The U.S. ecommerce market is a goldmine for growth, accounting for more than a trillion in sales in 2022. It's a lucrative market for ecommerce brands looking to expand their reach. But breaking into this market comes with a unique set of challenges—especially when it comes to U.S.-based order fulfillment.
That's where U.S.-based third-party logistics providers (3PLs) become invaluable allies. They offer an efficient route into the U.S. market, eliminating the need for a huge capital investment or intricate planning. With a 3PL, you can establish a strong presence in the U.S. while they handle the logistical complexities.
In this article, we'll help you navigate the path to U.S.-based fulfillment for your ecommerce brand. We'll cover the unique aspects of U.S. logistics, the advantages of partnering with a U.S.-based 3PL, and how to choose the right one for your needs.
You have a lot of options when choosing an ecommerce fulfillment partner in the States. Here’s what you need to consider to find a good fit for your brand.
The locations of your U.S.-based warehouses are critical, and the reason boils down to shipping zones. These zones are used by shipping carriers to determine the cost of sending a package. The further a package must travel, the higher the shipping zone, and the higher the cost.
Because of the size of the country, many direct-to-consumer brands use a multi-warehousing strategy. The idea here is simple: Inventory is stored across multiple warehouses in strategic locations, and orders are fulfilled from the warehouse closest to the customer. This reduces the overall distance packages must travel, lowering the average cost of shipping and the amount of time the average package spends in transit.
So, when looking for your perfect U.S.-based fulfillment partner, ask about their warehouse network. Can they help you reach customers all over the U.S. efficiently and cost-effectively? If the answer is yes, you might have found your match.
Selecting a U.S.-based fulfillment partner involves more than just looking at their capabilities on paper. In reality, the logistics of getting your products from manufacturer to fulfillment center can significantly impact your bottom line. That's where freight coordination comes into play.
Be sure to consider how easy or difficult it may be to deliver inventory to your warehouse. A fulfillment partner with close proximity to major ports can streamline the process of receiving your imported goods. This advantage can reduce transit times, minimize potential disruptions, and ultimately, save you money.
However, it's equally important to remember that what is ideal for receiving goods isn't always ideal for shipping them to your customers. For example, a warehouse located on the coast might be perfect for importing goods. Still, it may not be the most efficient option for fulfilling orders across the expansive geography of the U.S.
Balancing the convenience of receiving imports with the efficiency of fulfilling orders is essential. It might be worth considering a strategy that includes both a coastal warehouse for receiving imports and a more centrally located warehouse for shipping orders to customers.
As you evaluate potential 3PL partners, ask them about their freight coordination strategies or if they can recommend freight forwarding solutions. How do they strike this balance? Their ability to provide a clear, well-considered answer will help you determine if they're the right fit for your brand's expansion into the U.S. market.
When embarking on your U.S.-based fulfillment journey, a critical aspect to consider is your prospective 3PL's relationships with carriers, the shipping options they offer, and the shipping rates they can secure. Let's dive deeper into why these elements matter.
Your chosen 3PL's relationships with various shipping carriers can determine the flexibility and reliability you can provide your customers. You need a partner that can offer a range of shipping methods that cater to your customer base's diverse needs and expectations. Whether it's standard, express, or same-day delivery, your customers should be able to choose the shipping method that suits them best.
But it's not just about the options. In an industry where shipping rates can be highly volatile, the rates that your 3PL can secure are just as crucial. Typically, 3PLs have their own negotiated rates with carriers due to the volume of goods they handle. This means they can often secure more competitive shipping rates than you could negotiate on your own, but it's essential to understand these rates and the value they provide. Are these savings passed on to you and, in turn, your customers?
The bottom line: the more shipping options you have and the better the rates, the more competitive you can be in the U.S. market. So, when comparing providers, don't just look at their service list. Dig deeper. Ask about their carrier relationships, their flexibility in shipping methods, and how they handle the volatility of shipping rates, including customs duties and taxes.
In the digital era of ecommerce, the technology stack that underpins your 3PL's operations is more than just a tool—it's a necessity. When you're managing operations from afar, you'll need a technology platform that's not just powerful, but intuitive and user-friendly too.
The 3PL's platform should give you real-time visibility into your inventory management and order status, accurate forecasting tools, and easy integration with your existing ecommerce platforms. It's a good idea to request a demo or trial period to get a feel for the system. Is it easy to navigate? Does it provide the data and analytics you need? Are there automation features to save you time and reduce the risk of error?
In the same breath, don't underestimate the value of robust customer support. If you're based overseas, the team handling your orders is your eyes and ears on the ground, and effective communication with them is essential.
When expanding into international order fulfillment, consider factors like time zones and how they might affect response times. Inquire about the 3PL's customer support model—are they reachable by email, phone, a ticketing system, or do they provide a dedicated Account Manager? What are their response times like, and do they offer after-hours support?
Remember, a 3PL isn't just a service provider—they're a partner. So when you're vetting your U.S.-based fulfillment options, look for a provider with a robust technology platform and a support team that's responsive, accessible, and ready to help when you need it.
It's wise to consider U.S.-based 3PLs that have already planted their flag on the global stage. When managing your foreign and domestic logistics, having all operations under one roof can save you a lot of time and headaches.
3PLs with an international presence bring a wealth of experience to the table. They're already well-versed in the intricacies of duties, customs, and taxes—complexities that can be daunting if you're new to the U.S. market. Their global team is also a testament to their ability to navigate different markets and cultures—a benefit that can't be discounted.
And working with a U.S.-based 3PL doesn't necessarily mean jumping into the deep end. You could start by partnering with a U.S.-based 3PL that also operates in your home country, for example. This allows you to test the waters, see how the 3PL functions, and build a relationship before making the leap to the U.S. market.
So, when you're weighing your options, seriously consider providers with a global footprint. They're likely to understand your needs as an international brand better, and they can offer a seamless, unified solution for all your logistics needs.
Launching U.S.-based fulfillment for your ecommerce brand is a significant step in expanding your business. Choosing the right U.S.-based 3PL is crucial. You need to look at everything from warehouse locations and freight coordination to carrier relationships, technological capabilities, and international presence. It's not just about finding a service provider—it's about finding a partner to help you navigate the complexities of the U.S. market.
This is where Airhouse comes into the picture. With our international presence and deep understanding of global ecommerce, we're perfectly positioned to help your brand break into the U.S. market. We offer tailored solutions that consider all the factors we've discussed, and our team is always on-hand to support you every step of the way.
As the second-largest ecommerce market in the world, the U.S. is teeming with potential customers. And if you’re ready to capitalize on it, optimizing U.S.-based fulfillment is a crucial piece of the puzzle. With a partner like Airhouse, you’ll be well-equipped to make this exciting leap. Your American customers are waiting—and we're here to help you reach them.
With more than 30 fulfillment centers across the United States—plus a global presence that spans 40 countries—our managed warehouse network makes it easy to ship orders anywhere in the world, while our proprietary technology allows you to see real-time operations from wherever you are. To learn more, schedule a call with our fulfillment experts.