Is your fulfillment operation ready for a single SKU to go viral out of nowhere? The definition of omnichannel keeps getting more complex as opportunities arise in new sales channels. These days, all it takes is one popular influencer showcasing your product on TikTok or Instagram to simultaneously create hundreds or thousands of unexpected orders. And virality is messy — those sales aren’t always directed through a single channel, such as TikTok Shop or Instagram shopping. Many users will find that product on your website or at a retailer they trust and buy it from there instead.

According to data from Capital One Shopping, nearly 173 million American online consumers shopped on social media in 2023. The same report shows that social media commerce in the United States is worth more than $61 billion annually and projects an 18.7% compound annual growth rate in U.S.-based social media sales through 2028.

Does your warehouse have trouble keeping items in stock during the holiday peak season or other mini-peaks throughout the year? If so, chances are that a sudden sales spike from social media — which should be a good thing — could be extremely damaging to your brand.

Using a 3PL to Scale with Social E-Commerce Demand

Going viral is a double-edged sword because effective social selling relies heavily on the customer experience. Shoppers came out of the pandemic with little patience for bad fulfillment or delivery experiences after facing years of stockouts and delayed deliveries. If you experience stockouts on a high-demand item too quickly, you’ll not only suffer from a slew of bad online reviews — you will turn many consumers away from your brand altogether.

Many retailers and e-commerce businesses have turned to third-party logistics (3PL) providers as an extension of their fulfillment teams to ensure a reliable and positive customer experience. On the flip side, 3PLs have become much more cognizant of their influential role in the customer experience in recent years. Here are some ways a 3PL can help you handle sudden demand spikes from social media.

1. 3PLs provide the scalability/flexibility you need to manage virality

The next TikTok trend isn’t something you can forecast, but a 3PL experienced in high-volume sales channels will know how to scale up to meet sudden changes in demand. Beyond knowledge of best practices and experience in high-volume fulfillment, 3PLs also have technology and infrastructure that many brands don’t. These capabilities mean that the 3PL can make rapid adjustments to inventory locations, staffing, and delivery methods without putting fulfillment speed or on-time delivery ratings at risk.

2. 3PLs can manage many fulfillment channels at once

If you suddenly start getting 1,000 orders daily for a viral product, that demand can easily take your focus away from your other sales channels. However, a good retail-focused 3PL will have the capabilities and technology necessary to manage inventory and orders for retail store distribution, direct-to-consumer sales, e-commerce marketplaces, and social media shops without needing to pull resources away from one channel when one of the others experiences an unexpected demand spike.

3. 3PLs have a broad warehouse network

When all your inventory exists in a single warehouse, it can drive up delivery costs and slow down delivery speeds — both of which have a negative customer impact. A 3PL can optimize your inventory across multiple locations to lower shipping costs and improve delivery speeds without significant upfront capital investment on your part. Additionally, when you have inventory in multiple regions, you ensure that orders still ship from somewhere else if inclement weather, public emergencies, or some other Black Swan event creates an unexpected disruption.

4. 3PLs can help you optimize inbound logistics with your suppliers

When that item goes viral, keeping inventory coming until demand fades is essential. That means your production facilities or contract manufacturing partners must keep churning out more of that item and getting it into your hands. 3PLs can work with you and your suppliers to ensure you can restock as quickly as possible and keep orders going out the door.

Unlike a product going viral, onboarding a new 3PL doesn’t happen overnight. If you’re worried that your fulfillment operation will bend or break under an unexpected demand spike from social media, it’s important to engage with a 3PL now before it’s too late.

About Phoenix Logistics

Strategic Real Estate. Applied Technology. Tailored Service. Creativity. Flexibility. These fundamentals reflect everything we do at Phoenix Logistics. We provide specialized support in locating and attaining the correct logistics solutions for every client we serve. Most logistic competitors work to win 3PL contracts, and then attempt to secure the real estate to support it. As an affiliate of giant industrial real estate firm Phoenix Investors, we can quickly secure real estate solutions across its portfolio or leverage its market and financial strength to quickly source and acquire real estate to meet our client’s need. Milwaukee-based developer Frank P. Crivello is the Chairman & Founder of Phoenix Investors and its affiliate Phoenix Logistics.

Frank P. Crivello is a Milwaukee-based developer and Chairman & Founder of Phoenix Investors.