Outsmart, Outstrip, Outsource: Solve Distribution and Fulfillment Recruiting Challenges

January 29, 2020 Brandon Barborka

Recent difficulties many large ecommerce companies are having recruiting for both full-time and part-time positions in their fulfillment centers highlight core challenges facing recruiting managers in distribution. However, the problems are easily understood when viewed through the lens of economics. Large-scale distribution centers are clustered regionally around the medium and large cities they serve, and those areas can only provide so many workers.

The concentration of warehouses drives competition among facilities to attract workers, who are free to move between employers from one entry-level position to another. In theory, companies can counter by offering higher wages, and while good pay is certainly on everyone’s mind, workers today are considering an ever-widening variety of factors when looking to trade up occupationally.

Outlined below are three approaches to key difficulties to help you solve distribution and fulfillment recruiting challenges at your ecommerce facility.


When formulating recruiting strategies, managers need to consider both the fact that manual labor cannot be made easier nor can its qualities be sugarcoated. Most obviously, this kind of work is physically demanding, hence less appealing to applicants and thus more difficult to recruit for than other kinds of work. The most direct solution is to employ technology anywhere and everywhere you feasibly can to alleviate the workload for employees in those specific positions you find hardest to fill. Even jobs that cannot be fully automated can be made less physically taxing by incorporating some level of technology into their processes.

Your best workers can be trained and promoted into positions servicing, supporting or even collaborating with the new technology. Not only will you reduce the burden on yourself to fill the least desirable jobs your company offers, but the workers you develop and move into more satisfying jobs will be that much better off and thus productive. Happy employees are far more likely to assist in furthering your recruiting goals when they praise the company to family and friends, enlarging your pool of potential new hires. In the end, you will end up with a smaller, more sophisticated staff of workers who are better-paid, happier, and likely to be far more productive than they were previously.


Distribution and fulfillment warehouses clustered geographically demand large numbers of workers from areas with limited supplies of such, in turn breeding competition that drives up pay and increases turnover. Attracting more workers with higher pay is only effective to a point and while implementing automation will reduce your labor demand and, with it, headcount, every warehouse needs a minimum number of workers to function safely and efficiently. Thus, providing your workers a greater incentive to continue working for your company is just as important as recruiting new employees.

Knowing who to praise and who to promote, and when to do so, can be simplified by encouraging communication between lower level employees and those at higher levels. Remember that lack of access to superiors is often lamented among warehouse workers, so get and keep your ear to the ground, because knowledge should be collected at all levels of the employee ladder. Not knowing what your employees are thinking can result in poor workforce planning and eventually to a loss of worker confidence and thus instability. This, in turn, can cause an exodus of otherwise confident and high-quality workers, especially when your competition provides subsidized lunches, free shuttle buses, bigger bonuses for productivity or hourly wages as little as 25 cents more per hour than those offered by your company.

Enticing existing employees to remain at your company can be tough when even modestly higher pay is available elsewhere, but retaining employees can be made easier by finding out just what your particular pool of workers really wants. Gas cards for workers who commute and flexible schedules for students are a good start, but what workers want more than even the juiciest perks is positive affirmation, personal development and occupational stability. Praise backed by investment in the form of training that leads to a long-term position will go farther than gifts when it comes to attracting and holding on to the type of workers you need.


Labor shortfalls are to some degree inevitable in fulfillment and distribution. Thus, it is important to remember labor shortages resulting from ramping up to meet demand during peak seasons compound the results of intense competition for workers. Having the number of people you need today is not the same as having them tomorrow, and it’s certainly no guarantee you will be able to meet demand during the height of your peak season. Having a backup plan, ready to roll out at a moment’s notice, is the only way to ensure you can bring in the number of workers you need to get the job done.

When selecting a staffing provider, there are several concerns you will need to keep in mind. The firm you go with should partner closely with you to provide the right number of the exact sort of workers you need, precisely when you need them. They should handle every step of the recruiting process, from advertising open positions and seasonal ramp-ups, through verifying documentation and conducting training during the onboarding phase, to managing daily schedules, tracking attendance, logging warnings and write-ups, and facilitating termination and replacement when necessary.

Specifically, the staffing supplier you go with should be able to mitigate the full range of your concerns as well as what contingent workers identify as chiefly important to them: wages, job stability and communication. Your choice should be able to ramp up operations with minimal lag time and they should be a resource that’s readily available to you with the most up to date information. They should be able to share concrete ideas and strategies about how best to design and implement processes to ensure you maximize your operation’s potential, not just another vendor, but a genuine partner. The bottom line is they should go above and beyond for you and your company.

Now that you’re an expert on how to outsmart, outstrip and outsource to recruit and retain workers, learn how Staff Management | SMX successfully accommodated fluctuating demand for workers by scaling an agile workforce by 600 percent during one ecommerce company’s peak season.

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