To 3PL or Not to 3PL?

Should I self-perform my direct-to-consumer, store, and wholesale fulfillment, or contract out to a third party logistics firm (3PL)?

By Richard Hamilton

Retailers may face significant challenges when expanding further into online/eCommerce business. Some of these may involve issues in supply chain management. Probably one of the largest obstacles is developing an effective fulfillment strategy. When it comes to making this decision, it is advisable to review the possible benefits of using a 3PL (third-party logistics) provider.

Self-performing fulfillment can be expensive and take time to develop. A professional 3PL fulfillment company can probably do the work better, faster, cheaper, more predictably, and safer than most retailers venturing into this new arena for the first time. 3PLs benefit from experience, economies of scale, and having a logistics network already in place. Of course, cost reduction is not guaranteed, and may not be realized. Every situation is unique.

Probably the biggest upside to utilizing a 3PL is that retailers don’t have to make a capital investment in real estate, material handling equipment, or transportation, and won’t have to commit to labor.  This allows retailers to deploy capital elsewhere and to keep a distance from labor, HR, and other risk-related issues. 3PLs also have the ability to get a fulfillment operation up and running in less time, whereas self-performing fulfillment takes time and capital to execute.

3PLs offer retailers the ability to scale fulfillment services up or down as needed, which is especially important for the holiday shopping season. Many retailers require a higher volume during certain times of the year. If a retailer self-performed its fulfillment, the low volume times of the selling season could lead to empty warehouse space, which is detrimental to the bottom line.

Using a 3PL also typically provides retailers with vital performance metrics, making it easy to track efficiencies and make improvements/changes as necessary.

Many major 3PL providers have developed the requisite skills to support eCommerce fulfillment. For some providers, eCommerce is their core business sometimes amounting to upwards of 70% of their gross revenue.

So, for retailers in need of improved fulfillment logistics, it’s worth it to weigh the pros and cons of self-performing versus hiring a 3PL. Modeling and expected cost differences and understanding each 3PL’s capabilities and experience is the key to a successful outsourcing experience.

Not sure whether a 3PL is right for you? Cushman & Wakefield’s newCommerce experts can help evaluate your business and provide you with the necessary information to make the right decision. 

Rich Hamilton serves as Managing Director and  Lead for the Cushman & Wakefield’s 3PL Specialty Advisory Group. Based out of the firm’s Rosemont office, home base for Cushman & Wakefield’s Americas Logistics & Industrial Services team, Rich brings a diverse professional background including experience in Manufacturing & Supply Chain, Third Party Logistics and Industrial Real Estate.

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