Sustainable Secondary Packaging and the Third Party Shipper

19 May 2009 Sustainable Secondary Packaging and the Third Party Shipper

It may sound like the title to an unusual movie or book, but the fact is that today it is not at all uncommon for an eco conscious e-commerce company (seller) to utilize a fulfillment company, third party logistics (3PL) company, or contract packager to fill, package and ship their customers’ orders. Outsourcing the fulfillment portion of the order process is an excellent way to minimize costs and focus on sales and marketing but it does have a potential down side, especially if the fulfillment company (shipper) does not share the same green values as the seller.

The Biggest Risks of Using a Third Party Shipper

eco-friendly-packaging-papers-and-corrugated-boxWhat you sacrifice when you turn fulfillment over to another company is control. For example, the people filling your valuable customer’s order are not your employees –  in fact they may not even be the employee of the company you are utilizing. More and more shipping companies use temporary labor services to satisfy their customer’s packaging requirements which can vary greatly with seasonal or other volume surges,  so the phrase “here today and gone tomorrow” certainly applies. In other words, there is little or no accountability for the person actually pulling and packing the order for you and for your customer.

Another potential casualty of working with a third party shipper may unfortunately be eco-consistency. The eco friendliness of the packaging materials and the techniques being used, as well as the ultimate appearance of that package shipping to the customer, are completely in someone else’s hands. As a consumer, we all have been on the receiving end of a product that is over packaged, under packaged, or one that uses an excess of packaging materials we hate. For me,  it is foam peanuts of any size, shape or color. The shipper is setting the quality AND green standard for you in the eyes of your customers but remember – while the shipper is invisible to the customer,  you are not. When things go bad, you get the blame whether you deserve it or not.

Packaging Sustainability and the Third Party Vendor Can Be a Beautiful Thing

scanner-for-order-fulfillmentWe have been fortunate to be the supplier of choice in several of these seller/shipper situations and can tell you that when they work, they work great. One recent situation developed because the customer/seller introduced and recommended us to their fulfillment company. Obviously we had to overcome the relationships the shipper had with their existing packaging suppliers but eventually they saw the many benefits to their customer as well as with other present or potential customers. Today, being a “green fulfillment house” has many advantages as they soon realized when they quickly picked up another, substantial “green” client.

The other scenario resulted from the fulfillment company proactively searching for new and greener vendors to serve and protect their current customer base. I am a great believer in “the best defense is a good offense” theory of football, baseball and business, so I love this type of activity by any vendor determined to stay ahead of a market trend.

The ABC’s of a Great Sustainable Packaging Seller/Shipper Relationship

Whether you are the shipper or the seller, we offer the following advice.

Acknowledge – eco consistency is important to the customer receiving the product. How the product is packaged does matter because it makes a permanent impression on the customer.

Benefit – above and beyond the benefits to our earth are the many business benefits of using eco friendly packaging materials. Remember, if done properly, green will reduce everyone’s costs.

Communicate – when customer and client communicate, good things happen. Whether there is a quality, process or even a supplier issue, comparing notes helps everyone involved.

Much like a marriage, in the long run finding a partner with similar values in key areas will save a lot of work and grief. However, learning together and adjusting as the world around us changes can be also be very mutually rewarding.

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