e.g. for items that are fragile, hazardous, or temperature-sensitive)

While 3PLs are able to fill in missing information for weight and dimensions for many products, it is better to provide this upfront. Companies that do so benefit from more accurate shipping cost estimates even *before* any inventory is physically stored with the 3PL.

Similarly, you should be careful to provide accurate customs/HS code information if you intend to do any international shipping. Using the wrong HS code will delay the shipping process, with some orders possibly even being seized by customs.

Likewise, to ensure the integrity of inventory and the safety of workers, your eCommerce company must notify the 3PL if items are fragile, hazardous, temperature-sensitive, or require any special handling. Don’t skip this step!

Submit warehouse receiving orders as soon as possible.

A typical 3PL receives dozens, if not hundreds, of freight shipments every day. When a truck pulls up to the dock, the individual warehouse workers cannot reliably tell what they’re unloading by sight alone. This is one reason why it’s very important to provide 3PLs with accurate information about incoming shipments.

All 3PLs have a process for this. It typically involves logging into their system and submitting paperwork, usually referred to as a “warehouse receiving order” (WRO) or “advanced shipping notice” (ASN). Information requested will typically include:

  • Quantities of items to be shipped
  • Information about items to be shipped including weight, height, and HS code
  • Information on how the items are packed (in boxes, on pallets)
  • Contact information for the carrier company

It is absolutely crucial to provide the most accurate possible information about the items being shipped and the quantities they are being shipped in. Leaving items off the receiving order can create a lot of work for 3PLs and lead to substantial delay in order fulfillment.

Regarding quantities, many manufacturers will produce more units than promised. Small manufacturer overruns like this are pretty normal. Meaning,  if the receiving order says there will be 1,000 units but there are actually 988 or 1,035, it won’t be a problem with the 3PL. However, if the order says there will be 1,000 units but there are actually 600 or 1,400, it will take extra time and money to ensure an accurate count of inventory before items are stored.

When appropriate, specify custom packing and shipping instructions.

Most 3PLs, given the opportunity, will default to the most cost-efficient way to ship. They won’t use a box when a polybag will do the job. They won’t ship via FedEx when USPS costs less. For the most part, this is a good instinct.

However, it’s best practice to leave detailed instructions about packing materials and shipping. For example, if you are selling board games, it’s better to ship in a rigid box. Otherwise, the game box can arrive on your customers’ doorstep with dinged corners.

Here are a few considerations to weigh, before advising your 3PL of preferred shipping practices:

  • Acceptable packing materials (polybags, rigid boxes, etc.)
  • Acceptable carriers (USPS, FedEx, UPS, etc.)
  • Special instructions, if appropriate

Providing explicit instructions on how items should be packed and shipped can prevent damaged and delayed shipments. This is, without a doubt, one of the easiest ways to ward off common shipping problems.

Build a relationship with your account rep.

Being proactive about sharing useful information with your 3PL is a good place to start. Likewise, providing complete product information and timely receiving documents goes a long way towards preventing delays and extra costs. Often, common shipping issues are avoided by providing specific packing and shipping instructions.

But ultimately, order fulfillment is a product of attention to detail, strong processes, and a clear definition of how your brand should be delivered. This is where the relationship with your 3PL is critical, since they directly impact how customers will perceive your brand. They are the ones ensuring your product is shipped to the customers doorstep - safely, promptly, and in one piece.

More sophisticated 3PLs provide their clients with dedicated account representatives. This person will understand your brand requirements intimately, be on-call to help with any issues that may arise, and help maintain your brand standards with the warehouse workers. Plus, you’ll be able to reach out to them instead of needing to work through a tedious and inefficient call center (we’ve all been there).

As much as possible, seek to build a strong and open relationship with your account rep, so you can inform them of your business goals and communicate areas of concern as needed. The best 3PLs will take the initiative to collect all the information they need from the beginning of your business relationship, but even still, a little self-advocacy can go a long way to ensure a positive fulfillment experience for both parties.

But ultimately, order fulfillment requires subjective judgment and attention to detail. This is where the relationship really starts to matter, since 3PLs directly impact how customers perceive eCommerce brands. The best 3PLs provide their clients with dedicated account representatives who are able to help with any issues that may arise, instead of forcing clients to go through call centers.

Whenever possible, build a relationship with your account rep. From the very beginning, tell them about your business goals and areas of concern. The best 3PLs will take the initiative to ask about all this from the beginning, but even still, a little self-advocacy can go a long way to ensuring a positive fulfillment experience.

Final Thoughts

  • Working with a 3PL dramatically reduces the amount of time and hassle that goes into shipping your orders. 
  • It’s important to provide your 3PL with all the information they need to succeed. 
  • Share comprehensive information about the products being shipped, at a minimum. 
  • When sending in bulk shipments of new inventory, include detailed information on the receiving ordersCommon shipping issues like breakage or slow shipping (when certain carriers are not good solutions) are preventable when you provide instructions for each product
  • Lastly, building a relationship with the account rep makes it much easier to fix problems that cannot be foreseen when your 3PL takes over

Get Help Requesting Quotes From The Best 3PLs

To get an accurate quote from 3PLs, it is important to provide as much detail as possible about your products. That means providing information on the size and weight of your items and orders, the number of SKUs you sell, the location of your customers, and your packaging requirements.

Most companies will let you submit requests for quotes on their website. But, you need to contact multiple (sometimes dozens of) 3PLs to find the right one, and that's a time-consuming process.

Want to skip the repetition and streamline your search? Get in touch with to start your search free of charge, and make sure you find the best 3PL for your business.

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