If you run an online store, you know the importance of order fulfillment. When an order comes in, it needs to be packed and dispatched quickly and accurately to make the customer happy with their experience.
This is where ecommerce fulfillment companies come in. They take care of order logistics for your store so that you can focus on growing your business.
When you sign on with a vendor, there are lots of factors to consider, and you need to choose wisely. It's a pain to switch once you've got all your inventory stored in their warehouses, and can cause major disruptions for your customers.
So, understand what your needs are, then review some of the most trusted fulfillment companies in the business to find one you can count on to get orders to your customers on time.
What is an ecommerce fulfillment company?
An ecommerce fulfillment company is a third-party logistics provider (3PL) that stores, packs, and ships orders for ecommerce businesses. They manage the entire order logistics process from when an order is received to when it dispatches from the warehouse.
Pricing for these services varies depending on the company. Typically you're charged some combination of fees that cover:
How much storage space you're using
Picking and packing orders
Special services you require (returns processing, special packaging, refrigeration for things like food or medications, etc.)
Why use an ecommerce fulfillment service?
Using a 3PL helps your ecommerce business scale and gets customers their orders fast. Without a 3PL, you're stuck managing your own warehouse space, training employees on the fulfillment process, and negotiating with shipping carriers.
Furthermore, it's challenging to scale your warehouse space up or down depending on your needs. So you could end up paying for a lot of unused space or maxing out a warehouse that's too small. And unless you have multiple orders every minute, it doesn't make sense to own warehouse space and hire employees who won't be well-utilized.
By using a vendor for fulfillment, you gain access to an entire team that has figured out how to optimize fulfillment logistics. It's their specialty. So you can trust that orders are processed efficiently and accurately.
And because ecommerce fulfillment companies are processing orders for dozens or hundreds of brands, the large daily shipping volume means they can partner with couriers for reduced shipping costs.
Many 3PLs also have multiple locations. So you can spread out your inventory and enable your customers to receive their orders quickly.
How do you choose an ecommerce fulfillment company?
There are a lot of ecommerce fulfillment services to choose from, but not all of them are created equal. So how do you choose the right one for your business?
First, you need to understand what to look for in a company and what your needs are. Then, you can narrow down your options by reviewing the criteria that are most important to you.
Consider these factors when evaluating your fulfillment vendor options.
Prebuilt integrations for your tech stack
Look for an order fulfillment company with prebuilt integrations for the software you already use.
It should integrate with your ecommerce platform, any advanced inventory tracking or SKU management software you use, and services you use to place purchase orders from your factory.
Number and location of warehouses
If a company only has one warehouse, it will be difficult for them to scale up as your business grows. And you'll likely have to switch to a new fulfillment company at some point. So you'll want to choose one with multiple fulfillment centers.
The location of warehouses is also important. For example, if all of their warehouses are on the East Coast, but you're selling to customers on the West Coast, it will take a long time for orders to reach your customers. So if you're selling to a national audience, make sure the company has warehouses in multiple regions.
And if you sell internationally, you'll want to consider choosing a fulfillment company with warehouses in multiple countries. That way, you can ship orders quickly and efficiently without worrying about customs delays.
That said, there can be a lot of differences globally, so many ecommerce brands use separate 3PL vendors based on the country or continent. So, for example, you might use one fulfillment company to cover the U.S. and Canada and another to cover all of Europe.
Partnerships with multiple shipping couriers
A good order fulfillment company will have partnerships with multiple shipping couriers. These partnerships often result in savings due to the extensive order volume coming from the fulfillment center.
With multiple shipping couriers, you can get the best rates possible based on an order's size, weight, and destination.
Guarantees for order accuracy and lost or damaged items
A fulfillment company should guarantee accuracy for the orders they ship. That means they'll fix and pay for mistakes from shipping the wrong item to a customer or the incorrect quantity.
And they should guarantee against losses or damage to inventory after receiving it at the warehouse.
Many 3PLs list their order and inventory accuracy rates and policies for mishaps on their websites so you can make sure you're covered.
Inventory tracking capabilities
Your fulfillment company should have inventory tracking capabilities, so you can see how much inventory you have at each of their warehouses in real-time.
This information is essential for forecasting future sales, managing your budget, and knowing when to place new purchase orders.
A fulfillment service provider should also offer returns management. They should be able to inspect incoming returns for damage, re-fold items, and repackage any items that need new poly bags.
Extra services specific to your products
Some fulfillment companies offer extra services that can be helpful depending on the types of products you sell.
For example, if you sell apparel, you might want to use a company that offers tagging and steaming services. And if you sell food or beverage items, you might want to use a company that provides cold storage and packaging.
Satisfied clients in your industry
Finally, you'll want to ensure the fulfillment company has satisfied clients in your industry.
Beyond website reviews and Google searches, it's worth getting on a call with current and former clients if you can track them down. The 3PLs you're considering might be able to connect you to other clients by email. Make sure they're happy with the level of service and that their orders are shipped accurately and on time.
You can also ask for referrals from other businesses in your industry. They can tell you which fulfillment companies they've used and which ones to avoid.
10 ecommerce fulfillment companies to trust with logistics
There are many ecommerce fulfillment companies available, so it can be challenging to choose which one is right for your business. Start your research off with these ten ecommerce fulfillment vendors.
ShipHero prides itself on delivering orders 30% faster than other 3PLs. And they boast a 99% or higher shipping accuracy.
They have eight warehouses in the U.S. and Canada and optimize distribution to the right warehouses, so you don't have to figure out how much of your inventory should be at each warehouse.
Other great features include reporting and real-time visibility into inventory and fulfillment processes.
2. Red Stag Fulfillment
Red Stag Fulfillment has an obsessive commitment to their ecommerce clients with 100% inventory and order accuracy and same-day fulfillment.
Two strategically placed locations enable order delivery in 1-2 days to 96% of customers in the U.S. And their software integrates with all major online sales channels.
3. Mochila Fulfillment
With an impressive 99.99% order accuracy, Mochila is trusted by ecommerce brands to contribute to a great customer experience through high-quality fulfillment services.
Mochila offers returns management, customized packaging, same-day fulfillment, and specialized services depending on your needs.
Flowspace is the fulfillment vendor for you if you want flexibility.
With 130 warehouses across the U.S, they can recommend the optimal locations for your brand. They integrate across channels to streamline fulfillment from one place. And they guarantee a 99.9% pick accuracy rate.
Deliverr aims to enable DTC brands to give customers Amazon-level service with fast shipping.
The company integrates across any sales channel you need and offers easy-to-understand pricing and industry-leading low shipping rates.
6. Rakuten Super Logistics
Rakuten Super Logistics is another company with a 100% accuracy guarantee.
They integrate across ecommerce platforms and sales channels and even offer kitting and subscription box services which can be more complicated to fulfill.
More options to consider
Shopify Fulfillment Network: An option for Shopify-only stores.
Newegg Logistics: A popular name in the ecommerce industry that stands out for its partnership with Indiegogo.
Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA): A great option if you only sell on Amazon.
Amazon Multi-Channel Fulfillment: An alternative to FBA if you sell on other channels in addition to Amazon, though certain major marketplaces aren't included.
When selecting an ecommerce fulfillment company, it's essential to do your research because once you've partnered with a 3PL, it's hard to switch.
Choose a company that will help you provide the best possible experience for your customers -- that means accurate and fast fulfillment. Before committing, make sure you understand what services you need and what's included in the pricing.
If you want to level up your inventory management forecasting abilities, read up on eight inventory management apps for Shopify.