8 min read

How Long Does Switching Fulfillment Companies Take?

Geoff Whiting

Last updated:

Switching fulfillment companies is a pain point that most eCommerce companies don’t take lightly. Changing logistics operations or adding a new 3PL partner costs staff time and freight and can lead to delays in order processing if not done correctly.

However, there’s a much higher cost to not making the transition if your current eCommerce fulfillment company doesn’t properly serve you or your customers. 

Fortunately, if you understand the process, switching fulfillment companies can be relatively fast and painless. We spoke with two of Red Stag Fulfillment’s onboarding specialists, Logan Dickenson and Mike Williams, to find out what you can expect and how to speed the process.

switching fulfillment companies

Typical timeframes when switching fulfillment companies

There are three fundamental reasons for switching fulfillment operations: 

  1. You’ve outgrown self-fulfillment and need to outsource for the first time
  2. You want to add to your fulfillment network, perhaps using an independent 3PL in addition to Amazon FBA
  3. Your 3PL isn’t serving your needs, and you need a new fulfillment partner

Finding the right fulfillment partner

When you switch fulfillment companies, the first element in your transition is finding the right partner. Plan to spend at least a few weeks exploring different options and meeting with potential 3PL partners to determine the best 3PL company for your business.

Once you find the right partner, the next step is completing the paperwork confirming your service agreements with your new fulfillment provider. The faster you can review and sign the paperwork, the faster you can start the onboarding process.

Ready to switch 3PLs? Not sure how to start? Try our free guide?

Getting up and running with your new 3PL

The time it takes for your 3PL transition depends, to some extent, on where you’re transitioning from. However, according to Williams and Dickenson, a typical onboarding time at Red Stag Fulfillment is 30 days, from signing the contract to shipping the first order from Red Stag’s warehouses.

“We can get them set up pretty quickly,” Williams says. However, some companies switch and get up and running within a few weeks, while others can take months to integrate with their new 3PL fully. Any lag is usually on the client side. So, in this post, we share tips on how to speed your transition and some of the issues that can hold it up.

At RSF, the onboarding team typically works with new clients for an additional 30 days to ensure that all order fulfillment processes run smoothly.

moving stock with a forklift

Tips for switching fulfillment companies faster

At Red Stag Fulfillment, our onboarding team is ready and waiting to help you start working with us. Here are some things you can do to switch fulfillment companies more quickly.

Ask A LOT of questions

When working with a new fulfillment warehouse, particularly if it’s your first 3PL, what you don’t know can hurt you. 

Ask every question you can think of, no matter how nitpicky, during the sales and onboarding process. Your questions can help identify potential bottlenecks and alert the operations team to issues that could hold up your transition. 

Pro tip: Don’t expect to be a pro. If your new partner mentions a term or process you don’t understand, ask for more information. It’s okay not to know everything.

Provide as much information as possible to your new 3PL

The more information you can share with your new fulfillment partner, the better they’ll be able to position you for switching fulfillment companies. Starting during the sales process, tell the 3PL everything, including:

  • All your sales channels 
  • Special requirements for any sales channels
  • Special packing or shipping instructions, including custom boxes
  • Number of SKUs you expect to ship
  • Typical package size and weight
  • What software you’ll need to integrate with the warehouse systems
  • Whether your items ship in manufacturer’s packaging or need overboxing
  • Your goals for your fulfillment

This is only a partial list. Every brand is different, so share what makes you different with your 3PL up front.

Clarify your team members’ responsibilities for the 3PL transition

For larger companies with multiple supply chain management team members, getting your team on the same page will ease the process of switching fulfillment operations. Conflicting instructions or having multiple people ask the same questions can prolong onboarding time.

eCommerce packaging

Firm up your fulfillment vision before you switch

If you’re figuring out how you want your fulfillment operations to run during the transition process, it will take longer. As much as possible, have a clear vision for your ideal fulfillment before you switch. Having a clear logistics plan will also help you choose the right fulfillment partner to realize your vision.

Arrange to get product to the new 3PL quickly

The speed of the first stock shipment isn’t always within your control, but there are some things you can do to get started fulfilling orders faster. For example, if you’re transitioning from another 3PL while you’re waiting for your old warehouse to send stock to the new one, you could arrange for a new shipment of merchandise from the manufacturer directly to the new warehouses. 

Do a test shipment with the new 3PL

Some companies will send stock to their new 3PL while shipping orders from their old fulfillment company. That allows the operations team to ship test orders and troubleshoot issues without interrupting your order delivery.

“We like to see a test shipment in the beginning because we want to make the switch as smooth as possible going forward,” Dickenson says.

Set aside time to get switching fulfillment companies right

Your 3PL will do much of the heavy lifting of switching fulfillment companies, but they can’t do it without you. Set aside staff time to work with your new fulfillment partner to respond quickly to requests for information. Plan on tasks like providing credentials to complete integrations, entering SKUs into the 3PL’s system, and creating ASNs for your first shipments.

multi-channel fulfillment

Factors that can slow a fulfillment transition

Some of the issues that can add time when switching fulfillment companies are in your control, and some are not. But being aware of all the potential issues can help you better manage a 3PL transition.

Delays in shipping stock from the old 3PL

When you part ways with a fulfillment company, shipping your stock to your new provider may not be at the top of their list of priorities. Parting with your former company on good terms may help, but it can’t guarantee swift shipment from one warehouse to the next.

Supply chain issues

Dickenson and Williams noted that the supply chain disruptions in recent years have caused delays in onboarding for some Red Stag Fulfillment clients. However, they report that this is less of an issue at the present time. A resilient supply chain is your best defense against stockouts.

Disorganized stock

If SKUs arrive at the new warehouse jumbled or lacking critical information, processing incoming stock can take longer than expected. For example, Red Stag Fulfillment uses barcode scanners to track inventory in its warehouses. If products arrive without barcoding, the warehouse needs to add that. 

Missing information

Sometimes, something slips through the cracks no matter how many questions you ask or how much information you provide your fulfillment company. An unexpected detail may delay the onboarding process if it requires a custom setup. The best way to avoid this is to give your new team as much information as possible.

Software integration snafus

Integration can be rapid, but it can also hold up the process of switching 3PLs. Make sure you provide any login credentials needed to set up the integration. If you want a custom integration, factor in the time to create and set up a custom API, including how long it will take your IT vendor to do the coding.

switching fulfillmenrt

Red Stag’s onboarding team is ready to help with switching fulfillment companies

At Red Stag Fulfillment, we’re in the business of success. We strive to provide fulfillment services that help growing companies expand and thrive, and that starts with our onboarding team. Giving you the tools you need to partner with us for excellent fulfillment from day one is central to our mission.

If you’re ready to switch to the best fulfillment company in the U.S., give us a call.

More about switching fulfillment companies:

Red Stag Fulfillment is a 3PL founded by ecommerce operators, and built for scaling businesses.

A team of fulfillment fanatics who care about our clients’ businesses like their own. We see things from our customers’ perspective, and have the guarantees to prove it.

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