Three ways to maximize collaboration with third-party logistic providers for a successful back-to-school season

Proactive retailers know they need to act early to iron out wrinkles in their operations ahead of this peak, especially when it comes to shipping, returns, customer support and data transparency from their third-party logistics provider.
Back to school

Back-to-school is the second largest shopping event of the year following the holiday peak season, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Research from the chamber projects families will spend in record numbers, with kindergarten through 12 year students expected to match last year’s record high of $37 billion, while back-to-college spending will grow to a record $74 billion in the U.S. 

Proactive retailers and brands know they need to act early to iron out wrinkles in their operations ahead of this peak, especially when it comes to shipping, returns, customer support and data transparency from their third-party logistics (3PL) provider. 

Here are three ways retailers and brands can strengthen their collaboration and partnership with their 3PL ahead of a busy back-to-school shopping season:

1. Analyze 3PL data to improve strategic decision-making. 

A range of metrics help retailers identify fulfillment and last-mile performance, such as order fill rate, pick accuracy, order cycle time and on-time shipping rate. For last mile delivery, retailers should also keep an eye on on-time-in-full delivery success rate and customer satisfaction scores. However, it’s impossible to distinguish between what’s running smoothly and what needs to be improved when these metrics aren’t being analyzed. 

Digging into the data shouldn’t be a “one and done” approach. After all, the ability to make strategic decisions to improve fulfillment and last-mile delivery hinges on the data that a 3PL can provide. For example, inventory levels, pick rates and shipping times can fluctuate, but within reason. Identifying trends and patterns helps brands take a scalpel to a problem rather than a broad brush. Suppose a 3PL provider uses their data to alert a brand about potential shipping delays due to their major sale. In that case, the brand can proactively inform shoppers about possible delays during the purchase process, effectively managing their expectations. It’s crucial to consistently and collaboratively monitor the data provided by a 3PL, particularly well in advance of peak shopping periods when time is limited.

2. Increase communication and visibility with your 3PL to boost customer support programs.

In addition to improving KPIs for operational processes, 3PL data also elevates another key business function for retail brands during a peak season: customer support programs.

All year long, but especially during back-to-school and holiday peak seasons, shoppers expect retailers to provide quick responses and resolutions to any order issues that may arise. This is why it’s key that customer support programs and agents have easy access to their 3PL data, from order statuses and delivery times to delays and returns. This visibility, which comes via integrations from the 3PL, gives customer support teams the insights needed to sort out shopper order issues, no matter the channel the customer query comes from. 

3. Treat your 3PL as an extension of your business (all year long).

Retailers spend copious amounts of time and resources crafting their business strategies, curating their product offerings and attracting customers. That’s all the more reason retailers should prioritize establishing a relationship with their 3PL that goes beyond being just a service provider. A 3PL should be a true partner, an extension of the brand.

Third-party logistics

For example, retailers that loop their 3PL into conversations around forecasting will see positive impacts. Let’s say a home goods brand is running a major back-to-school sale that’s sure to drive a significant spike in traffic and online orders. Or a major retailer is planning a celebrity-backed social media campaign to launch a brand new, in-demand product nationwide. When a 3PL is in the dark on the timing around these events, they can be taken by surprise and not staffed appropriately. Fulfillment and shipping can be delayed, and these high-profile promotions the retailers worked so hard on can result in unhappy customers. That’s not the result the brand or the 3PL wants. Instead, retailers should treat their 3PL as an extension of their business and work together to ensure significant sales, promotions and events will be successful. 

Back-to-school shopping can be stressful for parents and students, which is why their satisfaction is magnified when their orders are delivered correctly and on time — or their dissatisfaction is heightened when they don’t. This back-to-school season, retailers have a small window of opportunity to get things right the first time. By strengthening relationships with 3PL partners now, retailers can run smoother, data-informed logistics operations to ace peak season orders and keep shoppers happy.

Mark Ang
Mark Ang

About the author

Mark Ang is the co-founder and CEO of GoBolt, a technology company on a mission to build the world's largest sustainable, vertically integrated supply chain network.