Fulfillment is one of the most critical parts of the ecommerce order lifecycle. As peak seasons get busier, the competition gets heavier, and margins get smaller, the demand for outsourced order fulfillment grows.

There are plenty of outsourced fulfillment partners to choose from, but the key to a successful long-term partnership is finding the one that works best for your unique business. Here, we spell out a few ways to separate those who can walk the walk from those who just talk.

Lack of Communication

Ecommerce customers rely on a retailer’s contact center for many of their customer service and even fulfillment-related needs. Customers will undoubtedly have questions about whether their order has shipped, where it is, how to return it, or how to reorder more of the same thing!

If you’re going to have your fulfillment partner handle your customer service calls, you’ll need to train them on your products, your brand messaging, and your overall brand voice – and test them out to make sure it “sounds like you”! If you continue to handle the contact center duties in-house, you’ll need to have a method of real-time communication with your fulfillment provider to make sure that your agents can answer operations-themed questions quickly and accurately. No communication equals unhappy customers!

Poor Technology

Every fulfillment center has an order management system, but whether it’s the right one is the question you need to ask.

The speed and efficiency of your fulfillment operations are only as good as the technology used to power them. Stop wasting time tracking orders and uploading files. Data needs to be secure, the reporting should be accurate (and useful!), and the software should be able to add new SKUs easily. Plus, you should be able to track orders and check inventory levels without constantly asking for them from your provider. If these basics aren’t met, then it could easily spell disaster.

Lack of Shipping Options

Customers today want a variety of shipping options – especially ones that are fast and free. One of the most significant advantages of an outsourced fulfillment provider is the extra “umph” it gives your shipping operations – more shipping methods, more substantial volume discounts, and better access to freight lanes. If you don’t see an increase in service levels due to outsourcing your fulfillment, then you’re probably not using the right partner.

No Personalization/Customization

The key to staying competitive in the ecommerce space today is all about giving your customers a little something extra that will keep them coming back to you. Extras, like customized labels and boxes, personalized notes, and product personalization options, can provide that exceptional experience to keep your brand top-of-mind – and they can all be done during the order fulfillment process. Your fulfillment partner should be able to provide personalization, customization, and gift-wrapping options in some fashion, as well as product bundling and kitting because your customers expect the same from you!

Shoddy, Disorganized Returns Process

You may have the best products in the world and a dynamite fulfillment partner, but sometimes, returns are inevitable: things don’t fit, the color isn’t right, or the order just got mixed up. Part of the returns process is figuring out whether the product can be resold and getting those orders back in shape for resale. This means that products must be cleaned, repackaged, and re-organized before they can be stored in the warehouse. Ask your fulfillment partner whether they can refurbish returned items (that includes handling repackaging, repairs, and cleaning) and whether they can accurately track returns and pair them with customer service inquiries to identify solutions to potential problems. Returns need to be monitored as closely as the pick and pack side!