How to Ensure Your 3PL is Prepared to Take on Holiday 2023

Forecasted retail ecommerce sales this holiday season (aka, peak season) will be up an average of 11.9%, according to eMarketer. But that’s the average. For the high-growth companies we work with, we’re forecasting much stronger YoY seasonal growth. And we’re getting everything ready for them now. Is your 3PL doing that for you? To be sure, follow what we cover here and press your partner to get on their game.

A well-prepared and thoughtfully executed strategy makes all the difference for your business, especially during the bustling holiday season. We all know that if your third-party logistics provider, or internal team, isn’t on their game, your upcoming holiday season can turn into a disaster quickly.

The good news… There is still time to tighten up your supply chain and fulfillment operations or make needed provider changes. By starting now, planning comprehensively, and collaborating with industry powerhouses, you lay the groundwork for smooth operations, foster exceptional customer experiences, and improve your chances of taking advantage of that double-digit growth this holiday season. The upcoming guide will get you started, and when/if you need more help, call us.

Start Early (NOW) and Plan Ahead

It goes without saying that proper planning is critical to a successful holiday shipping season, so sit down with your 3PL partner now to discuss peak season forecasts, inventory requirements, and delivery timelines. Collaboratively develop a comprehensive plan that outlines key milestones, responsibilities, and contingency measures. Starting early allows your 3PL provider to allocate necessary resources, optimize processes, and ensure smooth operations as the holiday season approaches.

Planning also allows your 3PL provider to strategically organize their workforce to hire seasonal staff and temporary workers, fine-tune their operational processes, and make any required adjustments to handle the anticipated surge in order volumes. With proper planning, your 3PL can ensure sufficient warehouse capacity, streamline order fulfillment procedures, and optimize transportation routes to meet the demands on your business this coming peak season, but they need to plan now.

Can Your Third Party Logistics Provider Work at Capacity & Scale?

Trucks shipping products during the holiday seasonAssess your 3PL partner’s capacity and scalability to handle the anticipated surge in order volumes during Holiday 2023. Review their historical performance during previous peak seasons and evaluate their ability to handle increased demand. Have them walk you through a hypothetical “pressure test” to determine their ability to respond under pressure.

If a problem occurred during the past holiday season, such as multiple late or failed deliveries, ensure that the fulfillment process evolved to prevent this from happening again. Far too often, we hear stories of vendors saying, “We’ll take care of it,” but never taking definitive action. Also, evaluate their agility to adjust resources, such as warehouse space, labor force, and transportation capabilities, to prepare a more streamlined process and accommodate the high volume of orders during the peak season.

Evaluate their contingency planning strategies. Unforeseen circumstances can impact operations, such as unexpected spikes in demand, weather-related disruptions, or supply chain disruptions. These situations have become the norm in recent years, so your 3PL should have an answer on whether or not they can handle it. A capable 3PL should have proactive backup plans to mitigate risks and ensure the smooth continuation of operations throughout multiple warehouse locations during such situations.

Discuss with your 3PL their ability to scale operations based on fluctuating demand patterns. “Flexibility” includes their readiness to locate additional storage space, increase the labor force by hiring additional staff, and deploy other transportation resources creatively when needed. A 3PL with scalable operations can adapt to changing circumstances and handle the dynamic nature of the holiday season effectively. If your 3PL can’t adjust its operations to accommodate the increased volume of customers and demand for your products, it may be time to consider pivoting to a new 3PL provider. The future of 3PL is flexible, so don’t settle for a partner without “malleable discipline” as a core competency.

Assess Technological Capabilities to Streamline the Shipping Process

A logistics provider is only as good as its technology. Before the holiday season starts, evaluate your 3PL partner’s technological capabilities, including warehouse management systems, inventory tracking, order management platforms, and real-time visibility tools. If your fulfillment partner has its tech in line, it enables faster order processing, proactive issue resolution, and improved customer satisfaction throughout the holidays and beyond.

Start by assessing the compatibility of your systems with the 3PL’s technological infrastructure – your and their systems are ever-changing, so don’t assume that your technology that was compatible with theirs in the past is still working to its full capabilities now. Seamless integration of warehouse management, inventory tracking, and order management platforms is essential for efficient collaboration and data synchronization. A well-integrated technological ecosystem enables smooth information flow, minimizes errors, and enhances overall operational efficiency. 

Advanced technologies such as automation and artificial intelligence (AI) automate and streamline order processing, minimize manual errors, prevent failed deliveries, and accelerate throughput. For more detail on how AI impacts 3PL providers, read our recent blog article HERE. However, automation shouldn’t completely replace the human element of 3PL logistics. You have to have capable humans to be proactive, problem solve, and manage the algorithms and technology – it’s the reality of any well-run supply chain and fulfillment ecosystem – so be wary of those enamored with tech-for-tech sake. 

Real-time visibility is crucial for tracking and monitoring the movement of goods throughout the supply chain, especially during the busiest shopping events of the year. Evaluate your 3PL’s ability to provide transparent and up-to-date information on inventory levels, order status, and shipment tracking – don’t accept anything under 99%+ inventory record accuracy. With real-time visibility, you make more informed decisions, proactively address any issues, and keep customers informed about the status of their orders. Too many times, clients come to us and complain that their 3PL saddled them with deciphering an incomprehensible mess of numbers and stats when all they wanted to know was the inventory level of one SKU. If you can’t get a straight answer to your questions, be wary and ready to transition to another 3PL to benefit your business during the upcoming busy season.  

Analyze the 3PL’s data analytics capabilities. Advanced analytics provide valuable insights into customer behavior, demand patterns, and operational performance. These insights enable data-driven decision-making, optimize inventory levels and improve order fulfillment rates. During the holidays, you often have to make quick decisions, you need information, you have to have confidence in that information, and you need it immediately. However, if the facts and figures aren’t well-ordered and organized for you to pull the information you need, those fancy reports are useless to you. Value clarity over complexity. 

Also, consider the 3PL’s mobile capabilities. Can you access critical information on the go? If your 3PL’s customer portal isn’t user-friendly and mobile-optimized, it delays decision-making in critical moments. After all, an executive’s life at a high-growth company involves constant movement. Your 3PL should enable you to perform at your best, not hold you back and possibly put your career on the line. If your current 3PL’s system doesn’t allow timely decision-making and efficient communication, if you take action now, you still have time to make a change in time for the holiday season. 

Foster Collaboration and Communication Throughout the Holiday Season

Do you regularly communicate with your 3PL provider? If not, resolve any blocks to clear communication before the holidays. A healthy relationship with a 3PL provider involves regularly communicating your expectations, providing updated forecasts, and promptly sharing any planned changes. Establish a dedicated contact person on both sides (the 3PL and your business) to address queries, resolve issues, and maintain a strong working relationship. Collaboration and open communication help address challenges swiftly and ensure everyone is aligned to deliver the best possible outcomes.

Conducting collaborative planning meetings is a valuable practice. These meetings unite both parties to align strategies, review performance, and address challenges. You will find more innovative solutions to enhance operational efficiency and customer satisfaction by leveraging each other’s expertise and insights.

Encouraging feedback and suggestions from your 3PL partner creates a culture of open communication. Listen to their input and incorporate their suggestions into your joint planning efforts. This collaborative approach will improve performance if your 3PL is malleable in how they operate – if they aren’t, it’s time for a change, and do it fast.

Leveraging technology also significantly enhances collaboration and communication. Utilize shared project management platforms, real-time messaging apps, and collaborative document-sharing tools. These digital tools enable seamless information exchange, quick decision-making, and centralized collaboration, ensuring everyone is on the same page.

Addressing challenges as they arise is crucial. Maintain open lines of communication, promptly sharing any issues or concerns with your 3PL partner. By working together to find solutions, you can minimize disruptions, maintain service levels, and keep operations running smoothly.

Regularly assess the performance of your 3PL partner and provide constructive feedback. Conduct postseason reviews to analyze strengths, identify areas for improvement, and jointly develop action plans. This continuous improvement approach strengthens the collaborative bond between your organization and the 3PL provider, ensuring ongoing success in future holiday seasons. And most importantly, document your feedback for your 3PL, create an “optimization plan” and track their response to the input. A good 3PL will welcome this disciplined approach. 

Choose Standvast to Drive Your Holiday Season Fulfillment Forward and Reduce Shipping Costs

If you want a fulfillment provider that can deliver exceptional performance during the busiest times of the year, Standvast needs to be on your list to talk to immediately. With a track record of useful innovations in e-commerce fulfillment and supply chain technology, including collaborations with logistics experts and industry leaders like Amazon, we drive some of the best results in the industry, including 99.9% inventory record accuracy and saving our clients up to 30% in landed costs (to name just a couple).

At Standvast, we’ve developed the world’s first composable supply chain services and technology solutions, which enables you to augment or replace various aspects of your current supply chain with little to no disruptions. We adapt our technology to your fulfillment needs, not vice versa. This composability element makes it extremely easy to give us a try before the upcoming holiday season. Plus, leveraging our multi-node network for 1-2 day ground shipping to 98% of the US has proven time and time again to lift our partners’ revenue to 20%. You’ll wonder why shipping orders out on time couldn’t have always been that easy. 

The question now is – are you ready to up your fulfillment game, thrill your customers, and take business away from your competitors by out-performing them? If you are, Standvast is here to help you deliver the difference and provide the competitive edge you need in today’s dynamic e-commerce landscape. Partner with us; together, we’ll transform your supply chain and deliver the most successful peak season you’ve ever had.

Red truck delivering holiday gifts to their destination