Mail-order fulfillment was around for a long time before online shopping or even the internet. Catalog companies used mail order fulfillment warehouses to process their orders.
Today, eCommerce fulfillment has changed an industry that started out serving mail-order companies. There are more fulfillment warehouses to serve the growing number of eCommerce orders. Turnaround times must be faster because people who buy with the click of the button have different delivery expectations from customers who filled out paper order forms and waited patiently for their merchandise to arrive.
However, mail order fulfillment is still part of the logistics services industry. Here’s how to find the best mail order fulfillment company for your business.
What is mail-order fulfillment?
Order fulfillment companies will fill orders from any source. While third-party logistics companies are commonly set up to process eCommerce orders transmitted directly from your eCommerce platform or online store, they can also handle mail-order fulfillment.
In fact, mail orders often come in like any other order. When a customer receives a mail-order catalog, they rarely have the option to fill out a paper form. They can go online and place an order for the items in the catalog or call a call center and place their order over the phone. Call center operators enter order information into the system, transmitting it electronically to the 3PL services provider. Mail order fulfillment services are the same as fulfillment services for any other eCommerce orders.
What types of order fulfillment services do eCommerce companies need?
Order fulfillment takes many forms, and each 3PL offers a unique suite of services. Most companies need the basics: inventory storage, picking and packing, and shipping. Mail-order fulfillment can also include many value-added services. Here are some of the most common fulfillment services.
Fulfillment centers provide space to store your products, so they are ready to ship when someone places an order. Storage or warehousing is one of the most basic mail order fulfillment services.
While storage sounds like a passive service, it is not. Your 3PL will place your items strategically for their picking method to make order fulfillment fast and efficient. In addition, the warehouse is responsible for the security of your products.
At Red Stag Fulfillment, we provide 24/7 security and use cameras to monitor our clients’ inventory. We take our warehousing responsibilities seriously.
Pick and pack fulfillment
The mail-order fulfillment process starts with a picker. When one of your customers places an order, the 3PL generates a picklist for the items in the order. The picker uses the list to gather the products.
Next, a packer takes the items the picker has collected and packs them securely for shipping. Before the packer adds the shipping label, they will double-check the items against the picklist to ensure there are no errors.
From the packing station, the next step in mail-order fulfillment is the shipping dock. Packages are divided by which carrier will deliver them. Most U.S. 3PLs work with the three major carriers: FedEx, UPS, and USPS. Some warehouses also handle outgoing freight shipments as well.
At Red Stag Fulfillment, we help clients send large products and bulk orders via palletized freight. And our flexible carrier selection places every package with the fastest and most cost-effective shipping option.
What is the difference between order fulfillment and shipping?
Shipping is one element of order fulfillment. The difference is that your fulfillment center will handle all the aspects of order fulfillment. When it’s time to ship your package, the warehouse hands it off to a carrier. The carrier takes responsibility for the shipping process and safely delivering the box to your customer.
Kitting is bundling two or more items together, usually under a new SKU. You might use kitting to create gift baskets, subscription boxes, or volume packages for your clients. The kitting process can also be a way to make mail order fulfillment more efficient for hard-to-ship items.
Not all 3PLs offer kitting, but it’s one of the core services of Red Stag Fulfillment. We’ve seen how warehouse kitting can make a supply chain more flexible and resilient, and we want our eCommerce partners to have that options.
Inventory management is a crucial factor in eCommerce profitability. It also helps ensure you maintain an adequate cash flow while having the products your customers will want ready to ship when they place orders. Detailed demand planning can save you from having to take backorders or potentially lose sales, particularly while supply chains are fractured by COVID. On the other end of the scale, inventory forecasting will help you keep your inventory lean, so you don’t end up with leftover stock that you have to sell at a steep markdown.
Using our experience to help our clients with inventory planning is natural for us at Red Stag Fulfillment. We see our job as helping your business grow.
Other value-added services
Make sure you ask about all the services your business needs when you interview potential logistics providers. Many warehouses specialize in certain types of products: clothing, food items, hazardous shipping, or oversized products, to name a few. Do you need cold storage? Are your products too heavy to fit on standard warehouse shelving? Do your items need special handling? Whatever your mail-order fulfillment needs, there’s a 3PL that can fill them.
Who is the best order fulfillment company?
The answer to who is the best order fulfillment—for eCommerce or mail order fulfillment—depends on your business model. For example, if you use crowdfunding for your product launch, you should consider this list of the best crowdfunding fulfillment companies.
Red Stag Fulfillment has compiled a list of the best fulfillment service companies in the U.S., but, even among that list, not every company might be right for you. The best fulfillment company for your business will not only provide fast, accurate fulfillment services but also have expertise in shipping products similar to yours.
And your ideal fulfillment partner should fit with the size of your business. Some 3PLs are positioned to handle high-volume eCommerce, while others can work with startups where monthly order volume might be low at first.
8 questions to ask before you choose a mail-order fulfillment service
The key to finding the best mail order fulfillment service is knowing the right questions to ask. Here are eight essential questions to get you started.
Do you offer fulfillment service guarantees?
Fulfillment service guarantees are promises from the 3PL of the level of service it will provide. For example, if a fulfillment company offers same-day fulfillment, how does it back up that service? Red Stag Fulfillment backs up its service and accuracy guarantees with cash: if we are late fulfilling an order or we make a mistake in picking or packing, we fix the problem, and we pay you $50.
What is your inventory shrinkage policy?
Inventory shrinkage is product loss in the warehouse. The causes of shrinkage include theft, breakage, or items improperly labeled or stored, so they don’t show up in inventory. Many warehouses have a shrinkage allowance, which is a share of your merchandise they can lose or damage without reimbursing you.
The assumption behind the shrinkage allowance is that some inventory loss is unavoidable, and the 3PL shouldn’t be penalized for it. However, shrinkage can be a high cost, so you should verify the policy before shipping your products to a new warehouse. At Red Stag Fulfillment, we believe that our professional warehousing services should be better than that. Our shrinkage allowance is zero; we pay the wholesale cost of any item that goes missing in our warehouses.
Do you have minimum monthly charges?
Some 3PLs have a minimum charge per month, while others charge clients only for the services they use. If you ship a high volume of orders, monthly minimums might not be an issue for you. However, if your order volume is low or zero during some seasons, monthly minimums might increase your fulfillment costs.
In addition, some 3PLs also charge clients a monthly fee for each warehouse where they store inventory. Red Stag Fulfillment doesn’t have minimum charges or warehouse location fees.
What is your minimum monthly order volume?
Some 3PLs work only with larger eCommerce companies, and they may have a minimum monthly order volume. You need a fulfillment company that matches the needs of your business, whether you are small or large. Order volume is a metric you can use to find the best 3PL for your business.
What are my shipping options?
If you have a preferred carrier, make sure the warehouse can ship using that carrier. In addition, if you have outgoing LTL and FTL freight shipments, make sure the 3PL can arrange those loads for you. For example, Red Stag Fulfillment ships with the three primary parcel delivery services plus local carriers, and we can also schedule freight shipments.
What size and weight products do you typically ship?
Package weight is a vital and often overlooked mail order fulfillment metric. If you ship small items, you need a fulfillment partner that can safely store and track your inventory. Your ideal 3PL will have the right-sized packaging to ship your orders safely, and its packers will know how to pack small items. Small products would be more likely to get lost or damaged in a warehouse that mainly ships larger items.
Red Stag Fulfillment warehouses are built to handle large and fragile products. That means our aisles are wider, our conveyor belts are constructed to hold more weight, and our shelves are sturdy enough to store heavy products.
Do you offer special storage services?
Types of storage is a critical question if you sell products that need special handling. Products classified as hazmat, food items (even ones that don’t require refrigeration), and products that require cold storage are just a few examples of special storage services.
What are your delivery times for national fulfillment services?
Fulfillment network locations have a significant effect on delivery times. Choose a 3PL with warehouses that can deliver your orders in the time frame your customers expect. For example, Red Stag Fulfillment’s national fulfillment warehouses are deliberately located so you can ship to more than 99% of U.S. addresses in two days or less.
These are just a few of the questions you might want to ask potential 3PLs. We have created a fulfillment company questionnaire as a resource to cover all the essential topics.
And please don’t hesitate to ask us all your mail-order fulfillment questions. We’re here to help. If we’re the best mail order fulfillment company for you, we’d love to work together.
More about order fulfillment services:
- Do You Really Need to Own Your Warehouse?
- Package Consolidation: What It Is and How It Saves You Money
- Global Order Fulfillment Strategies