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  March 2014

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How Does the 3PL Make Sure the Labels Are Put in the Right Place?
Scott Weiss, Taylored Services

For a warehouse that is shipping to multiple retailers, this seems to be the most fundamental question any visitor might ask when touring a distribution center. After all, each retailer has their own routing guide that mandates what label needs to be generated, what information needs to be on the label, and where the label needs to be placed on the carton. And seemingly every retailer out there requires a label to be generated on a carton or pallet.

The 3PL world is not a one-size-fits-all model. Chances are, if you were to tour ten distribution centers operated by ten different 3PL's you might see ten different ways that a warehouse employee might know where a label should go. A 3PL might give you a low rate to generate and place a label on a carton but if not done correctly, the chargeback to you is high so the implications of understanding their processes are huge.

Additionally, reviewing what process and systems the 3PL has in place to make sure the label is placed in the right spot will go a long way in allowing you to understand their capabilities and business model above and beyond the rates they have provided to you.

Here are some possible ways a warehouse might make sure they are following the routing guide with correct label placement from the most elementary to the most automated.


Hard copies of the routing guides. Yes, there are still many 3PL's out there that rely on human intervention and translations of routing guides. The customer service personnel literally maintain a hard copy of the routing guide and highlights items related to distribution. It is highly likely that a 3PL using this model is more of a mom-and-pop operation with a low investment in technology and automation. Still, a 3PL using this model may work for you if you are shipping to a small number of retailers, you don't need all the bells and whistles, or they have a great track record of compliance.

Foolproof label placement guidelines. The information services team programs the warehouse management system to output an actual diagram of proper label placement at the same time shipping labels are printed. Key label placement information is also placed on the RF guns at the time of picking. A 3PL using this model may handle multiple numbers of industry verticals and will work for you if you are shipping to a high number of retailers.

Compliance labeling system. In more automated facilities, a carton is staged on a zone control conveyor prior to being scanned. Each carton is scanned and a lookup performed obtaining the compliance label information. The carton is cornered to ensure proper label placement. After the label is applied, the barcode is scanned to ensure proper label placement and readability, a photo is taken, and kept in the library. This is the highest level of assurance. A 3PL is most likely to use this model is one that specializes in serving a particular vertical industry where carton dimensions for clients are similar, there is a very high volume cartons shipped out each day, and the number of outbound consignees is very high.

Regardless of methods, a reputable 3PL might supplement the above warehouse floor SOP's with behind the scenes support:

Vendor compliance guru. This is a person who lives and breathes vendor compliance. Their job is to absorb all routing guides, create cheat sheets for the labor force, train the employees on the routing guide requirements, and serve as your direct point of contact for compliance related questions.

Vendor compliance intranet site. The site is a routing guide "cheat sheet" and includes all major routing, shipping and labeling requirements for each retailer. An intranet site administered by one primary point of contact takes all the guesswork and interpretation out of the routing guides and makes sure all employees across the organization are interpreting the routing guide the same way.

Posters on the warehouse floor. Not all distribution centers are automated and even if they are many distribution centers employ temporary labor. For many 3PL's, it is a sound investment to go back to the basics and have hard copy diagrams of key label placement information on the warehouse floor.

So as you can see, there is much more to generating a label and placing it on a carton that is not provided in the rates. The difference can be what makes a 3PL a great 3PL and what makes another 3PL a mediocre one.

Based in Southern California, Scott Weiss has been a 3PL industry expert since 1996. As Vice President, Client Solutions for 3PL Taylored Services, Scott is responsible for sales, marketing, and client satisfaction. Taylored operates multiple distribution centers strategically located by the Ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, New York/New Jersey and works with apparel, footwear, and housewares importers to ensure compliance with retailer routing guide requirements. Scott may be reached at or (562) 977-7620