Black Friday from a 3PL

e-Commerce fulfillment

Written by: John Sell, Vice President, Retail & Transportation Solutions, MD Logistics

A look at what happens inside the 3PL during one of the largest shopping days of the year.

As Thanksgiving approaches, most look forward to two things; spending time with family and friends and the deals Black Friday shopping brings. Most of us know what Black Friday looks like from the perspective of a consumer; sales and jaw dropping deals, crowded stores and extended shopping hours. Perhaps the lesser known Black Friday perspective is that of the Third Party Logistics (3PL) provider. For the provider and their team on the warehouse floor, it requires weeks, if not months, of preparation prior to the shopping holiday and countless hours of work afterwards to ensure orders are shipped correctly to both the consumer and the retailer.  In some  cases the 3PL may even be accepting returns back into the warehouse on behalf of the retailer. As e-commerce continues to grow in popularity, 3PL providers must amend their e-commerce fulfillment practices to the ever changing environment.

The Preparation

Industry experts are predicting that Black Friday will be the single largest shopping day of the year, more so than Thanksgiving Day or Cyber Monday. What traditionally is a day in which countless people rush to their nearest retailer, this year predictions are that shoppers will be patiently awaiting Black Friday sales by waiting by their smart phones, computers and tablets versus waiting for the doors of their favorite retailer to open. This influx of consumers choosing to shop via e-commerce creates a high expectation for the 3PL provider who is tasked with fulfilling and shipping these orders. The process of preparing begins weeks in advance when additional labor is hired and extra shifts are made. Additionally, the provider works with their customer to make sure they have the proper inventory in place to ensure they can fulfill all orders that are received.

Managing the Holiday Shopping Event

After the consumer completes their purchase, the work at the 3PL is just beginning. Warehouse associates work diligently to accurately fulfill the orders they receive and ensure  that they leave the warehouse on time in order to make their way to the consumer by the expected delivery date.  During high shopping days, like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, there is an influx of orders that providers don’t usually experience on any other given day of the year. Understanding that, they take special precautions to ensure order turn-around times and e-commerce fulfillment practices remain intact. The providers top priority remains the same as any other day of the year; making sure the final consumer has the best customer experience possible!

The Aftermath

Once all Black Friday orders have been sent out and activity at the warehouse begins to return to normal, some 3PL providers find themselves faced with another daunting task. For those who accept returns for their customers, they must now prepare themselves for the reverse logistics process that will follow. As consumers receive their Black Friday orders, it’s inevitable that there will be some buyers remorse or products that require returning.  In certain cases, manufacturers have an agreement with their forward logistics provider to accept returns in their warehouse. With the increased volume from the largest shopping day of the year subsiding, 3PLs return back to normal operations and e-commerce fulfillment volumes.


On the biggest shopping day of the year, it’s important to have a solid, e-commerce fulfillment strategy to flex operations to account for additional volume. 3PL providers begin the process of preparing for Black Friday, weeks, if not months ahead of time. These additional preparations in the form of an expanded team and greater on-hand inventory help the manufacturer and 3PL provider ensure the customer still has a positive experience even though warehouse order fulfillment expectations  may have increased. As a 3PL provider, we work as an extension of our customer’s team to ensure their customers have a seamless shopping experience. Our goal is to provide both a memorable and positive customer experience, even on shopping holidays such as Black Friday.