Simplifying E-Commerce: 3 Ways to Manage Your Fulfillment Operations

November 15, 2021

fulfillment man packages an order
Self-service, drop shipping, and 3PL are the three best options for managing your e-commerce fulfillment.

We understand that e-commerce fulfillment can be overwhelming for sellers old and new, and you simply don’t know what you don’t know. Below, we aim to simplify your fulfillment by providing you with options to manage your fulfillment operations.

To learn the essential aspects of fulfillment, check out our previous article, Simplifying E-Commerce: 6 Essential Aspects of Fulfillment.

As your business grows, the fulfillment process can become time-consuming without a system in place to help. What happens when you start receiving multiple orders a week or a day to fulfill? What are the best options for managing that volume of orders?

Generally, there are 3 routes that you can follow in order to manage your e-commerce inventory and fulfillment successfully: Self-Service, 3rd Party Logistics, and Drop Shipping.


Self-service is the DIY approach to managing your e-commerce inventory and fulfillment.

This is where most e-commerce businesses start out when it comes to fulfillment. Self-service involves no additional technologies outside of your existing e-commerce spaces. So, regardless of what platforms you’re selling on, self-service management is always an option.

With self-service, you can go into each of your storefronts and manage all of your orders directly. You’ll see who’s ordering, what they’re ordering, if their order is paid for, etc. As you collect this information, you’ll organize data on a spreadsheet or management software.

When it comes to your inventory, you have a location that you can physically access as you’re fulfilling orders. To start out, this will likely mean keeping inventory in your garage, a spare bedroom, or a storage facility. Then, when it’s time to pack up an order, you’re filling, taping, and labeling those boxes yourself. Some selling platforms even allow you to manage your entire fulfillment by purchasing and printing your own order labels.

Pros and Cons of Self-Service

Self-service fulfillment allows you to have complete control over every aspect of your order fulfillment. You know where everything is, and you alone are responsible for making sure each order gets sent out.

However, as your business expands, this type of fulfillment can easily become overwhelming. Once you start receiving larger volumes of orders, there are two options for managing your fulfillment. You can continue using self-service fulfillment, or you can find a fulfillment management service.

If you continue to use self-service to fulfill orders, you’ll need to expand and organize your operations to efficiently manage your orders. This will likely require purchasing a warehouse to store and pack all of your goods. You will also need to hire a team of employees to help sort inventory and fulfill orders. By doing this, you maintain control over all of your business operations while still freeing up your time to focus on developing new products and growing your business.

However, if the previous paragraph describes an unfavorable scenario, you can shift your fulfillment to Drop Shipping or 3rd Party Logistics (3PL). So, what are these types of fulfillment, and how can you tell which one is right for you?

“Essentially, the only difference between drop shipping and 3PL is who owns the inventory.” - Danny He, Founder of Soapbox

3rd Party Logistics (3PL)

With a 3PL, you send your products to the 3rd Party Logistics company and then let them handle fulfillment.

You own your items with a 3PL. Whether you’re making things by hand in your home or you’re having your items made in a factory, you are responsible for your products. Once your items are ready to be purchased, they are sent to the 3PL’s warehouse. Once at the warehouse, the 3PL will house your items, package them, and ship them once they are purchased.

Many selling platforms offer 3PL as an option, particularly marketplaces. These 3PLs will take care of everything from your product listing, fulfillment, and anything else right up until they send out the package themselves. Additionally, if you’re unsure which 3PL is right for your business, a 3PL matchmaker can help pick the best-suited service provider.

This type of fulfillment management is great in that it provides you with peace of mind. You can perfect your products, ship them to your 3PL, and then let the fulfillment center worry about the time-consuming steps that come after a customer’s order is placed.

However, 3PLs charge fees for all of their services. Most 3PLs charge a storage fee, receiving fee, and return fee. So, if your business is just starting out and unable to foot these bills, stick with self-service for now.

Drop Shipping

With drop shipping, business owners do not own the items that they are selling.

Instead, you, the business owner, will give your customer orders to whoever owns the items that you are selling. Then, that facility will fulfill the order and ship the items out to your customers.

With this method, you’ll never have to deal with the process of packing orders or keeping track of your inventory. You’re only responsible for making sure that the orders get from your customers to the facility.

A positive aspect of this type of fulfillment is never having to get your hands dirty. You can focus on other aspects of your brand, like marketing, communicating with customers, and expanding your e-commerce footprint.

However, a drawback of drop shipping is the lack of control over your products. Your products are not technically yours. Rather, they are another person’s products that you are selling, so quality control can become an issue. Additionally, drop shipping is notorious for lengthy ship times, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. If your inventory is overseas, your customers could wait weeks for their packages to arrive.

Each fulfillment method has its pros and cons, so make sure to take these into account when choosing the right one for your business. If you’re just starting out and unsure where to begin, self-service is always a safe place to start.

Looking for a self-service fulfillment software or a 3PL provider? Soapbox has both! Click here to head to our website and learn more about how we can simplify your fulfillment.

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