The e-commerce industry boomed as a result of the pandemic. Online shopping became even more popular than it already was, creating a major demand for more goods to be available for purchase online. Some businesses already possessed a strong online presence with consistent sales happening through their website. However, many businesses were not prepared to go online at the start of 2020.

As more companies began investing in e-commerce, the services offered by third-party logistics (3PL) companies also saw an increase in demand. Many companies do not want the burden that comes with handling the challenging demands of logistics and warehouse operations. Factors like shipping costs, express delivery options, and accurate order fulfillment also fueled the demand for 3PL partnerships over the last several years.

Since 3PLs are responsible for a key part of a business, they need to have a strong warehouse management system (WMS). Without the right WMS in place, 3PL companies can miss deliveries, send the wrong orders, or misplace inventory.

What is a WMS?

In simple terms, a warehouse management system (WMS) is a type of software with different modules or functionalities. The software is designed to keep track of inventory from the time it enters a warehouse until the goods are ordered and shipped out to the end customers. The purpose of a WMS is to find the most efficient and cost-effective way to stock and move goods through a warehouse. Most WMS software can handle a variety of tasks, including receiving, inventory management, tracking, replenishing, counting, picking and packing, and shipping.

What is the main benefit of a WMS for 3PL?

Today, many companies prefer to outsource their supply chain management and logistics to a 3PL. Logistics Service Providers are responsible for managing an effective supply chain and logistics operation for multiple clients at a time. Order fulfillment is a challenging and time-consuming function within the supply chain, so warehouses need a strong “brain” to help manage and keep track of all 3PL inventory coming in and out of the warehouse. That’s where a WMS comes in. It helps provide 3PL inventory management, information, insight, and tracking for the various stages of the supply chain. Warehouse management systems also help 3PLs ensure stock levels are maintained with adequate safety stock in case there are delays in replenishment.

What Criteria Matter the Most When Looking for WMS Partners?

In 3PL warehousing, a strong WMS is critical in order to effectively compete and keep customers happy. Not all warehouse management systems are the same. As with any software, there are differences and strengths that each solution can provide. The best solutions can offer the most important features and functionality for your business while also offering effective inventory management. Here are the six most important criteria for a WMS provider.

1. Speed of Implementation

Whether you’re getting a WMS for the first time or replacing an existing one, the time it takes to get up and running is critical. Many WMS solutions claim to have short implementations—but be wary. A “short” implementation could be 16 months for one vendor, or 6 months for another depending on their averages. Ideally, you should look for solutions that get your new WMS fully implemented in about 12-24 weeks. Obviously, the faster your system is online, the sooner you can get back to focusing on your clients.

Speaking of your clients, your WMS should also enable you to get new clients onboarded fast. This is a major area to consider. Faster client onboarding minimizes downtime, enabling your company to start filling orders as quickly as possible. You want to reduce as much friction as possible when starting with a new client. Not all WMS solutions are able to do this efficiently, so make sure you search for vendors that work with other 3PLs already.

2. Business Intelligence

Another important area to consider when replacing a WMS is the ability to gain deep insights from the new system. Customizable and detailed warehouse intelligence reports are very important since they will help provide plenty of visibility to the most important information for your business. Before implementing a new WMS, be sure to ask detailed questions about the system’s reporting and business intelligence capabilities.

3. Billing and Cost management

A major factor of any WMS for 3PL is the ability to control costs. Investments in a system with dozens of automations are obviously a major investment, but those investments need to do more than just save money on overhead. With a system like LVS, 3PLs can measure nearly every aspect of their operations. This enables users find and track costs associated with every area of their business.

4. Client Facing Portals

3PL companies are very busy. You don’t always have time to interact with every client at a moment’s notice. Instead, you should use a WMS that gives your clients access to the dashboards and information they need to stay informed, all without taking up your precious time to keep them in the loop. Mantis offers a proprietary customer portal called Client eWorkspace for 3PLs to use with their customers.

5. Adaptability and Scalability

There’s a high chance your business is very different today than it was a year ago. Businesses change and grow over time, which introduces new challenges and needs. Your WMS should be adaptable enough to meet you where you are today, but also be scalable so that it will last as long as you need. Some WMS systems are limited in their offerings. Make sure you look for a WMS that can support your business as it grows for years into the future.

6. Expert 3PL Customer Support

No matter how good a WMS is, there will be times when something goes wrong, or your team won’t understand how to properly operate a specific function or feature. It’s at these times when good customer service can make a world of difference for your business. Seek out WMS companies that offer ongoing maintenance, technical support, and training.

7. Advanced Slotting Capabilities

Knowing how to move inventory is only part of the challenge for 3PLs. They also need to be able to sort, store, and organize it effectively. Advanced slotting helps find the most optimal methods to maximize space utilization, labor productivity, transportation efficiencies, and compare DC operations with global industry benchmarks to see where you can improve. Some companies have used CAD tools to figure this out manually. However, there are advanced slotting solutions that can help find greater reductions in handling and travel distance while optimizing storage space.

8. Increased Productivity Through Automation

Today’s technology enables the work done in a warehouse to be augmented to make human workers more efficient and less prone to mistakes. As the name suggests, automation helps reduce costs and improve tedious manual tasks so that the warehouse can run more efficiently.

Light Warehouse automations come in a variety of technologies, including Voice Picking, Pick-to-Light, Put-Walls/Sort-to-Light, Smart Pick Carts, Smart Glasses, RFID. There are also many Automated Material Handling Solutions such as Goods-to-Person Shuttles, Carousels, Mini-Loads, Mobile Shelves & AGV – like robotics, AMRs, Conveyors, Sorters, Packing line systems, RFID-Gates and more.

There are many areas of warehouse operations that can be automated. The more a WMS can help you streamline your processes, the greater the benefits and cost savings. Many automations come with a high price tag. Mantis offers very reasonable pricing on Light warehouse automation solutions that can be implemented quickly and are flexible enough to grow with your team. Mantis also offers its own advanced solution (WCS) to integrate with Automated Material Handling Systems (AMHS).

9. Total Cost of Ownership

With any business purchase, you need to consider the total cost of ownership. This is especially true for your WMS. A system with limited functionality or poor performance can have major costs associated with it, even if the upfront cost was low. Do your homework and question the sales reps and other WMS provider personnel to ensure they won’t end up costing you more in the long run. The best WMS solutions function as a part of your business with minimal disruptions that help you see a strong ROI quickly.

Mantis Logistics Vision Suite

Of course, there are dozens of other areas to consider when selecting a new WMS for your 3PL warehouse. The Logistics Vision Suite (LVS) by Mantis checks all these boxes and more. If you’re in the market for a new WMS, explore LVS and see why more than 700 companies trust Mantis to manage their warehouses.