HomeEcommerceEcommerce fulfilment explained – Choosing between UK fulfilment companies and services in 2024

Ecommerce fulfilment explained – Choosing between UK fulfilment companies and services in 2024

In the ever-evolving world of ecommerce, understanding and optimising fulfilment strategies has become vital for online businesses. As we step into 2024, the landscape is bustling with various options, each offering unique advantages and challenges.

This article aims to explain the different ecommerce fulfilment methods available for UK businesses, helping you make informed decisions to streamline your operations and enhance customer satisfaction.

What is ecommerce fulfilment?

Ecommerce fulfilment encompasses the entire process from receiving an order to delivering it to the customer. This includes inventory management, order processing, picking, packing, shipping, and handling returns. Effective fulfilment is crucial for customer satisfaction and business growth, as it directly impacts delivery speed, order accuracy, and overall customer experience.

Types of ecommerce fulfilment services

Fulfilment OptionProsCons
Self-fulfilment– Full control over inventory and shipping.
– Direct customer interaction.
– No need to pay third-party fees.
– Flexibility in handling orders.
– Time-consuming and requires significant effort.
– Scalability issues as the business grows.
– Requires space for storage.
– Managing logistics can be complex.
3PL– Professional handling of fulfilment process.
– Scalable as your business grows.
– Access to advanced technology.
– Potentially lower shipping costs due to bulk rates.
– Less control over the fulfilment process.
– Costs can be significant, especially for small businesses.
– Potential for misalignment with business needs.
Dropshipping– No need to hold inventory, reducing storage costs.
– Low-risk and lower upfront capital required.
– Easy to scale up or down.
– Wide variety of products available.
– Less control over stock quality and shipping times.
– Lower profit margins due to supplier costs.
– Dependence on supplier reliability.
– Limited branding opportunities.
FBA (Fulfilment by Amazon)– Access to Amazon’s vast customer base.
– Prime shipping and fast delivery.
– Amazon handles customer service and returns.
– Easy to integrate if already selling on Amazon.
– Fees can be high, including storage and fulfilment fees.
– Strict guidelines and requirements.
– Limited control over fulfilment and customer service.
– Dependence on Amazon’s platform.
Ecommerce fulfilment services compared


This method involves managing the entire fulfilment process in-house. It gives you complete control over inventory, shipping, and customer service. It’s often preferred by new or small businesses that have manageable order volumes.

However, as the business grows, self-fulfilment can become challenging due to the increased need for storage space and manpower.

Third-party logistics (3PL)

Outsourcing fulfilment to a 3PL provider can be a game-changer, especially for businesses experiencing rapid growth. 3PLs handle storage, picking, packing, and shipping, allowing you to focus on other aspects of your business.

They often provide scalability, expertise, and access to advanced technologies. However, it’s crucial to choose a reliable 3PL partner that aligns with your business needs.


This method eliminates the need to hold inventory altogether. When a customer places an order, it’s forwarded to the supplier, who then ships the product directly to the customer.

Dropshipping is low-risk and requires less capital upfront, making it an attractive option for startups. However, it offers less control over inventory and shipping, which can affect customer experience.

Fulfilment by Amazon (FBA)

For businesses that sell through Amazon, FBA is a popular choice. You send your inventory to Amazon’s fulfilment centres, and they handle storage, picking, packing, and shipping. FBA also handles customer service and returns for these orders.

While FBA provides access to Amazon’s vast customer base and prime shipping, it comes with specific guidelines and fees.

Fees and costs of ecommerce fulfilment

Understanding the fees and costs associated with ecommerce fulfilment is essential for managing your online business’s financial health. These expenses vary depending on the fulfilment method chosen and the specifics of your business. Here’s a breakdown of the common fees and costs:

Cost CategoryEstimated Range (£)Notes and Considerations
Storage Fees£0.20 – £0.40 per item/month
£5 – £10 per pallet/month
Costs vary based on item size and storage method (shelf vs. pallet).
Pick and Pack Fees£0.20 – £2.00 per itemIncludes basic packaging materials; higher fees for complex orders.
Shipping Costs£3 – £10 domestic
£10+ international
Dependent on package size, weight, and destination; bulk discounts may apply.
Receiving Fees£0.30 – £0.50 per item
£25 – £50 per pallet
Charged for processing inventory into the system.
Custom Packaging Fees£0.50 – £3.00 per orderVaries based on materials and design complexity.
Return Processing Fees£1 – £3 per itemIncludes inspection and restocking.
Account Management Fees£100 – £500/monthBased on the level of service provided.
Minimum Fees£200 – £500/monthCommon for businesses with fluctuating order volumes.
Set-up Fees£500 – £2,000 (one-time)Covers integration and initial inventory setup.
Additional Services£0.50 – £2.00 per orderFor kitting, special handling, etc.
Ecommerce fulfilment fees and charges

Storage fees

Storage fees can range from £10 to £20 per square foot annually, or around £0.20 to £0.40 per item per month for small items. For larger items or pallet storage, the cost could be £5 to £10 per pallet per month.

Pick and pack fees

Typically, you might be charged £0.20 to £2.00 per item picked. This fee often includes basic packaging materials. More complex orders, like those requiring assembly or special packaging, could incur higher fees.

Shipping costs

Shipping fees depend heavily on package size, weight, and destination. Domestic shipments might cost between £3 to £10 per package, while international shipping can start from £10 and go much higher. Bulk shipping discounts might reduce these costs by 10% to 20%.

Receiving fees

These fees can be around £0.30 to £0.50 per item received, or £25 to £50 per pallet.

Custom packaging fees

Custom packaging could add an additional £0.50 to £3.00 per order, depending on the complexity and materials used.

Return processing fees

Processing returns could cost between £1 to £3 per item, depending on the inspection and restocking requirements.

Account management fees

These can range from a flat monthly fee of £100 to £500 or more, depending on the level of service provided.

Minimum fees

Minimum monthly fees can range from £200 to £500, particularly for smaller businesses or those with fluctuating order volumes.

Set-up fees

Initial set-up fees can be anywhere from £500 to £2,000, covering the integration and initial inventory setup.

Additional services

Services like kitting or special handling could add £0.50 to £2.00 per order.

Cost considerations

  • Economies of scale: A higher volume of orders typically results in lower per-order costs. For example, shipping costs per unit can decrease by 5% to 15% as order volume increases.
  • Negotiating power: With growth, a business may negotiate better rates, potentially lowering costs by 10% to 20%.
  • Cost vs. benefit analysis: While higher costs for services like custom packaging might initially seem steep, the added value in branding and customer experience can often justify the expense.

It’s important to note that these figures are approximate and can vary significantly. Businesses should conduct thorough research and obtain quotes from multiple providers to understand the specific costs relevant to their operations.

Factors to consider when choosing an ecommerce fulfilment company

  • Order volume and scalability: Assess your current and projected order volumes. Choose a fulfilment method that can scale with your business growth.
  • Product type and storage needs: Consider the nature and size of your products. Some items might require special storage conditions, like refrigeration or secure storage.
  • Budget and cost-effectiveness: Analyse the costs associated with each method, including storage, labour, and shipping.
  • Control and customisation: Determine how much control you want over packaging, branding, and the customer experience.
  • Geographic reach: Consider where your customers are located and the ability of the fulfilment method to efficiently serve those regions.

Conclusion – Ecommerce fulfilment services

Choosing the right ecommerce fulfilment method is crucial for the success of your online business. Each method has its pros and cons, and the best choice depends on your specific business needs, size, and goals. As the ecommerce landscape continues to evolve, staying informed and adaptable will be key to thriving in 2024 and beyond.

FAQ about ecommerce fulfilment

What are the main challenges of ecommerce fulfilment?

The primary challenges include managing inventory levels, ensuring timely and accurate order processing, handling peak season demands, offering competitive shipping costs, and managing returns effectively.

How can I reduce shipping costs in ecommerce fulfilment?

To reduce shipping costs, consider negotiating rates with carriers, using packaging that matches the product size, consolidating shipments, and selecting fulfilment centres closer to your customer base.

What is the importance of packaging in ecommerce fulfilment?

Packaging plays a crucial role in protecting products during transit, reducing returns due to damage, and enhancing the customer unboxing experience. It’s also a valuable tool for brand promotion and sustainability efforts.

How does technology impact ecommerce fulfilment?

Advanced technologies like warehouse management systems, automation, and AI significantly enhance efficiency, accuracy, and speed in fulfilment processes, leading to better customer experiences and cost savings.

Should I outsource fulfilment or keep it in-house?

This decision depends on your business size, order volume, and growth projections. Outsourcing can offer scalability and expertise, while in-house fulfilment provides more control. Assess your capabilities and long-term goals before deciding.

What is the role of customer service in ecommerce fulfilment?

Customer service is integral to fulfilment, addressing inquiries, resolving issues, handling returns, and ensuring customer satisfaction. Prompt and effective customer service can greatly enhance the overall shopping experience.

How do I handle returns in ecommerce fulfilment?

Develop a clear returns policy that is easy for customers to understand. Set up an efficient system for receiving returns, inspecting products, processing refunds or exchanges, and restocking items when possible.

Can I use multiple fulfilment methods for my business?

Yes, it’s possible to use a combination of fulfilment methods, like self-fulfilment for certain products and a 3PL or dropshipping for others. This approach can offer flexibility and cater to diverse product needs.

How important is speed in ecommerce fulfilment?

Speed is crucial as customers increasingly expect fast and reliable delivery. Efficient fulfilment processes and strategic location of fulfilment centres can help meet these expectations.

How can I make my ecommerce fulfilment more sustainable?

To enhance sustainability, use eco-friendly packaging, optimise packaging sizes to reduce waste, implement energy-efficient practices in warehouses, and consider carbon-neutral shipping options.

Can small businesses compete with larger ones in terms of fulfilment?

Yes, small businesses can compete by leveraging third-party logistics providers (3PLs) that offer advanced fulfilment capabilities. This levels the playing field, allowing small businesses to provide services similar to larger competitors, such as fast shipping and efficient handling of orders.

What is the importance of reverse logistics in ecommerce fulfilment?

Reverse logistics, the process of handling returns and exchanges, is crucial in ecommerce. A smooth reverse logistics process enhances customer satisfaction and loyalty. It also involves managing refunds, restocking returned items, and dealing with unsellable goods, which impacts overall business efficiency.

How do I choose the right 3PL partner for my business?

When selecting a 3PL partner, consider factors like their experience in your industry, technological capabilities, scalability, cost structure, and their network’s reach. It’s also important to assess their customer service quality and flexibility to adapt to your specific needs.

Is dropshipping a viable option for all types of products?

Dropshipping is more suitable for certain types of products, particularly those that don’t require special storage or handling. It’s less viable for bespoke, high-value, or bulky items that require careful handling or have high return rates.

How does ecommerce fulfilment impact customer satisfaction?

Fulfilment directly impacts delivery times, order accuracy, and the overall unboxing experience, which are critical factors in customer satisfaction. Efficient fulfilment leads to faster delivery and fewer errors, enhancing the customer’s shopping experience.

What are the environmental concerns associated with ecommerce fulfilment?

Ecommerce fulfilment impacts the environment through packaging waste and carbon emissions from transportation. Businesses are increasingly adopting sustainable practices, such as using eco-friendly packaging materials and optimising delivery routes to reduce their environmental footprint.

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