Essential Questions to Ask Your Next Distribution Center

You are in the hunt for a distribution center – and we are guessing you’re either barely starting out or your thriving e-commerce store is starting to hit a bottleneck. Well, the process involved in exploring and choosing the appropriate distribution center is more intricate than what it seems when you first scratch the surface. And if you want to hit the mark on your first try, it’s best to be as mindful and observant as possible regarding your needs. Ultimately, you want to ensure that your prospective distribution center’s capabilities correlate to match your necessities to a T. Here is a complete list of distribution center questions to find the right match.  

“Have you worked with businesses similar to mine in the past?”

Knowing if the distribution center you are considering has worked with similar businesses to yours in the past can determine if they are equipped to manage, fulfill, and report on your type of orders. If the fulfillment process they already have in place can translate to your own needs, then knowing this information sets you on the right track towards finding an ideal provider.

“What products can you support?”

If you sell perishable products, this is the decisive factor when considering your next distribution center. Not all distribution centers are made equal – with some being unable to provide refrigeration or the space necessary for your specific product. Ask if they are able to support your kind of good to verify that it will be taken care of properly and distributed in its prime condition.

“What are your capacity constraints?”

Do you plan on growing your e-commerce store any time soon? Then this question provides a vital answer. If you are looking to scale, make sure your prospective distribution center is able to handle the growth alongside you. We recommend that you also ask if they offer shared-space warehousing, which means that they also provide services to other businesses. This might impact the quality of their services. If you know you need a fully-committed provider, aim for a center that services you alone.

“What is your location?”

The phrase “location is key” transcends real estate and tourist lodging – having a distribution center in a dynamic location will lend for strategic positioning and swift shipping. Therefore, selecting a fulfillment provider in a tactical spot will prove itself a winning strategy, especially if the location matches that of your own customer markets. 

“How can you ensure order fulfillment accuracy?”

Does the distribution center you are considering have processes and systems set in place to ensure all orders are fulfilled? Some centers have a barcode tracking system established to facilitate tracking and order accuracy, but not all. Remember this detail when perusing your options, and if you need advanced tracking, make this one of your top priorities. Lastly, if you use an internal order system make sure it is compatible with the systems that are used in the fulfillment center.  

“How long does it take for an order to be fulfilled?”

Although obvious, you need to ask about the time it will take a distribution center to fulfill your product. The time it takes for an order to be placed and received by your customer varies from distribution center to distribution center. We also need to acknowledge the fact that discrepancies between customer expectations and a distributions center’s promises can create issues, therefore, you need to make sure they can live up to your expectations. Additionally, if you are interested in having access to fast shipping tags from programs such as Amazon, Walmart, and eBay, this is a great opportunity to ask about that as well. 

“Do you support returns?”

The dreaded return (also known as reverse logistics), is an important topic to discuss with a distribution center. Sometimes this process involves more than simply returning an item and also covers replacing, exchanging, or refurbishing it. It is also equally important for you to outline your brand’s return specifications such as checking the item condition, repacking, etc. Do you wish for the distribution center to accept and return their items to your business establishment for your team to review? Make sure to express this when discussing return policies. Once you know how the return process of a center functions, you are able to distinguish if it aligns with the way you wish to approach your product returns. 

“What is your lost/damaged inventory policy?”

If you find an error with how your inventory was handled or delivered to your customer, you need to understand the distribution center’s policy in the first place. In an ideal world, they will take full responsibility, but not all centers will be clear about this process. We recommend knowing this information now to avoid headaches in the future. 

“Do you have enough physical space for scaling purposes?”

Are you planning to grow now or in the near future? Then, you need to know if the center of your choice can support your expansion. Exactly how much square footage is available? Let’s say you grow into double your current size in 2 years. If they are unable to fulfill this need, take it as a sign to look someplace else.

“Are you able to integrate with my e-commerce platform?”

Integrating your shopping cart with an outsourced distribution center results in accurate and efficient order fulfillment. Moreover, sending electronic order information directly to the distribution personnel removes manual error and streamlines procedures. There are many methods of integration, therefore, asking a center if they are able to integrate into your platform and exactly how they would do so is vital if you wish to keep your fulfillment process as streamlined as possible.

Get the ball rolling with these questions. Ask your prospective outsourced distribution center partners and determine if its a match for your e-commerce business. Whether or not these questions lead to success or not, we say its better to be as calculated as possible. Be keen to remember that this dialogue is not one-sided. Make sure to disclose as much information about your business, product, and needs as you can.

Not all distribution centers are made for your type of product. Therefore, it is up to you to rummage through your options and determine what’s best for you. With that in mind, here are a few details to share with your prospective distribution center if you want things to work out. Think of it as a little bonus from us. We want your long-term distribution center scouting to be as comprehensive and easy as possible.

Information You Should Disclose to a Distribution Center

  • Your budget
  • What specific improvements you want to make to your operations
  • How much do you plan on growing your business in the near future
  • What your current packaging strategy looks like
  • Your main distribution pain points

Do you want to learn about our distribution center services in the Washington area? Reach out to familiarize yourself with our process and how we can help fulfill your product orders swiftly and effectively!

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