How to Write an RFP for 3PL & Fulfillment

Allison Champion
9 min read
March 4, 2024

Finding the right third-party logistics (3PL) and fulfillment RFP partner can be the difference between smooth operations and logistical chaos. But with a plethora of providers vying for your attention, how do you identify the perfect match?

Enter the Request for Proposal (RFP). An RFP is your strategic roadmap, guiding potential 3PL providers through your specific needs and requirements. It’s not simply a list of demands; it’s a collaborative invitation to partners who can demonstrably align with your unique business goals.

No one knows your brand’s requirements better than you, and the RFP process can help you better hone in on what your business needs from a partner. Asking relevant, specific questions can help you find a partner that can meet those needs and take your business to the next level

Introduction to 3PL and Fulfillment RFPs

Think of an RFP as a detailed job posting, except instead of hiring an employee, you’re recruiting the perfect logistics team. 

So, why is an RFP so valuable? Here are just a few reasons:

  • Saves time and effort: Instead of researching and contacting countless 3PLs, you let them come to you.
  • Attracts the right partners: Your detailed RFP weeds out unsuitable companies and attracts those who can truly handle your specific needs.
  • Gets you customized solutions: Forget one-size-fits-all approaches. RFPs ensure you get proposals tailored to your unique business.
  • Increases your bargaining power: With multiple proposals on the table, you can compare pricing and negotiate the best deal.

In short, an RFP is your key to unlocking a simpler, smoother, and more efficient shipping experience. It empowers you to find the perfect logistics partner who can take care of the dirty work, allowing you to focus on what you do best – running your business.

Understanding Your Business Needs

The crucial first step is thoroughly understanding your own business needs. This introspection forms the bedrock upon which your RFP will be built, ensuring it attracts providers who demonstrably align with your strategic goals.

Begin by conducting an internal audit of your current logistics and fulfillment operations. Analyze order volume, product types, shipping channels, and geographical reach. Identify pain points and areas for improvement, such as inventory management challenges, slow order processing times, or limited geographic coverage. This self-assessment lays bare the current state of your fulfillment ecosystem, providing a clear vision of the desired future state.

Next, consider your overarching business objectives. Are you prioritizing rapid market expansion? Optimizing cost efficiency? Enhancing customer service? Mapping your business goals to potential 3PL services is essential. For instance, if speed is paramount, prioritize providers with established national networks and robust shipping options. Conversely, if cost control is your focus, evaluate 3PLs with flexible storage solutions and efficient inventory management systems.

Now, refine your understanding by pinpointing specific, measurable objectives. Define both short-term and long-term goals for your logistics operations. Are you aiming for same-day shipping within a specific regional radius within the next quarter? Do you envision scaling your e-commerce fulfillment infrastructure tenfold within two years? Articulating these concrete objectives allows potential 3PLs to tailor their proposals to meet your specific needs and future aspirations.

Rethinking Your RFP Strategy

Whether you’re searching for a potential 3PL partner for the first time or looking to replace a fulfillment partner that hasn’t worked out, brands need to rethink the traditional RFP strategy to ensure they’re going to find a partner that works for their unique needs.

Areas Your RFP Should Cover 

Modern ecommerce demands modern solutions. Make sure your RFP covers all of the areas that are important to your business. 

An RFP should cover:

  • Order Management and Inventory Management: Make sure your RFP document helps you understand a provider’s systems, capabilities, and sustainability practices. This section should cover order management practices and solutions and network optimization as well as EDI capabilities and sustainability if those are important to your business. 
  • Fulfillment Network: This section should give you insight into the size of the partner’s fulfillment network as well as how they ensure inventory is allocated appropriately to ensure fast shipping and low costs. For example, if a partner’s fulfillment centers are in New York and Ohio, but most of your customers are in California, that might not be the best fit.
  • SLA Performance and Customer Success: In many ways, brands are at the mercy of their providers inside the warehouse. Make sure your RFP addresses the service level agreements (SLAs) for critical areas like inventory management and customer service. You can also ask for case studies or examples from brands the partner has worked with to understand how the SLAs work together in real-world examples.
  • Shipping and Transportation Management: Fast, accurate shipping continues to be incredibly important for customers, and understanding the intricacies of a provider’s shipping partners, rates, times, and international capabilities ensures you can make an informed decision.
  • Integrations: Are you currently using a storefront or an enterprise resource planning tool that you love? Why would you select a partner that doesn’t easily integrate with those tools? Are you planning to scale across new channels in the future? Make sure you ask about integration with all existing and planned systems, too. This can help you avoid frustrating integration issues down the line.
  • Billing and Terms of Agreement: Cost is often one of the most important factors when it comes to selecting a new partner, but make sure your RFP allows you to get a holistic understanding of the cost—from cost breakdown to insurance to cancellation fees.

Key Questions to Include in Your RFP Document

Now that we’ve gone over the areas your RFP covered, this section outlines some questions you can include related to order management and inventory management, fulfillment network, SLA performance and customer success, shipping and transportation management, integrations, and billing and terms of agreement.

It’s important to remember that these are sample questions that you can include, but make sure to tailor them to pertain to your brand’s unique needs. 

Order Management and Inventory Management

  • What order management system do you use?
  • What other visibilities are you able to provide so I can best optimize my inventory and allocations? 
  • Does your system allow for updates/changes/or cancellation of orders within a certain time frame? What is that timeframe?
  • Can you also fulfill B2B orders for wholesale? Do you have EDI capability? Which EDI partners do you work with?
  • What initiatives do you have in place for environmentally sustainable practices?

Fulfillment Network

  • What is the size of your network?
  • How do you optimize inventory allocation in the network to minimize transit time and costs?

SLA Performance and Customer Success

  • What are your SLAs for order turnaround, inventory accuracy, and customer service response time? Standard reporting? Please provide a summary of your standard performance guarantees, KPIs, and SLAs.
  • What is your customer support structure? What is your support SLA?
  • Please provide three case studies and/or reviews from clients within our commodity type.
  • How long is the onboarding process? How quickly could we launch?
  • What differentiates you from your competitors?

Shipping and Transportation Management 

  • How do you handle shipping: what carriers and shippers do you work with? Do you have negotiated rates? Can we use our own shipping account?
  • What are your carrier shipping times and speeds? What are your international shipping capabilities?


  • How easily can your system integrate with our existing systems (e.g., storefronts, ERPs)?

Billing and Terms of Agreement

  • Explain your billing structure and payment terms.
  • Can you provide a breakdown of your pricing structure, including storage, order fulfillment, and additional services?
  • What insurance coverage do you have, and what liability protection is provided?
  • What are the contract terms and termination clauses?

Evaluating 3PL Provider Capabilities

Beyond the questions in your RFP, deeper research is crucial. Understand the different 3PL service models (lead logistics provider, dedicated warehousing, etc.) and identify providers with expertise relevant to your business and industry. 

Assess their technology stacks, ensuring compatibility and seamless integration with your existing systems. Finally, prioritize customer service and support. Look for testimonials, case studies, and references to gauge their responsiveness and commitment to client satisfaction.

Remember, your RFP is not merely a list of questions; it’s an invitation to a partnership. By investing time and effort in crafting a clear, concise, and informative document, you attract the ideal 3PL partner to propel your business to new heights. 

Analyzing and Comparing RFP Responses

With your meticulously crafted RFP dispatched, the stage is set for potential 3PL providers to showcase their capabilities. Now comes the crucial task of analyzing and comparing their responses to identify your perfect match.

Don’t simply skim responses; dissect each one. Assess how thoroughly they address your specific needs and questions. Look for detailed explanations of their capabilities, technology integrations, and proposed solutions to any pain points you outlined. Pay particular attention to:

  • Alignment with your objectives: Do their proposed services directly address your short-term and long-term goals?
  • Scalability and adaptability: Can they adapt to your future growth projections and evolving needs?
  • Technology compatibility: How seamlessly will their systems integrate with your systems, both existing and planned?
  • Cost transparency and clarity: Are their pricing models clear and competitive? Are there any hidden fees or potential cost escalations?
  • Performance guarantees and metrics: Do they offer clear performance commitments and measurable KPIs?
  • Customer service and support: Do they demonstrate a commitment to proactive communication and responsive support?

Once you’ve thoroughly dissected each proposal, it’s time to engage in a rigorous comparative analysis. Create a matrix listing key criteria and score each provider based on their performance in each area. This visual representation will highlight strengths and weaknesses, making it easier to identify the most well-rounded candidate.

Don’t be afraid to shortlist your options. Based on your analysis, select the few proposals that stand out as the most promising matches. Then, engage in follow-up discussions with these shortlisted providers. Ask clarifying questions, delve deeper into specific concerns, and gauge their overall responsiveness and understanding of your business.

Making the Final Decision

You’ve analyzed, compared, and interviewed. Now comes the exhilarating yet momentous task of making the final decision. Consider these factors before selecting your ideal 3PL partner:

  • Overall alignment with your needs and goals: Choose the provider who not only meets your current requirements but also demonstrates a proactive understanding of your future aspirations.
  • Cost-effectiveness and value proposition: While cost is important, don’t solely base your decision on the cheapest option. Consider the value proposition, including technology, scalability, and potential cost savings in the long run.
  • Chemistry and communication: Trust your gut. The final decision often hinges on interpersonal interaction. Choose a provider you feel comfortable with, one who exhibits good communication skills and a genuine understanding of your company culture.

The final stage involves negotiating terms and finalizing agreements. Carefully review all contractual language, ensuring clarity, fairness, and alignment with your initial discussions. Don’t hesitate to negotiate on terms that don’t fully meet your expectations. Remember, a successful partnership is built on mutual respect and mutually beneficial terms.

The Role of Flowspace in Your 3PL and Fulfillment Journey

Flowspace takes the guesswork out of logistics and empowers brands to optimize their entire fulfillment process.

Flowspace’s real-time inventory visibility software, OmniFlow Visibility Suite, grants you real-time transparency across your supply chain, from inventory levels to delivery times. This isn’t just data overload, though; Flowspace provides actionable insights and predictive analytics to help you identify and tackle supply chain bottlenecks before they become problems.

Flowspace’s platform helps you forecast demand accurately, ensuring you have enough stock on hand to satisfy customers and avoid lost sales. Plus, our detailed order rate breakdowns pinpoint areas for improvement, like reducing delivery times, improving on-time delivery, or minimizing damaged items.

Flowspace’s vast network of fulfillment centers strategically located near your customers slashes shipping times and minimizes delays. We manage all center relationships and ensure strict service level agreements for flawless fulfillment. This means you can focus on your business while we handle the logistics and intralogistics magic.

Get in touch today to learn more about the benefits, such as improved customer satisfaction, of selecting Flowspace as your fulfillment partner.

Written By:

flowspace author Allison Champion

Allison Champion

Allison Champion leads marketing communication at Flowspace, where she works to develop content that addresses the unique challenges facing modern brands in omnichannel eCommerce. She has more than a decade of experience in content development and marketing.

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