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Navigating the complexities of third-party logistics (3PL) partnerships can make or break your eCommerce business. But how do you measure the success of such a critical relationship? This guide delves into the essential metrics that every eCommerce seller should monitor to not only evaluate their 3PL provider’s performance but to also ensure their operations align seamlessly with business goals. Whether you’re a seasoned player or new to the arena, understanding these metrics will empower you to streamline your logistics, enhance customer satisfaction, and drive your business to new heights. Let’s unlock the full potential of your 3PL partnership together.

The 5 Key 3PL Metrics

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Fulfillment Efficiency

woman packaging an order to be fulfilled

On-Time Delivery Rate

The on-time delivery rate is a pivotal metric for measuring the reliability of a 3PL provider. This metric tracks the percentage of orders that are delivered to customers by the promised date. For eCommerce sellers using a 3PL, maintaining a high on-time delivery rate is crucial as it directly impacts customer satisfaction and brand reputation. Industry benchmarks generally recommend aiming for at least a 95% on-time delivery rate, which aligns with consumer expectations for timely and reliable service.

Enhancing On-Time Delivery Rate:

To improve this metric, eCommerce sellers should consider:

  1. Communication with the 3PL: Regular discussions about logistics planning and potential issues in the delivery pipeline can preempt delays.
  2. Advanced Shipping Notifications (ASN): Implementing technology that provides real-time updates can help in anticipating and resolving issues faster.
  3. Geographical Optimization: Choosing a 3PL with strategically located warehouses can reduce transit times and improve delivery rates. 3PLs located in the midwest of the U.S. are typically in a good location for those looking to sell on both coasts efficeiently. 

Impact of On-Time Delivery:

A consistently high on-time delivery rate can enhance customer trust and loyalty, which are crucial for repeat business. Moreover, it minimizes the risk of negative reviews and enhances overall customer experience, which can positively influence new customer acquisition through word-of-mouth and positive online reviews.

warehouse worker packing order into box

Order Accuracy

Order accuracy is a critical metric for eCommerce sellers to evaluate their 3PL provider’s performance. This metric measures the percentage of orders that are picked, packed, and shipped correctly. High order accuracy is essential, as errors can lead to customer dissatisfaction, returns, and additional costs.

Evaluating Order Accuracy:

  1. Tracking Error Types: Identify common errors in orders, such as incorrect items shipped or incorrect quantities. Understanding the types of mistakes can help pinpoint systemic issues within the 3PL’s operations.
  2. Regular Audits: Conduct regular audits of order accuracy by sampling shipments and checking them against order details. This helps maintain an objective measure of the 3PL’s performance.
  3. Error Reporting Protocols: Ensure your 3PL has robust mechanisms for reporting errors promptly. Timely data on errors can help you react quickly and address issues before they affect larger customer segments.

Addressing Recurring Issues:

Tracking and analyzing order accuracy allows you to identify recurring problems, which can be critical for negotiating improvements with your 3PL. For example, frequent errors in packing could indicate a need for better quality control processes at the 3PL’s facility.

Impact of High Order Accuracy:

A high order accuracy rate is directly linked to customer satisfaction—customers expect to receive exactly what they order. Consistently accurate orders enhance customer trust and reduce the costs associated with returns and customer service. Over time, this reliability can contribute significantly to customer retention and positive brand reputation.

warehouse worker packing order into box

Inbound Receiving Time (Dock-to-Stock)

Inbound receiving time, often referred to as dock-to-stock, is a crucial metric for eCommerce sellers to measure how efficiently a 3PL processes incoming inventory. This metric tracks the time from when goods arrive at the 3PL’s dock until they are received, processed, and made available for order fulfillment. Faster inbound receiving times are essential as they reduce the risk of stockouts and enable smoother, more responsive order fulfillment.

Monitoring Inbound Receiving Time:

  1. Set Clear Expectations: Establish and agree upon target receiving times with your 3PL to ensure they align with your inventory turnover and fulfillment goals.
  2. Regular Performance Reviews: Periodically review this metric to verify that the 3PL meets the agreed standards. Consistently long receiving times can indicate issues in warehouse management or staffing that need addressing.
  3. Real-Time Tracking: Utilize inventory management systems that offer real-time tracking capabilities. This technology can provide instant updates when stock is received and logged, helping you manage inventory levels more effectively.

Strategic Benefits of Optimizing Dock-to-Stock Times:

Efficient management of inbound receiving times ensures that products are quickly available for sale, which is particularly important during high-demand periods or when replenishing fast-selling items. Shorter dock-to-stock times can lead to better inventory accuracy, decreased holding costs, and improved customer satisfaction due to faster order processing times.

Impact of Efficient Inbound Receiving:

Reducing the time it takes to move inventory from the dock to a saleable location enhances the overall agility of your supply chain. This efficiency not only minimizes the risk of sales lost due to out-of-stock scenarios but also positions your business to respond more effectively to market demands and customer needs.

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Order Turnaround Time (Order Time-to-Fill)

Order Turnaround Time, also known as Order Time-to-Fill, is an essential metric for assessing the efficiency of your 3PL provider’s fulfillment operations. It measures the elapsed time from when an order is received until it is fully processed and shipped out. This metric is crucial for eCommerce sellers because faster order turnaround times can significantly enhance customer satisfaction by ensuring quicker deliveries.

Tracking Order Turnaround Time:

  1. Benchmarking Against Industry Standards: Understand the average turnaround times within your industry and set realistic expectations with your 3PL based on these benchmarks. This will help you maintain a competitive edge.
  2. Regular Reporting and Analysis: Ensure your 3PL provides regular reports detailing turnaround times for different categories of products. Analyzing this data helps identify any delays or inefficiencies in the order processing pipeline.
  3. Integration of Order Management Systems: Employ advanced order management systems that seamlessly integrate with your 3PL’s systems. This allows for real-time tracking of order status and can pinpoint where delays are occurring.

Impact of Reduced Turnaround Times:

Shortening the order turnaround time can lead to faster deliveries, which directly contributes to higher customer satisfaction and loyalty. Quick, reliable service encourages repeat business and can improve your brand’s reputation through positive customer reviews and word-of-mouth. Moreover, efficient order processing can help you manage inventory better, reduce holding costs, and adapt more quickly to market changes or consumer demands.

By closely monitoring and striving to improve the Order Turnaround Time, eCommerce sellers can ensure that their operations are as efficient as possible, reflecting positively on their customer service and operational effectiveness. This metric serves as a direct reflection of a 3PL’s operational capability and responsiveness, making it a critical point of evaluation for any eCommerce business assessing their logistics partnerships.

Inventory Management

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Inventory Accuracy

Inventory accuracy is a vital metric for eCommerce sellers to monitor when assessing the effectiveness of their 3PL provider. This metric measures the consistency between your own inventory records and those reported by the 3PL. High accuracy in inventory records is crucial as discrepancies can lead to significant issues such as overselling, stockouts, and lost sales, all of which negatively impact customer satisfaction and your business’s credibility.  Having a 3PL that excels in Inventory management can make or break and ecommerce brand’s reputation.

Tracking Inventory Accuracy:

  1. Regular Reconciliation: Conduct regular reconciliations between your inventory system and the 3PL’s records. This process helps identify discrepancies early and allows you to address them before they lead to bigger issues.
  2. Automated Inventory Systems: Utilize automated inventory management systems that integrate directly with your 3PL’s systems. These systems can update inventory levels in real-time, reducing the likelihood of errors and discrepancies.
  3. Audit Trails: Ensure that both your system and the 3PL’s system keep detailed audit trails of inventory movements. This transparency helps trace any discrepancies back to their source, making it easier to rectify errors and understand their causes.

Strategies for Enhancing Inventory Accuracy:

  • Improve Data Entry Processes: Errors often originate from manual data entry. Encourage your 3PL to use barcode scanning or RFID technology to reduce human error.
  • Frequent Cycle Counts: Instead of relying solely on annual physical counts, implement more frequent cycle counts for high-turnover items to keep tabs on inventory accuracy regularly.
  • Adjustment Protocols: Develop clear protocols for adjusting inventory when discrepancies are found. This should include steps for investigating and rectifying the discrepancy, and measures to prevent similar errors in the future.

Impact of High Inventory Accuracy:

Maintaining high inventory accuracy ensures that you can reliably meet customer demand without the risk of overselling or running out of stock. Accurate inventory records are essential for effective demand forecasting, replenishment planning, and overall supply chain efficiency. Furthermore, accurate inventory management supports better financial planning and reporting, reducing the risks and costs associated with inventory mismanagement.

By closely monitoring and managing inventory accuracy, eCommerce sellers can enhance operational efficiency, improve customer satisfaction, and maintain a streamlined supply chain. This metric not only reflects the operational competence of your 3PL provider but also directly impacts your ability to serve your customers effectively and grow your business.

Cost Management

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Hidden Fees

Hidden fees can significantly impact the total cost of logistics services provided by a 3PL. These fees may include charges for storage, picking and packing, and other fulfillment-related costs that were not fully transparent or understood at the outset of the agreement. For eCommerce sellers, it’s crucial to identify and monitor these hidden fees to ensure that the overall cost aligns with the initial agreement and expected service levels.

Strategies to Manage and Track Hidden Fees:

  1. Detailed Contract Review: Before entering into an agreement, thoroughly review the contract with your 3PL provider. Pay special attention to any clauses that might allow for additional fees, and clarify these with the provider.
  2. Regular Invoice Auditing: Conduct regular audits of your 3PL invoices to ensure that all charges are accounted for and justified. Compare these charges against the contract terms to spot any discrepancies or unexpected fees.
  3. Transparent Communication: Maintain open lines of communication with your 3PL. Establish a routine for discussing costs and any changes in business operations that might affect pricing. This can help prevent misunderstandings and unexpected charges.

Benefits of Monitoring Hidden Fees:

  • Cost Efficiency: Identifying and addressing hidden fees helps in managing costs effectively, ensuring that you are only paying for services you need and at the agreed rates.
  • Improved Budgeting: Clear visibility into all costs associated with 3PL services enables more accurate budgeting and financial planning.
  • Strengthened Partnership: A relationship based on transparency and fair pricing can lead to a stronger, more collaborative partnership with your 3PL provider.

Impact of Managing Hidden Fees:

Keeping a close eye on hidden fees and ensuring they align with your initial agreement can prevent cost overruns and protect your profit margins. It helps ensure that your partnership with your 3PL is based on transparency and trust, which is essential for a long-term successful relationship. This proactive approach not only aids in financial management but also in strategic decision-making, allowing you to optimize your logistics operations for both efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

By vigilantly monitoring and managing hidden fees, eCommerce sellers can better control their logistics expenses, ensuring that they contribute positively to the overall profitability and success of their business.

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Cost per Unit Shipped

Cost per Unit Shipped is an essential metric for eCommerce sellers to assess the financial efficiency of their 3PL partnership. This metric calculates the average cost to ship each order, encompassing all logistics expenses such as picking, packing, handling, and shipping fees. Monitoring this cost is crucial as it directly affects the profitability of each sale and the overall financial health of your business.

Tracking Cost per Unit Shipped:

  1. Comprehensive Cost Analysis: Regularly review detailed breakdowns of all costs associated with fulfilling and shipping orders. This includes direct costs like labor and materials, as well as indirect costs such as overhead allocations.
  2. Benchmarking: Compare your costs with industry averages or with past performance to identify trends or areas where costs may be rising unexpectedly.
  3. Contract Review: Periodically revisit your 3PL contract to ensure that the pricing terms are still competitive and reflective of the service levels you receive.

Strategies to Optimize Shipping Costs:

  • Negotiate Better Rates: Use your volume and loyalty as leverage to negotiate better shipping rates with your 3PL or directly with carriers.
  • Improve Packaging: Optimize packaging to reduce weight and dimensions, potentially lowering shipping costs. Consider sustainable packaging that can also appeal to environmentally conscious consumers.
  • Increase Order Accuracy and Efficiency: Reducing errors in order fulfillment can decrease costly returns and reshipments, directly impacting your cost per unit shipped.

Impact of Monitoring Cost per Unit Shipped:

Understanding and managing the cost per unit shipped enables eCommerce businesses to make informed decisions about pricing strategies, promotions, and product offerings. It also provides insights into where cost-saving measures can be most effectively implemented. Keeping this cost under control is vital for maintaining competitive pricing while ensuring profitability.

By diligently monitoring and striving to optimize the cost per unit shipped, eCommerce sellers can enhance their strategic decision-making and improve their bottom line. This focus not only helps in maintaining cost efficiency but also in adapting to changes in the market or operational scale, ensuring that the business remains competitive and financially healthy.

See Difference Between Backordered and Out-of-Stock items.

Check out the comprehensive guide on Backorders vs. Out-of-Stock and see how your brand can best handle these situations.

Customer Satisfaction

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Customer Feedback on Delivery

Customer feedback on delivery performance is an invaluable metric for eCommerce sellers to assess their 3PL provider’s impact on customer satisfaction. This feedback often includes customer reviews and direct comments regarding delivery times and their overall delivery experience. Actively monitoring this feedback is crucial as it provides insights into how well the 3PL upholds your brand’s promise to its customers.

Gathering and Utilizing Customer Feedback:

  1. Leverage Review Platforms: Encourage customers to leave feedback on various platforms, including your website, social media, and third-party review sites. This broad approach helps gather comprehensive insights from a wide customer base.
  2. Surveys: Send post-delivery satisfaction surveys to customers using platforms such as Survey Monkey. These can be tailored to gather specific information about the delivery experience, such as timeliness, package condition, and satisfaction with the delivery process.
  3. Real-Time Feedback Tools: Implement tools that allow customers to give immediate feedback upon delivery. This real-time data can be extremely valuable for quickly identifying and addressing issues.

Analyzing Feedback for Improvement: 

  • Identify Trends and Patterns: Use analytics to identify common themes or recurring issues in customer feedback. This can indicate areas where the 3PL’s performance may be falling short.
  • Respond to Feedback: Show customers that their opinions are valued by responding to their reviews and comments, particularly when they report issues. This not only helps in customer retention but also improves your brand’s image.
  • Regular Review Meetings with 3PL: Share relevant customer feedback with your 3PL during regular review meetings. Discuss how they can address any negative trends and reinforce positive behaviors that customers appreciate.

Impact of Customer Feedback on Delivery:

Positive customer feedback regarding delivery can enhance your brand’s reputation, contribute to customer loyalty, and increase repeat business. Conversely, negative feedback provides a critical prompt for making immediate improvements. By understanding and acting on customer feedback, you can work with your 3PL to refine logistics strategies, ultimately leading to better customer experiences and satisfaction.

Monitoring and actively managing customer feedback on delivery allows eCommerce sellers to align their logistics operations closely with customer expectations. This focus on customer satisfaction is essential not only for maintaining high service standards but also for fostering a competitive edge in the eCommerce marketplace.

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Return Rate Due to Shipment Damage or Error

Monitoring the rate of returns due to shipment damage or errors is crucial for eCommerce sellers to evaluate the effectiveness and reliability of their 3PL provider’s fulfillment processes. This metric specifically focuses on returns that are initiated because of factors like damaged items during transit, incorrect items shipped, or packaging failures, all of which are directly controllable by the 3PL. A high return rate in these categories often signals underlying problems in the fulfillment operations that need immediate attention.

Methods to Track and Reduce Returns:

  1. Detailed Return Reason Analysis: Implement a system for categorizing return reasons in your returns processing software. This helps in pinpointing whether issues are related to shipment damage, packing errors, or incorrect item dispatch.
  2. Collaborate with the 3PL on Packaging Standards: Work closely with your 3PL to ensure that the packaging materials and methods used are sufficient to protect products during transit. Consider running tests to determine if the current packaging solutions are effective.
  3. Regular Quality Control Checks: Establish protocols for regular audits and quality control checks at the 3PL’s facility. Focus these checks on the packing process and the initial product handling stages to catch errors before products are shipped.

Leveraging Technology and Training:

  • Implement Advanced Tracking Systems: Use technology that allows for tracking each order through the fulfillment process, giving visibility into where errors might be occurring.
  • Training and Feedback Loops: Ensure that the 3PL provides ongoing training to their staff, especially in packing and handling procedures. Set up feedback loops where packing and dispatch errors can be reviewed and lessons can be shared across the team to prevent recurrence.

Impact of Managing Return Rates:

Effectively managing and reducing the return rate due to shipment damage or errors not only improves customer satisfaction but also directly impacts the cost efficiency of your operations. Returns involve significant costs related to processing, restocking, and reshipping, not to mention the potential loss of customer goodwill. Lower return rates lead to higher profitability and can enhance the overall customer experience, encouraging repeat purchases and fostering brand loyalty.

By actively tracking and striving to minimize returns caused by shipment damage or errors, eCommerce sellers can hold their 3PL providers accountable for their part in maintaining product integrity and delivery accuracy. This vigilance helps ensure that operational standards are met consistently, supporting sustainable business growth and customer satisfaction.

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Communication and Transparency

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Timeliness and Accuracy of Reporting

Timely and accurate reporting from your 3PL provider is crucial for maintaining transparency in your logistics operations and for making informed decisions. Regular reports on key performance metrics allow eCommerce sellers to track the efficiency and reliability of their 3PL partnerships. These reports should not only be accurate but also delivered on a consistent schedule and formatted in a way that is straightforward and easy to interpret.

Optimizing Reporting Practices:

  1. Establish Reporting Guidelines: Work with your 3PL to establish clear guidelines on what metrics need to be reported, the format of these reports, and the frequency of reporting. Common metrics include inventory levels, order accuracy, fulfillment times, and customer feedback.
  2. Use of Dashboard Tools: Implement dashboard tools that provide real-time data visualization of key metrics. This allows for quicker analysis and response to trends or issues as they arise.
  3. Regular Review Meetings: Schedule regular meetings with your 3PL to discuss the reports, verify their accuracy, and address any discrepancies or anomalies. This ongoing dialogue ensures that both parties are aligned and responsive to the needs of the business.

Benefits of Timely and Accurate Reporting:

  • Proactive Problem Solving: With accurate and timely data, you can proactively address potential issues before they escalate into significant problems, thereby minimizing their impact on your operations.
  • Strategic Decision Making: Reliable reports enhance your ability to make strategic decisions regarding inventory management, marketing promotions, and overall business planning.
  • Enhanced Trust and Collaboration: Clear and consistent communication fosters a stronger partnership with your 3PL, building trust and facilitating smoother collaboration.

Impact of Robust Reporting Systems:

Effective reporting is essential for maintaining operational transparency and for managing the complex dynamics of supply chain and logistics. High-quality reports enable eCommerce sellers to stay on top of their business operations, ensure compliance with service level agreements, and drive continuous improvement in logistics practices.

By ensuring that your 3PL provides timely and accurate reports, you safeguard your ability to manage your logistics efficiently and responsively. This commitment to communication and transparency is vital for sustaining a successful and adaptive eCommerce operation.

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Responsiveness to Inquiries

Responsiveness to inquiries is a fundamental aspect of effective communication and is critical for maintaining a smooth partnership between eCommerce sellers and their 3PL providers. The ability of a 3PL to quickly and effectively respond to questions and concerns reflects their commitment to customer service and can significantly impact the operational dynamics and trust within the partnership.

Evaluating and Enhancing Responsiveness:

  1. Define Response Time Standards: Establish clear expectations with your 3PL regarding acceptable response times for different types of inquiries, whether they are routine questions or urgent issues.
  2. Feedback Mechanism: Implement a system for providing feedback on the timeliness and quality of responses received from the 3PL. This helps in tracking performance and identifying areas for improvement.
  3. Regular Updates: Ensure the 3PL’s customer service team are equipped to handle inquiries effectively. Also, provide them with regular updates about your products, services, and any changes in operations that might affect how they handle inquiries.

Strategies to Improve Communication:

  • Establish Dedicated Contacts: Have specific points of contact within the 3PL organization to handle your account. This can lead to more personalized service and faster resolution of issues.
  • Periodic Reviews: Conduct periodic reviews of communication practices with your 3PL. Discuss the responsiveness data and explore ways to improve communication efficiency.

Impact of High Responsiveness:

A 3PL that responds swiftly and effectively to inquiries demonstrates reliability and commitment, strengthening the partnership. High responsiveness ensures that issues are resolved quickly, minimizing their potential impact on business operations. It also enhances satisfaction levels, fostering a climate of mutual respect and cooperation.

Long-Term Benefits:

Improving the responsiveness of a 3PL can lead to better decision-making, more efficient operations, and enhanced customer satisfaction due to faster issue resolution. This responsiveness is also a key differentiator in the competitive logistics market, potentially making your 3PL partnership more valuable and sustainable.

By actively monitoring and seeking to enhance how responsive your 3PL is to inquiries, you ensure that communication remains a cornerstone of your partnership, facilitating a dynamic that can adapt and respond to the changing needs of your eCommerce business. Effective responsiveness not only improves operational efficiencies but also builds a foundation of trust and reliability essential for long-term success.

Summary & Key Take-Aways

Maximizing the Value of Your 3PL Partnership

By diligently tracking key performance metrics, eCommerce sellers can gain comprehensive insights into their 3PL partnership’s effectiveness. These metrics serve as vital indicators of how well the 3PL aligns with your operational needs and customer satisfaction goals.

  1. Fulfillment Efficiency: Measures like On-Time Delivery Rate and Order Accuracy are fundamental for assessing whether your 3PL can meet delivery commitments and handle orders correctly, minimizing errors that could impact customer satisfaction.
  2. Inventory Management: Tracking Inventory Accuracy and Dock-to-Stock Times helps in maintaining product availability and minimizing stockouts, ensuring that your inventory is managed efficiently.
  3. Cost Management: Monitoring the Cost per Unit Shipped and identifying any Hidden Fees are essential for maintaining financial control and ensuring that your 3PL’s pricing remains transparent and justifiable.
  4. Customer Satisfaction: Evaluating Customer Feedback on Delivery and the Return Rate due to Shipment Damage or Error provides direct insights from your end customers, highlighting the areas where the 3PL’s service directly impacts your brand reputation.
  5. Communication and Transparency: The Timeliness and Accuracy of Reporting, along with the Responsiveness to Inquiries, are critical for maintaining an open and effective line of communication with your 3PL, ensuring that issues are promptly addressed and operational decisions are based on accurate and current information.

Regularly analyzing these data points allows you to identify potential areas for improvement in your logistics operations. Whether it’s speeding up inventory receipt, enhancing the accuracy of order fulfillment, or improving the cost-effectiveness of shipments, each metric offers a unique perspective on the 3PL’s performance. This ongoing evaluation not only helps in fine-tuning your operations but also ensures that the 3PL remains aligned with your evolving business needs.

A successful and long-lasting relationship with your 3PL provider hinges on the continuous assessment and optimization of these key performance metrics. By doing so, you ensure that your logistics operations contribute positively to customer satisfaction, operational efficiency, and ultimately, your business’s bottom line. This strategic approach will help you build a resilient supply chain that supports sustainable growth and customer loyalty.

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