A B2B ecommerce fulfilment provider exists to take care of the entire tangible product delivery side of your business.
From stocking your products in a warehouse to packing them up and arranging for delivery, 3PL fulfilment services ensure that the physical side of your ecommerce business runs as smoothly as possible.
B2B fulfilment providers are equipped to deal with rapidly-scaling businesses, with the operational requirements to work on the scale that B2B fulfilment often requires.
In this article, we take a closer look at the details of B2B ecommerce fulfilment, to give you a better understanding of the service you need for your ecommerce operations.
The B2B fulfilment process explained
The first step to any B2B fulfilment process is sending the service provider your products. The 3PL provider will store your stock in their warehouse, taking a precise inventory as soon as the products arrive, arranging them in a manner that makes them easy to access and log when it’s time to pack and send off an order.
Service providers with advanced analytical software such as Zendbox will enable you to view your stock levels in real time, in turn facilitating a more in depth understanding of how your business is running.
When an order is placed on any website or marketplace where your products are listed, the fulfilment centre will be notified, and will then proceed to pick, pack, and arrange for the delivery of the product. This process can be incredibly efficient - for example, at Zendbox, 99.7% of orders are shipped the same day that the order is received.
Warehouse management is complex, and achieving that rate of efficiency is no mean feat. It would be impossible to reach that level of rapidity without advanced management technology and high levels of experience, both of which are far more efficient to outsource than develop yourself as an ecommerce business.
All through the delivery process, stock levels will be updated in real time, facilitating accurate updates of product availability on your website.
Real time updates are incredibly important - if there’s even a ten minute delay between sending a product and updating availability, it could result in a business placing an order which cannot be fulfilled. All these details are incredibly important for your brand image, and should not be overlooked.
The key difference between B2C and B2B fulfilment is scale. As B2C fulfilment is centred around the delivery of goods to individual customers, packages tend to be between 1 and 10 lbs, and as a result, can be packed by hand with relative ease and sent using a wide variety of delivery services.
As businesses often order in bulk, B2B fulfilment operates on a whole different scale; while smaller ecommerce retailers may be able to handle B2C fulfilment, even small B2B ecommerce businesses will struggle to fulfil their orders without a lot of specialist equipment, from pallets to forklift trucks.
Goods will often be delivered on pallets, and will generally be delivered using LTL or FTL freight. LTL (less than load) freight can range anywhere from a few hundred lbs to 10,000 lbs, and will be delivered on lorries. FTL (full truck load) orders are generally larger, and will take up an entire lorry.
B2B fulfilment providers will have access to LTL and FTL providers, which again is another must-have when looking for the right type of fulfilment provider for your business.
As well as the physical packaging and delivery of goods, there are also regulatory concerns when dealing with large quantities of goods. These regulations will differ, of course, depending on the product that you stock, but you will want to be certain that the B2B fulfilment service you choose is familiar with any regulatory necessities before you send any stock to their warehouse.
There are several things to look out for when trying to find a new B2B fulfilment service. Of importance is whether they are able to scale as your business grows; this is especially important for newer businesses experiencing rapid growth, but it’s important for businesses of all sizes.
You don’t want your fulfilment provider to be a limiting factor - at best it could cause frustration over delays, at worst it could lose you customers and damage the reputation of your business.
When dealing with larger businesses, it’s likely that they’ll have specific requirements surrounding how orders are delivered. This might include specific ways of labelling items, or packaging items in certain groupings so that they can restock in a certain way.
Each business is likely to have a nuanced way in which they like to do business, and it’s especially important that a B2B fulfilment service is able to accommodate those nuances. If a business finds that you are easy and efficient to deal with, you are sure to get repeat orders in the future, helping you to grow and gain a certain level of stability.
There’s much less room for mistakes in B2B fulfilment compared to B2C; while individual consumer customers obviously don’t appreciate mix ups in their order, it doesn’t often amount to much more than an inconvenience, and can be fixed with a refunded order and a kindly worded email. B2B fulfilment issues have far higher stakes - it could directly affect the profitability of the business you’re selling to, affecting their ability to offer products to their customers.
While B2B transactions often downplay the importance of customer relations, they’re arguably more important than with B2C.
Developing good relationships with a select number of high profile clients as a B2B online retailer can be incredibly rewarding, and simplify or even nearly eradicate the need to constantly market your products to new clients.
B2B fulfilment services need to be aware of the importance of developing and maintaining these professional relationships, as a failure to do so can be incredibly costly.
Errors on the side of a 3PL provider can be damaging to the reputation of your business, and have negative effects on future relationships with clients. It is therefore incredibly important that any B2B fulfilment provider operates with maximum efficiency and accuracy, far more so than with B2C fulfilment.
In worst case scenarios, profits could be directly affected through penalties which may be incurred and refunds which could be necessitated. Choosing a fulfilment provider with a spotless record is a good idea - look at their reviews and previous track record to get a good idea of how smoothly their operation runs.
Choosing B2B over a B2C fulfilment solution - what are the benefits?
While the general processes of B2B and B2C fulfilment solutions are similar, the details are quite different. B2C fulfilment service providers are equipped to fulfil a high number of orders, each on a reasonably small scale. Their technology and staff will be specifically designed and trained to accommodate this style of product delivery, operating at a fast past.
There are often relatively few regulations (depending on the product of course,) however the aesthetic presentation of the package is likely to be reasonably important.
Customers expect a slick and fast service, and increasingly expect to be able to make returns, especially in the fashion industry. While a low level of errors in packaging and delivery is not generally terrible, it will negatively affect how customers review your business, and could lead to costs incurred due to refunds and the like.
While repeat customers are preferable, it is likely that the majority will be one-off purchases, although this of course depends substantially on the type of product your business offers.
B2B fulfilment services are equipped to deal with different challenges, such as scale and the specific regulatory requirements of other businesses. Even if a B2C fulfilment operator were able to stock, package, and deliver your products on the scale that you require, it is likely that they would have to charge a far higher rate than a provider set up specifically to deal with B2B businesses.
It is also probable that they would make an unacceptable number of mistakes, in turn negatively affecting both your profitability and the reputation of your brand.
A B2B fulfilment provider will be more aware of both the challenges at hand and the consequences of making mistakes. Losing a big client due to a slip-up made by a 3PL fulfilment provider can be catastrophic, and such mistakes are far less likely to occur should you use the services of a B2B provider aware of the risks and properly equipped to do the job.
B2B fulfilers are also likely to be able to keep costs lower; they will already have the necessary infrastructure to handle bulk orders, and as a result, will be able to operate with a higher level of efficiency than providers equipped for B2C orders. B2B fulfilment solutions are also more likely to have favourable relationships with appropriate delivery services, keeping costs down and ensuring the regular delivery of products.
In the end, it comes down to hiring the right service provider for the job. B2B and B2C fulfilment solutions are not the same, as shown above, and therefore it isn’t appropriate or fair to expect one to be able to handle the nuanced requirements of the other.
How can a B2B fulfilment solution help online retailers?
Through using a B2B fulfilment solution, online retailers can focus their resources on doing what they’re most skilled at: building their online presence.
Through outsourcing fulfilment requirements, online retailers can significantly cut the costs related to packaging and delivering their products. Shipping in bulk creates complex logistical issues, and it makes financial sense to outsource your shipping requirements to a provider which is well equipped to carry out the job (and is able to scale with your business).
B2B fulfilment solutions are far more efficient at delivering bulk orders than B2C solutions, primarily because that is the need that they are specifically designed to cater to. B2C fulfilment providers may be excellent at catering to the demands of individual consumers, but they simply don’t have either the know-how or the technical resources to carry out the type of order processing required by wholesale or B2B ecommerce businesses.
An appropriate B2B fulfilment solution will allow you to continue growing, scaling your deliveries as you gain more and more clients. While a B2C fulfilment provider may be able to keep up at first, as your business grows it’s likely that they won’t be able to keep up, and could end up severely damaging customer relations with businesses you’ve dealt with for years.
Thinking ahead to what your requirements may be in six months or a year is important, and should definitely play into how you choose a fulfilment solution.
Choosing the right B2B solution for your business
While as an ecommerce business it’s possible that you might sell to both individual customers and other businesses, it’s important that you don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to your fulfilment requirements. Through using the same blunt tool for all your needs, you’ll end up spending far more than you would on different, specific solutions, while potentially damaging the reputation of your brand.
A B2B fulfilment solution such as Zendbox will enable you to continue growing as a business, both practically through providing a seamless bulk shipping service, and through allowing you to focus your energy on what will get you new clients - brand development.
An experienced B2B solution provider will know the ins and outs of the fulfilment trade, and instead of needing constant micromanagement, will be able to help you with their knowledge of the industry. Zendbox has successfully delivered more than 3 million orders, and we currently stock over 100k FMCGs in our warehouses. If you’re looking for a B2B fulfilment solution that scales with your business, we’re here to help. Request a demo to get started with Zendbox today.
Alex is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations at Zendbox, ensuring accurate and timely order processing, picking, packing, and shipping. He collaborates closely with other teams across the business to meet customer expectations and achieve stringent service level agreements (SLAs).