[.blue]Switching 3PLs:[.blue] 7 signs that it’s time to change your eCommerce fulfilment provider

March 30, 2023

min read

When it becomes unsustainable to continue fulfilling orders in-house, many fast-growing eCommerce businesses choose to outsource fulfilment to a third-party logistics provider (3PL)

This external company is responsible for handling the logistical elements of getting orders into the hands of your customers – from warehousing and inventory management, to picking, packing, and shipping. Whilst they can play an integral role to the success of your business, not all 3PLs are created equal and if your current provider isn’t helping you provide best-in-class fulfilment experiences (FX), your growth may be stunted and you could lose customers and, consequently, revenue.

That said, moving from one 3PL provider to another can instill fear and anxiety in even the most experienced eCommerce businesses. With contracts, perceived risks, and logistical hurdles to overcome, it can feel like there’s never a right time to change providers. However, putting your current 3PL under the microscope and determining whether they can continue supporting your growth is vital to your brand’s future success. Besides, switching 3PLs is not the headache you might think it is – not with a sound plan and the right support in place. 

To help you make the right decision for your business, we’ll cover 7 major signs that it’s time to switch 3PLs, along with first-hand accounts from other eCommerce brands who have been in the same position. 

1. Their service is inconsistent & error-prone

Do your orders fail to dispatch on time? Do parcels frequently go missing or take days to arrive? Are your customers often receiving the wrong items? Fulfilment is not a perfect science and errors can occur, especially given the many moving parts outside of a 3PL’s control. However, with your brand’s reputation on the line, you should be able to rely on your fulfilment partner to consistently deliver a high-quality service that minimises the risk of errors. Any errors that do occur should be dealt with swiftly and effectively by your 3PL.  

“The 3PL companies we worked with prior to Zendbox were all equally frustrating to deal with. They actually caused more problems for our business than they solved – we were receiving daily emails from our customers about slow deliveries, missing orders, and incorrect items received.

“When we partnered with Zendbox, we saw an immediate impact on our business with more satisfied customers. The communication from Zendbox is extremely amicable, and they take their time to understand us and our frustrations. They’ve ultimately got our best interests at heart.”

Jamie Haydon, Co-Founder of Mr Tubs

2. You’ve literally outgrown them (or will do soon)

With your business enjoying more success, it is likely that your needs will change, and you may reach a stage where your current 3PL can no longer support you as your order volumes increase exponentially and your product lines continue expanding. At this point, it’s time to consider switching to a 3PL that can scale with your business and provide a more mature and flexible fulfilment solution, as well as enough warehouse space to accommodate your growing inventory. You’ll also know that it’s time for a change when your 3PL is struggling to help your business expand into new markets and sell your products internationally. 

“It’s been great to see how smooth the Zendbox systems are at fulfilling orders. It gives me the confidence that when Complete Strength goes from receiving 300 to 1,000 orders per day, Zendbox has the facilities to fulfil those orders seamlessly with no issues.”

Rob Whitfield, Owner of Complete Strength

3. Their technology is outdated & inadequate 

eCommerce is a fast-paced, technology-driven industry, which means your fulfilment provider should be leveraging the latest systems to help you optimise your operations. At the very least, your 3PL provider must offer technology with sound inventory and order management capabilities. This system should integrate seamlessly with your eCommerce platform(s), enabling live data to flow automatically between the 3PL’s systems and yours. Without the ability to track and manage orders and inventory in real-time, it’s impossible to address any potential pitfalls in the fulfilment process and provide the quality FX your customers expect – not to mention manage your supply chain effectively.

“Compared to other 3PL providers that we looked at, Zendbox was the only one that had the technology and facilities that could provide a fast, accurate service fit for an eCommerce operation.”

Luke Brabbin, eCommerce Team Leader at The Cheeky Panda

4. Your inventory is poorly managed

You’re struggling to keep track of your inventory. Goods are getting damaged before they’ve even been picked. You can’t work out why you’re experiencing stockouts in one moment and overstocking the next. These issues not only indicate a lack of care for your products but are potentially also a symptom of a 3PL no longer able to help you manage your inventory effectively, which is essential to the success of any online business. You need a fulfilment partner that’s highly experienced at handling different products with varying storage and fulfilment requirements. They should also have a robust inventory management system in place to ensure you always have the right stock levels to maximise every sales opportunity. 

“Our previous 3PL was losing our stock, causing delays with our orders, and affecting our margins. Zendbox has completely eliminated these errors for us.”

Charlie Munton, CEO of Skinspace

5. You’re getting caught out by hidden or unexpected fees

Every eCommerce brand that outsources fulfilment to a 3PL wants to be confident that they’re receiving a value-for-money service, which is where transparency is important. If you’re uncovering hidden or unexpected charges that weren’t apparent at the start of the partnership with your current 3PL, your profitability could be negatively impacted. Regular fee increases with very little notice or reason why they are being raised are another potential sign that your 3PL partnership has soured. When a 3PL is right for your business, the cost of the service provided should be equal to or exceed the value you get out of it – and you shouldn’t be getting burned by surprise charges.

“We maximized our inventory performance to reduce stock holding costs and overall billing with the help of Zendbox.”

Rob Whitfield, Owner of Complete Strength

6. You’re receiving little to no support

Running an online business is hard enough without thinking that you’re in it alone. One of the biggest reasons why eCommerce brands outsource fulfilment to a 3PL is so that they benefit from the support of an order fulfilment expert that can help deliver great customer experiences and, thus, drive growth. Effective communication is vital when it comes to working with a fulfilment provider and if you find that yours is unresponsive, slow to address your concerns, or provides inadequate support, now might be the time to switch. You should be able to communicate easily with your 3PL and receive timely and appropriate responses to any support requests you raise. 

“Whenever I need anything, I can pick up the phone and speak to someone at Zendbox. Because I’ve dealt with 4 or 5 people overall, it gives me the confidence to know who to go to if I’ve got a problem.”

Ben Szreider, Operations Manager at EGLO

7. Your customers are unhappy

Your customers are ultimately the best judge of whether your fulfilment service is up to scratch. If it’s not, they won’t be shy to let you know, whether that’s through a surge in customer support tickets, negative online reviews and social media posts, and/or simply a decline in sales – all of which can hurt your profitability and your brand reputation. The right 3PL should be an extension of your team and, thus, deliver a service to be proud of. If your customers are consistently unhappy with the fulfilment experience, you’re working with the wrong 3PL provider.

“The service from Zendbox is fast and reliable. Reliability is the key because we want to make sure that our customers are happy, not just with our products but with our service too. Moreover, if there are any issues – whether that’s during delivery or post-delivery – we want to have a good response. Zendbox helps us provide an excellent service to our customers.”

Marco Crociani, Operations & Logistics Lead at The Cheeky Panda

Change is at the heart of growth

The famous American scholar and author, Warren Bennis, said, “In life, change is inevitable. In business, change is vital.” As humans, we often fear change because we fear the unknowns that often come with change. However, it’s important to remember that change is an opportunity to improve and grow. You may have intended to maintain a long-term partnership with your current 3PL when you outsourced fulfilment to them, but if they are struggling to keep pace with your ongoing success, then it is for the benefit of all that you consider switching to a provider that is best suited to meet your ever-evolving business needs. 

If you’re looking to switch 3PLs, we’d love to connect! Simply fill out our demo form and a member of our team will be in touch to discuss your unique business requirements and share some information on how Zendbox can potentially help.

Gilson Pereira
Head of Customer Experience at Zendbox

Resilient and forward-thinking, Gilson is responsible for leading the strategy, planning and execution of our customer experience (CX) goals, liaising with department heads to ensure every team at Zendbox works cohesively to provide our clients a positive and seamless experience across all touchpoints.

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