Avoid the Pitfalls of Changing Your Fulfillment Vendor

If your organization has decided to switch to a new fulfillment provider, your next concern will be avoiding the mistakes that can make the transition more painful than it has to be. Here are three biggest mistakes companies often make, and how to avoid them.


The Big Mistakes That Will Turn Your Transition Into a Nightmare

The Wrong Partner

The most important factor in the smoothness and success of your transition, is your choice of fulfillment partner. In the old days of warehousing, location was the most significant factor, and everything else was secondary. In today’s competitive logistics landscape, everything from technology to staffing to customer service impacts the effectiveness of your order fulfillment engine, and it’s critical that you choose a partner who will serve your needs—and make the transition as smooth as possible. The wrong choice here can be massively expensive. 

Poorly Defined Requirements

Stacks of Business Documents Stacks of Business Documents

No ifs ands, or buts—transitioning to a new fulfillment partner will be work. If you’ve been in business for long, your fulfillment system probably consists of a patchwork of documented requirements and undocumented “understandings” between your marketing department and order fulfillment team. These undocumented “understandings” can cause a lot of grief during the transition process if not properly addressed ahead of time. From package specifications to reporting needs, careful requirements documentation will ensure the smoothest possible transition.

Incomplete Documentation

A subset of requirements, order fulfillment workflow documentation, is where we see the most frequent mistakes made. As your organization has grown, you have undoubtedly created unique SKUs and packaging specifications, many of which may be “understood” by your long-time floor staff, but never have made their way into writing. Whether it’s the way a package insert is included, or an item that was added to the order but never documented, mistakes in fulfillment requirements will lead to problems during implementation. To reduce these mistakes, try to include at least one front-line employee in your implementation working group to ensure this information gets captured and recorded before you go live.

Ensuring a Smooth Transition

A new order fulfillment implementation is work, but it doesn’t have to be painful. Taking the right steps before, during, and after the transition will ensure your organization reaps the benefits without excessive cost.

Step #1: Select the Right Partner


More than any other factor, your new fulfillment partner will play a significant role in how smoothly your transition goes. From how their technology interacts with yours to whether their picking and packing processes work for your products, a good match will save you hundreds of headaches.

Once you find a partner whose warehouse location and services seem to match your basic needs, dig deeper to find out how well they will help you manage your transition.


Here’s your checklist of questions to ask:

Do they have the technologies and processes in place to smoothly accept your data and incorporate it into their systems?

From APIs to EDIs, make sure they’re using platforms that will work with your ecosystem, or that they have the technical know-how to integrate them.

Will their technology provide you with the kinds of data you need to effectively manage your operations?

You rely on effective reports, inventory visibility, and order information to manage supply chain, make marketing decisions, and keep a handle on daily operations. Make sure your new partner will be able to give you the tools you need.

Have they demonstrated experience and knowledge in applying best practices for managing the transition?

Look for an experienced management team who can answer all your questions about the transition to your satisfaction, and can point you to satisfied customers whose implementations were successful.

Can they clearly articulate a timeline for accomplishing the transition, and does it meet your needs?

Knowing how long the implementation will take is key to managing the process—ask them to lay out for you what will happen at each juncture and how much time it will require from your team to accomplish that timeline.

Will they provide you with a checklist to guide you through the process?

You shouldn’t have to fly in the dark. A well-used checklist will give you peace of mind and demonstrates that they know what they’re doing.

How will they organize work groups to ensure everything gets done?

You want them to involve people from operations, sales, IT, and process and controls to ensure appropriate communication and alignment of activities.

Have they demonstrated a high level of customer care?

The last thing you want is for something to go wrong and not to be able to reach someone who can help. Expect your new provider to give you a point person as well as a list of numbers to reach immediately if that person is not available. Expect the list to contain people who can genuinely help you in a pinch, not just call center phone employees.

Step #2: Prepare For the Move

Once you’ve signed a contract with your new fulfillment provider, your work will begin in earnest. Before the transition can occur, there is an intricate dance of information exchange and process coordination that must be navigated. Here’s what you can expect:

a.     Establish Working Groups. Every transition will be as unique as the companies involved, but there are certain best practices for organizing the work teams that are effective for most transitions. On the fulfillment side, look for a working group that consists, at minimum, of the sales team that brought you in, a process and controls expert, an IT leader, and an operations executive. On your side, involve individuals from the executive level, as well as operations, management, and, when possible, a selection of hands-on team members who understand the details of floor activities on a daily basis.

b.     Assemble Requirements Documentation. This step is critical. Your new fulfillment partner should provide a checklist of documentation for you to assemble. It may include returns, custom packaging requirements, inventory allocation, lot tracking details, kitting instructions, for instance. Be as clear and exhaustive in your documentation as possible, as any mistakes or omissions at this stage will have ramifications later.

c.     Plan the Integration Process. Your fulfillment team will conduct meetings with your team to uncover the details of technology, systems, processes, and people necessary to fulfill requirements. This includes clarifying custom packing slip requirements, shipping methods, backorder procedures, data exchange needs, file formats, inventory visibility, and custom reporting needs. Your input will be solicited throughout.

d.     Review Facility Engineering. Based on your requirements, your fulfillment provider will organize their internal structure and processes to meet your needs. Prior to implementation, they should offer you an opportunity to review the facility engineering plans, including storage plan and production layout, pick and pack strategy, picking equipment, computer equipment, electrical, custom IT accommodations and modifications, and the item velocity study.

e.     Test Run. Prior to full implementation, you’ll move a small amount of inventory into the new warehouse to test the system. Your fulfillment provider should do a few hundred live orders from start to finish to catch any mistakes and ensure everything works smoothly, before trusting the entire operation to the new system.

Following your successful test run, you and the fulfillment provider will decide on a final implementation timeline, and prepare for the big day.

Step #3: Implement with Confidence

With the right partner and a carefully completed pre-implementation process, the implementation itself can be reasonably painless. Nevertheless, you will likely experience a few hiccups along the way. After your inventory is transferred and orders are being processed through your new provider, here are a few of the most common problems you may encounter, their causes, and how they will be handled:

a.     Packing flaws. It’s common for one or more items to be picked incorrectly during the initial stages of your transition. This usually indicates some packing detail that your old team “just knows” that didn’t get documented and therefore didn’t survive the transition. Your new provider should be able to fix this promptly by adding the correct documentation and addressing any incorrect orders.

b.     Missing notifications. Sometimes, you may not receive notifications that you’ve been accustomed to receiving. This is usually caused by a miscommunication in the requirements gathering process. Your new provider can usually add new notification processes to the system to address this.

c.     Delayed shipments. SKUs that aren’t properly documented and input into the system can cause delays. The most common cause is not including all the details for every SKU during the requirements process. This happens most often when you aren’t able to include front-line warehouse team members during the pre-implementation period, and certain things that they know intuitively don’t make it into the documentation. Your new provider should handle these problems swiftly and address any existing delays in a timely manner.

Start Your Process Now

If you’re considering the switch to a new provider, now is the right time to speak to experts to find out what your transition process will look like, and whether the move will serve your business needs.

Our fulfillment experts are available right now to answer your questions and give you the information you need to make the right decision. Contact us at 866-SPE-SEND or info@spexpress.com. We look forward to speaking with you!