It’s not hard to see why 3PL fulfillment in Europe is a big hit for online retailers – helping them make the most of a European eCommerce market worth over €600 billion. It eliminates the hassle of in-house fulfillment, which is time-consuming at best and completely insurmountable at worst. With the right 3PL partner, you’re free to scale up and down as required, while customers enjoy a superior service with faster delivery times, higher accuracy rates, and better customer service like real-time order tracking and simple returns.
Of course, these benefits aren’t universal across providers. There is a vast array of 3PL fulfillment providers to choose from in Europe, and the benefits on offer vary for each of them. To make things easier, we’ve put together a guide on how to choose the right European fulfillment partner for your eCommerce store’s needs.
Do you need a 3PL fulfillment provider in Europe?
The first question to ask yourself is whether you need 3PL fulfillment in Europe. When eCommerce brands start out, they often fulfill orders themselves from an office, retail store, or even home. That works for a while, and it’s typically the most cost-effective option when order volumes are low and inconsistent.
Once things pick up, however, you’ll soon need to change tack. Higher and growing order volumes require:
- Sufficient space for storage and fulfillment
- Staff with the right experience and expertise
- Equipment for storage, picking, packing, and shipping
- Software systems to organise your logistics operation
- Capital to invest in all of the above
Even in the rare case where you have all of those ready to go, the entire process is highly time-consuming. It can take your focus off the most important part of your eCommerce business – growth. That includes everything from product development to sales and marketing. If you find your online store growing faster than you can keep up with, the answer is most likely yes – you do need a 3PL fulfillment provider.
How to select a 3PL fulfillment provider in Europe
Research your European 3PL company options
First and foremost, dedicate some time to researching the different 3PL providers available in the region. Here are some ways to discover the best 3PL providers:
- Identify the regions in Europe you want to ship the majority of your products to and look for 3PL fulfillment companies in those regions
- Ask other businesses in your sector if they have any recommendations
- Search online, making sure you check for client reviews
- Search on social media sites too – such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Alongside reviews, followers are a good gauge of a company’s standing in their industry.
Evaluate their suitability against your needs
Once you have a pool of potential 3PL candidates, it’s time to evaluate what’s on offer. Consider their location, services, SLAs, and costs. In addition to checking their website and online client reviews, you can get in touch with different providers to discuss things in more detail to assess if they’re a good fit or not.
This should all be cross-referenced with your current needs, such as order volumes, order sizes, storage requirements, bespoke service needs, customer locations, and the technology you use. But factor in your future needs too. Do you plan to launch new products? Are you anticipating growth in the future? Is your business expanding into new markets? These will all help you choose a 3PL partner for long-term success.
Don’t forget Brexit. In many cases now, international companies require one fulfillment partner in Europe and another in the UK to overcome the challenges posed by Brexit. Namely, time consuming customs documents and shipping delays. That said, partnering with an EU-based fulfillment centre close to the UK, such as in Ireland, can provide a good compromise.
What to look out for
To help you make a decision based on value rather than cost alone, we’ve put together some green and red flags to look out for when comparing 3PL fulfillment providers in Europe.
What’s their experience and reputation like?
- Green flag – A company has been established for several years and has lots of online customer reviews to back it up. Most importantly, those reviews are mostly positive, showing that businesses like yours have benefitted from their services.
- Red flag – It’s unclear how long a company has been operating and they don’t have many reviews. Alternatively, they have plenty of reviews for all the wrong reasons, suggesting a poor experience for other eCommerce retailers and their customers.
Which services do they offer?
- Green flag – A fulfillment provider that offers a range of 3PL services that cover all bases, including things like custom packaging, kitting and assembly, and B2B capabilities. Their site has dedicated information for these services, and they are clearly knowledgeable about them when communicating by phone or email.
- Red flag – A company simply says they can do whatever you need. However, their site is vague and lacking information. When speaking to them about your requirements, they avoid detail about specific services and focus on getting you signed up.
Do they provide strong service level agreements (SLAs)?
- Green flag – Yes! Companies with strong SLAs will proudly promote them on their websites and in sales discussions. They cover everything from same-day fulfillment rate, stock accuracy rates, and order accuracy rates to order cut-off times, goods in receiving time, and customer service response rates.
- Red flag – Companies who don’t mention SLAs probably don’t have any to be proud of. They might not even have any SLAs at all, meaning the service you get isn’t agreed upon or guaranteed in any way.
Do they have the right facilities?
- Green flag – Your fulfillment partner of choice has a 3PL warehouse in Europe, ideally located to reach the majority of your customers across the continent. Their facilities offer ample space for rapid expansion as order volumes increase.
- Red flag – A 3PL company is located outside of Europe or has only just entered the European market themselves. Their fulfillment centre is large enough for their current clients and your current requirements but could struggle as you (and they) expand.
What technology do they use?
- Green flag – Technology and automation is highly valued. It’s easy to get on board, with integration for a long list of eCommerce platforms. They have the best systems in place for things like reporting and barcode scanning, providing high accuracy and full visibility.
- Red flag – They don’t understand the importance of technology for productive, efficient fulfillment. Manual picking and old-fashioned stock counts are relied upon, which will undoubtedly cause problems over time.
What is their customer service like?
- Green flag – You can easily contact your European fulfillment partner via phone or email. Customers get a dedicated, local account manager and their hours of operation are clear. Enquiries are responded to quickly, within 24 hours or less.
- Red flag – It’s difficult to get in touch for anything other than a sales enquiry. Contact details are hard to come by or you get little to no response. Response times are delayed. Look out for 3PLs with no SLAs around customer service.
Make the choice that’s right for you and your customers
Finally, choose the fulfillment provider that’s best for your business. Don’t just go for the cheapest option. Instead, look at the value you’re getting in return. If one provider costs more but has very high service level agreements for speed and accuracy, or very positive client reviews, for instance, it’s generally worth the extra cost to ensure your customers are getting the highest quality service that you can rely on without constant supply chain management headaches.
Consider Autofulfil as your 3PL Service Provider in Europe
If you’re looking to up your fulfillment game in Europe, Autofulfil provides 3PL services in Ireland and across Europe. We tick every box for eCommerce brands looking for a reliable fulfillment centre in Europe to partner wtih:
- Founded in 2013, we have almost a decade of experience in fulfillment, backed by a customer rating for likelihood to recommend us to others of 9.1 out of 10.
- We offer a selection of specialty fulfillment services, covering everything from fast picking and packing to kitting, bundling, and custom packaging.
- Our strong service level agreements give you complete peace of mind, including a 99.8% order pick accuracy rate, 99.9% same-day fulfillment rate, same-day goods in processing, one day returns processing, and one day customer service enquiry response SLAs.
- With a 100,000 sq ft fulfillment centre in Ireland and friendly, native English-speaking staff, we’re ideally located to be the gateway to Europe for UK, US, and international brands looking to enter the European market.
- A state-of-the-art Warehouse Management System (WMS) optimises all operations and integrates with clients’ eCommerce stores, and our barcode scanning and verification processes ensure stock and order accuracy at all times.
We’re always happy to talk through businesses’ eCommerce logistics requirements and provide a free fulfillment consulation without any obligation. Sound good? Request a quote today to get the ball rolling.