Shipping & Fulfillment

My search for a third-party fulfillment company

I can’t help but reflect on this time last year as one of my greatest ecommerce successes. The Stupid Cancer store had rounded a corner of success that there was apparently no coming back from. But we needed help keeping up with an increasing flow of orders.

My search for a third-party fulfillment company — 3PL — started months earlier, after I attended the eTail West conference. I met staff from a larger 3PL at the event, who determined our sales volume was too small for their company. They referred me to several other options across the country.

I’ve learned that there are many factors to consider when selecting a fulfillment company. Location is most important consideration. As I tried to make an informed decision, I found that we ship most frequently to California. However, the Stupid Cancer headquarters is in lower Manhattan. Ultimately, I opted for a warehouse in the northeast U.S.

Once I selected the region, I began to drill down on the minutiae. First and foremost, the entire fulfillment process had to be automated. I received several proposals from 3PLs that described a manual CSV export with order information from Bigcommerce, our shopping cart, and a manual import to the 3PL — every day. Those 3PLs were the first to go.

Throughout the selection process, I had to keep revisiting the fact that I was outsourcing fulfillment to save time. Ultimately, Stupid Cancer is a nonprofit with a mission, not an apparel company. While the store exists for several reasons, it shouldn’t take away valuable internal resources.

Our bread-and-butter products in the store are t-shirts and hooded sweatshirts. Both items are sent to us in bulk.

After a few phone calls, I began to reconsider the idea of outsourced fulfillment. There was one constant throughout each sales pitch that left me puzzled: For 3PLs to come in at the price we wanted, we would need to bag and bar code our items. This would add to the cost of each item, which would shrink profit margins.

By this point in my search, I had made two key decisions. First, the 3PL needed to integrate with my store for an automated send and receive each day. Second, the 3PL warehouse needed to figure out by itself how to receive my merchandise.

Luckily, I found Karol Fulfillment Services in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. After some discussion and brainstorming, we jointly figured out how to make the Stupid Cancer inventory and order flow work for both parties. Karol met all of Stupid Cancer’s needs — location, automation, and accommodation.

As soon as the details were ironed out and contracts were signed, we put a transition plan together. Next month I’ll address our migration to Karol Fulfillment, as well as how we were able to begin shipping orders from the new location within 24 hours.

Kenny Kane
Kenny Kane
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