If you’ve heard of outsourced fulfilment, but aren’t sure what it is or who it’s for, then you’ve come to the right place. We answer a series of frequently asked questions, explaining how order fulfilment works, whether it’s right for you, and when and why you should consider it.
What is outsourced order fulfilment?
Order fulfilment is the process of receiving, packing and delivering online orders to your customers. You can outsource this process to organisations, like us, that are often referred to as fulfilment houses or third-party logistics providers (3PLs).
When you outsource your order fulfilment, the process will usually work like this:
- Goods in
You ship all of your stock in bulk to a warehouse (often called a fulfilment centre), where it’s stored safely and securely.
You integrate your eCommerce platform – whether it’s Amazon, eBay, Shopify or another – with the fulfilment centre’s software, so that every order you receive is automatically sent to them for processing.
- Pick and pack
Staff in the fulfilment centre pick the right items for each order, pack them in appropriate packaging and get them ready for dispatch.
The order is dispatched to the customer using a courier service such as Royal Mail or DPD – most fulfilment houses offer a range of shipping options.
Customers can return orders to the fulfilment centre, which handles them according to your instructions – for example, unwanted items are put back in storage, damaged items are sent to you.
Read more about our own order fulfilment service.
Is outsourced fulfilment right for my company?
Fulfilment houses are designed to achieve economies of scale – they store items from hundreds of retailers under one roof, and develop processes to pick, pack and ship them all as accurately and efficiently as possible.
This means there are a couple of scenarios in which you won’t be able to outsource your order fulfilment:
- You stock one-off items
If you sell antiques or vintage clothing, for example, you probably only stock one of each item. As such, it’ll be cheaper and easier for you to ship direct to customers, than send your stock to a fulfilment centre to manage and dispatch.
- You want custom packaging
If you’re keen to send orders wrapped in bows or sprinkled with glitter, fulfilment centres are unlikely to help you until you’re consistently taking hundreds of orders a month. Only then will you achieve economies of scale.
- You stock large, oddly shaped items
Most fulfilment centres use standard packaging and shipping services, hence restrict the products they work with. For example, we favour items that are smaller than footballs and lighter than laptops – no pizza ovens or arc welders here, sorry.
Read about our e-fulfilment capabilities.
How do I know if I’m ready to outsource fulfilment?
When you start an eCommerce business, it’s unlikely to be financially viable for you to outsource your order fulfilment at first. But if you answer “Yes” to any of the following questions, it’s definitely time to consider it:
- Are you receiving 4 or more orders each and every day?
Taking 300 orders a month will make our service cost effective.
- Have you run out of storage space?
It’s likely to be cheaper to outsource your storage to a warehouse than move to bigger premises.
- Are you awash with customer support tickets?
Late or incorrect orders can damage your brand, but are easily solved by outsourced fulfilment.
- Have you lost control of your stock?
Most fulfilment providers offer the technology to help you manage your inventory effectively.
- Are you spending hours packing boxes or standing in Post Office queues?
Outsourced fulfilment will give you back time to focus on more important things.
- Have you thought about hiring someone else?
Again, it’s likely to be cheaper to outsource than employ someone permanently.
- Do you have seasonal peaks in sales?
Don’t invest in warehouse infrastructure that’ll only be used for a few weeks a year – outsource instead.
The Literary Gift Company is just one of many of our clients who ran out of storage space and so realised the time was right to outsource.
How can outsourced fulfilment help me?
When you outsource your fulfilment, you’ll be able to:
- Reclaim your time
Hours wasted packing boxes, standing in Post Office queues or dealing with customer complaints will be a thing of the past. Instead, you’ll be able to focus on what really matters to you – whether that’s growing your business, developing new products, catching up with friends and family, or simply having more ‘you’ time.
- Reduce your costs
Outsourcing your fulfilment means there’s no need to invest in new premises, warehouse management systems, staff or slow-selling product lines. Instead, we’ll worry about the infrastructure and give you the tools to manage your inventory.
- Manage your inventory
With our award-winning, cloud-based order management system, you’ll get new insights and visibility into your orders and inventory. That means no more out-of-stock products or wasted investment in items that are unlikely to sell.
- Improve your shipping
Outsourced fulfilment gives you affordable access to a wealth of fast, international shipping options. We dispatch 98% of orders the very same day and can reach all of the world’s major cities by 9:00am tomorrow.
- Delight your customers
When you outsource your fulfilment, your customers will benefit from quick and accurate deliveries, a simple returns process, and live updates about the status of their order. In short, they’ll get everything they need to become a loyal customer.