What is E-Fulfillment? Automating and Accelerating your Ecommerce Growth

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Managing a warehouse. 

Picking and packing items.

Running to the post office to ship orders. 

These are just a few of the tasks that make the up the entire e-fulfillment process if you choose to manage it yourself. Each ecommerce business is different and will have to choose the strategy that makes sense for them to efficiently and accurately fulfill and ship orders to their customers. 

There’s a lot that goes into e-fulfillment, such as managing a warehouse, tracking inventory, shipping orders, and even managing returns. Most brand founders don’t start an ecommerce brand to spend most of their time on time-consuming logistical tasks, so the thought of managing the e-fulfillment process can be overwhelming.

But e-fulfillment is one the most crucial components of running a successful ecommerce business, and, when done right, it can create a remarkable brand experience.

How does a business owner tackle e-fulfillment in order to scale? In this article, you will learn what it takes to manage the e-fulfillment process and how a third-party logistics (3PL) can help. 

What is e-fulfillment?

E-fulfillment is short for ‘ecommerce fulfillment,’ which is the process of fulfilling and shipping orders to customers. This part of the retail supply chain entails receiving and storing inventory, processing orders, picking and packing items, shipping packages to their final destination, and facilitating ecommerce returns.

E-fulfillment can be handled in-house by a brand, but most fast-growing brands choose to outsource fulfillment to a third-party logistics (3PL) company as they are the experts and it can be challenging and time-consuming to manage alone. 

Without e-fulfillment, your ecommerce growth may be stunted

A streamlined e-fulfillment process is important because it can help you meet customer expectations set by established or competing brands and marketplaces like Amazon. Online shoppers expect fast and affordable shipping and a positive last-mile delivery experience. A proper e-fulfillment process, with the help of technology, can optimize logistics operations and automate processes to reduce human error and promote higher order accuracy.

What makes e-fulfillment so successful?

There are a lot of different factors that make up a successful e-fulfillment process. From choosing warehouse location(s) for inventory storage to implementing inventory management tools, it takes manpower, technology, and resources to optimize fulfillment logistics. Here are some of the major components of a modern e-fulfillment process. 

Order processing automation

By implementing automated order processing software, ecommerce businesses can significantly increase order management efficiencies and optimize their supply chain. A fully automated order processing system should integrate easily with your ecommerce platform and other sales channels. This way, orders can be automatically verified as soon as a customer places one so the e-fulfillment process can begin, and order status is updated right away. 

Inventory management

Inventory management is the process of ordering and restocking units, storing products, and tracking inventory levels. By implementing inventory management software, you can track and control stock in real time, lower inventory storage and labor costs, set automatic reorder points to prevent stockouts, and more. By implementing inventory management technology, you can gain access to valuable data to make better business decisions and prepare for the unexpected.

Demand forecasting

Demand forecasting is important because it allows businesses to better estimate the total sales and revenue for a future period of time while also planning for inventory needs. By forecasting demand, you can make decisions like when to run a flash sale or how frequently you need to reorder inventory based on which items are selling fast or moving slowly. Inventory forecasting will never be 100% accurate, but the insights gained by collecting historical data can help you better plan for the future.

Warehousing

Warehousing is a key stage in the e-fulfillment process that involves storing and managing finished goods before they are sold. There are several key parts to warehouse management, including the safety and security of products, inventory control processes that help to optimize inventory storage, and much more. 

A warehouse management system (WMS) is used in tech-enabled warehouses, which provides full visibility into real-time inventory levels and storage, staff productivity, and e-fulfillment workflows within a warehouse. A WMS ultimately eliminates much of the manual work and speeds up processes without compromising accuracy rate. 

Why not do e-fulfillment yourself?

Self-fulfillment might make sense when you’re first starting out, but once you see a surge in monthly order volume, packing orders and keeping track of inventory on your own will soon become costly and time-consuming.

It can be a challenge to scale if you and your team are spending most of your time on fulfilling and shipping orders. You might also think taking care of fulfillment in-house is a more cost-effective approach than hiring a 3PL, but there are hidden costs to self-fulfillment, from inefficiencies to purchasing your own packaging materials, to the time lost and opportunity cost that e-fulfillment takes away from growing your business.

“I found myself on vacation constantly checking on new orders, finding wifi to print labels, and shipping inventory out of the back of my car. Now, I’m free. I could not have gone backpacking for 3 days without ShipBob.”

Anastasia Allison, founder of Kula Cloth

What is an e-fulfillment provider?

An e-fulfillment logistics service provider (also known as a 3PL or fulfillment company) takes care of all-things e-fulfillment and shipping that business owners don’t have time or manpower to take on themselves.

An e-fulfillment provider can offer an expansive fulfillment infrastructure, including a network of fulfillment center locations across the US and internationally that you can grow into over time. A good e-fulfillment company will also have best-in-class technology to automate much of the process, speed up transit times, reduce shipping costs, and improve accuracy.

Many e-fulfillment providers also offer a network of partners that offer end-to-end ecommerce solutions to accelerate business growth.

4 best e-fulfillment providers in 2021

Outsourcing e-fulfillment to the experts is key to scaling your business, but not all logistics companies offer the same set of capabilities and services. To maximize the benefits, it’s important to  to partner with an e-fulfillment provider that offers space for your business to grow by offering solutions that go beyond picking, packing, and shipping. 

1. ShipBob

ShipBob is a best-in-class logistics and e-fulfillment provider that goes beyond picking and packing, with an international fulfillment network, proprietary technology, built-in inventory and order management tools, dedicated customer support, and more.

ShipBob partners with brands of all sizes and provides a robust fulfillment network with the ability to split inventory across multiple fulfillment center locations. ShipBob’s technology also lets you closely monitor inventory levels at each location all from one dashboard.

ShipBob makes it easy to integrate your online store and entire tech stack with our technology, or you can utilize ShipBob’s Developer API for a more robust solution. 

2. Red Stag

Red Stag offers e-fulfillment services with a focus on shipping oversized packages and shipping heavy items. They provide cloud-based order fulfillment for B2C and B2B ecommerce online retailers with a couple fulfillment centers in the United States.

3. UPS eFulfillment

UPS offers a full suite of e-fulfillment services, from inventory storage and basic warehousing, to order management. They also offer additional services including product customization, packaging, and retail quality checks. 

4. FedEx Fulfillment


If you’re looking to expand in global markets, FedEx Fulfillment offers international e-fulfillment capabilities, including warehousing, order management, and international shipping services, to help you expand your customer reach and launch into new markets at an affordable cost.

Successful online shops: a 3PL e-fulfillment partner changes the game

Ecommerce businesses that sell high-demand products or want to focus their time on growth partner with a 3PL like ShipBob to help fulfill and ship orders and manage long-term growth. With ShipBob, online brands are able to scale without limits while getting access to a growing international fulfillment network and advanced e-fulfillment software. Here are some examples of how ShipBob has helped brands grow. 

Pot D’Huile: CBD-infused oils and hot sauces

Pot d’Huile sells CBD-infused olive oil, hot sauce, and chili oil to world-renowned chefs and home cooks. As they grew, they knew their self-fulfillment process wasn’t sustainable. They chose ShipBob over other 3PLs because of our best-in-class, user-friendly software. 

“ShipBob’s platform is easy to use and navigate, the interface is intuitive, and the analytics are very clearly laid out. I give ShipBob’s technology a 9/10. Getting our WooCommerce shop integrated with ShipBob was easy, and it’s been fantastic to have; we had no problem with it.” 

Yannick Crespo, Co-Founder & President of Pot d’Huile

Ocean & Co: eco-friendly jewelry inspired by the ocean

Eco-friendly brand Ocean & Co. switched to ShipBob from a different 3PL that didn’t offer the level of fulfillment expertise and technology needed to scale. After making the switch, they saw their fulfillment costs decrease by 33% after partnering with us, while at the same time bringing in $2 million in sales their first year.

“While many 3PLs utilize a complex pricing model that makes forecasting expenses nearly impossible, ShipBob has a clear pricing model so we know exactly what we’re going to be billed.”

Gerard Ecker, Founder & CEO of Ocean & Co.

Ombraz: unbreakable armless sunglasses

Sunglasses company Ombraz started with ShipBob in two fulfillment centers (in the US and Canada). By taking e-fulfillment off their plate, their team became able to focus on further expanding their international customer base.

“We are all about the entire customer experience, so international shipping is very important to us. We ship to 55 different countries and all 50 states. When I found out ShipBob was expanding into both Canada and Europe, I knew we wanted to expand our physical footprint with them.”

Nikolai Paloni, Co-Founder of Ombraz Sunglasses

Conclusion

E-fulfillment can be a time-consuming process that demands both your time and energy. Many fast-growing direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands leave e-fulfillment up to the experts, so they can focus on expanding their customer reach and creating new products. 

ShipBob is a 3PL that can take care of the entire e-fulfillment process for you, so you can focus on what’s most important — growing your business. Click below to contact ShipBob and get custom pricing. 

E-fulfillment FAQs

There’s a lot to learn when it comes to e-fulfillment. Here are some common questions business owners have about fulfilling and shipping customer orders. 

Is e-fulfillment the same as ecommerce fulfillment?

Yes, e-fulfillment is short for ‘ecommerce fulfillment.’ E-fulfillment consists of receiving and storing inventory, processing orders, picking and packing items, shipping orders to their final destination, and facilitating ecommerce returns. If you run an ecommerce store, much of your time will be spent fulfilling and shipping orders, unless you outsource to a 3PL like ShipBob.

What is an e-commerce fulfillment center?

An e-commerce fulfillment center is a type of warehouse that performs digital fulfillment services and is powered by fulfillment technology. Businesses can store their inventory in an ecommerce fulfillment center (or multiple) operated by a 3PL to have orders automatically picked, packed, and shipped. By storing inventory in a tech-enabled e-fulfillment center, you can track inventory levels and order status in real time all from one dashboard.

How do I improve my e-fulfillment?

There are several ways to improve your e-fulfillment operations. One way is to store your inventory in multiple warehouse locations to reduce shipping costs and transit times while improving the customer experience. As you grow, it’s best to outsource fulfillment and logistics to the experts. That way, you can access a robust fulfillment infrastructure and a 3PL’s technology to speed up the e-fulfillment process and automate shipping.