What is a Routing Guide? Best Practices for Creating a Great Routing Guide Summary

If you are an ecommerce brand ready to grow into sales channels beyond direct-to-consumer, you likely have your sights on securing a few retail accounts. Getting your products into retail stores can be a huge step for a growing brand. It means your revenue will increase, but you’ll be responsible for fulfilling a much higher order volume with very detailed specifications.  

Retail fulfillment is intricate, complex and very different than DTC (direct-to-consumer) fulfillment. Sending products to retailers requires a higher level of quality control, timing, accuracy, and attention to detail.  

Once you have successfully secured a retail account with a retail store, next comes a lot of back-and-forth communication about how to get your products to their physical locations. One of the key components of successful retail fulfillment is strict adherence to your retailer’s routing guide. 

What is a Routing Guide?  

As part of your contract with a retailer, they will provide you with a routing guide. This is the retailer’s pre-determined set of rules and regulations that dictate how your products will get to their stores.  

A routing guide will include everything that your retailer needs to receive your products easily and get them into their stores efficiently. Expect to be told everything from how to package and label your products, to the timing and process for loading and unloading them to the retailer’s facility.  

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What’s in a Routing Guide?  

The components of a routing guide will differ from retailer to retailer.  

Working with Small and Independent Retailers  

Smaller retail shops—boutiques or independent stores, for example—may not have a formal routing guide. Instead, they might send a list of details that you’ll need to follow when you pack your products. 

Sometimes they won’t have any specifications, so you’ll need to determine the packing and shipping flow that works for you and your fulfillment provider. It’s important to be consistent. Even if the retailer doesn’t specify what they need, sending products in the same way every time is still important.  

Working with Large Retailers and Big Box Stores  

Bigger stores have notoriously long routing guides. Just think about how many brands they carry, then multiply that by a few products each. No wonder they have strict rules, they process and manage thousands of products a day. Adhering to their guidelines will help your relationship with them run smoothly.  

Examples of routing guide details include:  

  • How many units per case 
  • How many units per carton 
  • The size of the carton they prefer 
  • The number of products per pallet 
  • Ways a truck can load into their warehouses 
  • Days and times loading and unloading should happen  
  • Labeling instructions for the pallets, cartons, boxes, or individual products 
  • Communication specifications for purchase orders, and order processing  

Creating a Routing Guide Summary  

Reading through a routing guide is one thing. Putting those retailer requirements into action each time a purchase order comes through is a completely different thing.  

You can’t expect every person who helps process orders to know each detail of the routing guide. This is where a routing guide summary becomes valuable.  

A routing guide summary is a quick sheet of information that names the most important things that need to be executed from the routing guide. Think of it like a summary checklist. This routing guide will be referenced when your fulfillment team is creating work instructions for the floor workers to execute your orders properly for each retailer.  

Getting your routing guide summary right is so important. This becomes the lynchpin to executing perfect orders each time.  

How a 3PL Can Help  

While retail fulfillment is full of intricacies and challenges, the benefits of selling to retailers are worth the difficulty. Most growing ecommerce brands see retail fulfillment as a big step of their growth journey.   

Working with a 3PL can make a world of difference, especially as you start to add more and more retailers, all with different routing guide instructions. Make sure you choose a 3PL with retail experience 

Your 3PL may even have working relationships with the retailers you have accounts with, which will mean you are less likely to send products with errors (and incur chargebacks as a result). A 3PL with lots of retail experience may even help you get into new retail accounts.  


If you are looking for retail fulfillment support, DCL Logistics has over 60 retail connections currently. Reach out for a quote, or to hear about the many services we offer and how we support high-growth ecommerce brands