To successfully enter the international market, retailers must ramp up their shipping capabilities and prepare to answer the needs of their new international customers. To meet this demand, many partner with third-party logistics providers.
Commonly known as 3PLs, these businesses outsource a range of services—warehousing, distribution, freight forwarding and more. Learn about these all-important supply-chain partners and how to find the best one for your business needs, below.
There are countless third-party logistics providers (3PLs) serving retailers and manufacturers around the world. Some only provide specific services like warehousing and distribution, others offer a full suite of supply-chain services; some have assets to offer businesses, others manage large-scale operations. 3PLs can offer the following services:
- Transportation—delivering a product to wholesale, retail or direct customers.
- Warehousing & Distribution—storing and managing products in warehouses based around the world.
- Freight Forwarding—arranging the storage and shipment of merchandise.
- Shipper Management—managing international shipping end-to-end, including carrier relations, access to transportation management systems and more.
- Financial—managing freight payment and auditing of financial transactions.
Deciding what 3PL to partner with takes careful deliberation. Below, we map out the most important criteria to consider when choosing a 3PL.
Consider Your Needs
Before contacting 3PLs to handle your international shipping needs, ask yourself these questions. Do you need simple transportation services? Are you looking for a warehouse or distribution center for your products in a specific country? Which market are you looking to enter? How much are you willing to spend? Do you have any technology needs? Once you’ve mapped out your answers, conduct research online to find 3PLs that fit your criteria or contact them directly to learn more.
Determine Market Accessibility
Knowing which countries you want to export to will help you narrow your list of 3PLs. Begin by eliminating the providers that don’t offer services in your intended international market. Visit their websites or reach out to them directly for an up-to-date list of countries they operate in.
Decide on Services
Next, it’s important to get a grasp of each 3PL’s capabilities. To narrow down the list, determine the answers to the following questions:
- What is the full range of services they offer?
- Do they have infrastructure (trucks, warehouses, etc.) or do they offer management and technology services only?
- What transportation and warehouse options do they offer (if applicable)?
Assess Their Scalability
As your international business grows, so will your global shipping needs. To avoid switching companies midstream, it’s important to find a 3PL that can accommodate you when business escalates. Consider the following questions:
- Is there a limit on the amount and extent of services they can offer?
- What is the maximum amount of shipments they can handle to your international market (if applicable)?
- Does the 3PL understand the needs of a growing e-commerce retailer looking to expand into international markets?
- Have they scaled their service offerings for other businesses in the past?
- Do they operate in other international markets you may want to enter?
Analyze Their Technological Capabilities
Many 3PLs have technology platforms that help their business operate and deliver on time. Be sure to find out whether these platforms are compatible with yours. A few important questions to keep in mind:
- What technology platforms are the 3PLs using on a daily basis?
- How advanced are their platforms? Do they have important features other 3PLs don’t?
- Is the platform compatible with yours?
Look at Their Track Record
Before deciding on a 3PL, look at each company’s track record. Find a service provider whose work experience mirrors your needs. Consider the following:
- Does the 3PL have case studies that showcase its success in international markets?
- Can it share a roster of clients who’ve worked with the company in the country you’re looking to target?
- What is the longest working relationship they’ve had with a retailer?
- Can they provide industry references that speak to their success and reputation in international shipping?
Determine Customer Service
Good relationships are the cornerstone of a successful business. Before committing to a 3PL, gauge the level of attention you’ll be getting.
- Who will be your point person at the 3PL?
- How often can you contact them?
- Do the workers who are based abroad speak English?
- Can the 3PL provide a contact for reference?
- What external reviews does the company have? Are they positive?
- What was their biggest customer service complaint in the past? How was it solved?
The USPS and 3PLs
The USPS plays a critical role in global shipping for many companies. Contact us to see how our services can complement your international shipping strategy.
Entering the global retail market takes time and a calculated effort. Having a trusted logistics partner can help make your transition that much smoother. Find the 3PL whose services align with your needs and put your global expansion plan into action.