Outsourced fulfillment: what is it and is it right for you?

If you’ve heard of outsourced fulfillment, but aren’t sure what it is or who it’s for, this is the post for you. We answer four frequently asked questions, explaining how order fulfillment works, whether it’s right for you, and when and why you should consider it.

What is outsourced order fulfillment?

Order fulfillment 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 fulfillment houses or third-party logistics providers (3PLs).

When you outsource your order fulfillment, the process will usually work like this:

  1. Goods in
    You ship all of your stock in bulk to a warehouse (often called a fulfillment center), where it’s stored safely and securely.
  2. Integration
    You integrate your eCommerce platform – whether it’s Amazon, eBay, Shopify or another – with the fulfillment center’s software, so that every order you receive is automatically sent to them for processing.
  3. Pick and pack
    Staff in the fulfillment center pick the right items for each order, pack them in appropriate packaging and get them ready for dispatch.
  4. Shipping
    The order is dispatched to the customer using a courier service such as Royal Mail or DPD – most fulfillment houses offer a range of shipping options.
  5. Returns
    Customers can return orders to the fulfillment center, 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 order fulfillment service.

Is outsourced fulfillment right for you?

Fulfillment 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 fulfillment:

  • 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 fulfillment center to manage and dispatch.
  • You want custom packaging
    If you’re keen to send orders wrapped in bows or sprinkled with glitter, fulfillment centers 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 fulfillment centers use standard packaging and shipping services, hence restrict the products they work with. For example, we favor items that are smaller than footballs and lighter than laptops – no pizza ovens or arc welders here.

Read more about our e-fulfillment capabilities.

Are you ready to outsource your fulfillment?

When you start an eCommerce business, it’s unlikely to be financially viable for you to outsource your order fulfillment 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 fulfillment.
  • Have you lost control of your stock?
    Most fulfillment providers offer the technology to help you manage your inventory effectively.
  • Are you spending hours packing boxes or standing in Post Office queues?
    Outsourced fulfillment 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.

Read how The Literary Gift Company realized the time was right to outsource.

How can outsourced fulfillment help you?

When you outsource your fulfillment, you’ll be able to:

  1. 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, or catching up with friends and family.
  2. Reduce your costs
    Outsourcing your fulfillment 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Improve your shipping
    Outsourced fulfillment 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 9:00 AM tomorrow.
  5. Delight your customers
    When you outsource your fulfillment, 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.