When Should You Split Inventory Across Multiple Fulfillment Centers?

While using a single fulfillment center is much more effective than self-fulfillment for many online merchants, one warehouse alone may not be enough for some sellers.

Splitting your inventory across fulfillment center locations, also known as distributed inventory, offers many advantages. When you work with a 3PL that has multiple warehouses, you can match the service of the largest retailers, without having to build your own infrastructure.

But is this strategy right for every e-commerce business?

When should you use more than one fulfillment center?

Learn when distributed inventory should be utilized  and when it should not be  as part of an ecommerce shipping strategy.

1. You ship a high volume of orders

A single warehouse may be all you need when you are first getting started, as it will likely be too expensive to use multiple fulfillment centers. If you grow enough to the point that the shipping costs exceed the cost of additional warehouse space, then it would be more cost-effective to split your inventory across fulfillment centers.

By utilizing multiple warehouses, you can strategically choose locations that are near your customers. Storing inventory closer to your customers helps lower shipping costs, because orders will travel a shorter distance when shipped. In other words, it’s cheaper to ship a package 50 miles than it is to ship it 500 miles in most cases.

Similarly, it may make sense to send only your most popular or best-selling products to additional warehouses, rather than store inventory for every single product you sell. This way, your less popular items won’t sit there taking up warehouse space without selling quickly, and you won’t be stuck paying for storage.

2. Your products and orders are heavy in weight

With the January 2019 change to zone-based pricing for even lightweight packages sent via USPS First Class Mail, all businesses are affected by distance. However, the heavier a package is, you will realize significant cost savings when your package has to travel less distance or shipping zones.

Take weighted blanket company, My Calm Blanket, whose products are up to 25 pounds in weight.

“Shipping a 25-pound blanket is not the same as shipping a t-shirt. That’s why we knew that shipping from only one or two fulfillment centers wasn’t going to cut it. Luckily, ShipBob has fulfillment centers in major cities all over the US.”

Founder of My Calm Blanket

My Calm Blanket has distributed their inventory to ShipBob’s fulfillment centers in Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York to be near their customers.

3. You want to consistently offer affordable 2-day shipping

In today’s online shopping world, most consumers expect two-day delivery. Using multiple warehouses lets you significantly and affordably reduce delivery times. Each time a customer places an order online, the order will be fulfilled from the warehouse that’s closest to them.

This lets you compete with major retailers and offer Prime-like service to meet customer expectations with convenient delivery options.

“ShipBob’s 2-Day Express Program has been phenomenal for us. Because of Amazon, our customers expect 2-day shipping and we couldn’t find other 3PLs that can provide that. If they do, you are going to pay a lot for it. Without ShipBob, it would cost more than $100 per order to ship that fast.”

Founder of My Calm Blanket

4. Your customers don’t all reside in one geographical region

When it comes to choosing the location of a fulfillment center, it ultimately comes down to where your customers are. This is because orders are delivered quicker and at less cost when your packages travel less distance. To justify an additional warehouse, you must find out how many customers would benefit from it.

For example, if you sell gear for a sports team in Boston, the majority of your customer base will largely be contained within Massachusetts. It’s unlikely that you will ship high volumes of product to people who live in Los Angeles, thus, eliminating the need for a warehouse on the West Coast.

Alternatively, if you sell a special hairbrush and your customers reach all corners of the country, then distributing your inventory to major hubs or densely populated areas would be a more efficient option.

[White paper: Why Distributed Inventory is a Game Changer for E-Commerce]

Conclusion

When it comes to whether you should split your inventory between ecommerce fulfillment centers, there is not always a clear-cut answer. Under the right circumstances, shipping orders from multiple warehouses can save you time and money, creating a win-win for both you and your customers.

Learn more

Learn how to compete with giant retailers by meeting customer expectations around inexpensive 2-day shipping. Download “The Guide to Offering Affordable 2-Day Shipping.”

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P.S. – ShipBob owns several fulfillment centers within the continental US to enable same-day or two-day shipping across the country. ShipBob launched its latest warehouse in Dallas last week, to further reduce the distance packages travel and to save on shipping costs and times. Learn more to see if ShipBob is a good fit for your online business.