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1. What is outsourcing fulfillment?

Outsourcing fulfillment: The complete guide for 2024

In the dynamic world of ecommerce, businesses continually look for strategies that streamline their operations, boost efficiency, and ultimately increase profitability. 

One such strategic decision that can substantially contribute to these objectives is outsourcing fulfillment. Essentially, this entails delegating various tasks typically related to handling fulfillment in-house to external specialists or partners. 

This comprehensive guide offers an extensive look at outsourcing fulfillment, discussing its fundamental aspects, the numerous benefits it affords businesses, diverse approaches to outsourcing, and useful tips for choosing the most suitable outsourcing partner.

Main takeaways from this article:

  • The strategic decision to outsource fulfillment can substantially optimize your ecommerce business operations and increase profitability. By delegating tasks such as warehousing, picking and packing orders, shipping, and inventory management, you're free to focus on core business activities like product development, marketing, and customer service.

  • Various methods of outsourcing exist, including print on demand services, dropshipping, and third-party logistics (3PL) providers. Each offers distinct advantages, but print on demand services often stand out for their flexibility and cost-effectiveness, making them particularly suitable for startups and small businesses.

  • Key benefits of outsourcing fulfillment include more time for core activities, reduced shipping and operational costs, faster delivery times, expanded business reach, streamlined operations, and improved customer satisfaction. However, choosing the right fulfillment partner requires careful consideration of their services, operational capabilities, customer service, and adaptability.

  • To outsource your order fulfillment process, begin by assessing your business needs, then identify and evaluate potential partners for customer service and adaptability, carefully review contracts, and conduct a trial run before fully committing.

  • When selecting a fulfillment provider, prioritize factors such as technology integration, scalability, reliability, customer service, and geographic reach. POD is deemed an ideal solution for businesses looking for flexibility, low upfront costs, and customization.

  • Outsourcing fulfillment can introduce challenges like loss of control, communication issues, and variable service quality, but these can be mitigated through meticulous provider selection, establishing clear communication channels, and signing comprehensive agreements.

What is outsourcing fulfillment?

At its core, outsourcing fulfillment involves handing over tasks related to order fulfillment to a third-party company. These responsibilities might encompass warehousing, picking and packing orders, shipping and handling returns, and managing inventory.

Businesses often decide to outsource fulfillment when they recognize that while these tasks are crucial to their operations, they can be time-consuming and distract from core business activities. These activities might include product development, marketing, or customer service, which are paramount to business growth and profitability.

Methods for outsourcing the fulfillment process

Warehouse logistics operation

There are different methods for outsourcing fulfillment, each catering to specific needs and business models. These include print on demand services, dropshipping, and traditional third-party logistics (3PL) providers. Here's a snapshot of each fulfillment services provider:

Print on demand services

Businesses using this model outsource their fulfillment to companies like Gelato. These providers print, pack, and ship products as orders come in, meaning you can say goodbye to inventory management.


There are many benefits to using print on demand services. First, businesses can enjoy the freedom of zero inventory, translating to lower operational costs and minimized risk of unsold merchandise. This model also offers an unmatched level of flexibility since it allows businesses to update or make changes to their product lineup at any time.

Use cases

Print on demand services are particularly beneficial in the realms of apparel, home decor, and custom merchandising. If you're a graphic artist, a writer, or a brand looking to sell your unique-designed products to a global audience with minimal investments, this might be the best route for you. 

Businesses with seasonal products will also benefit, as you can launch new designs with each changing season without needing to worry about leftover stock. 

Key considerations when using this fulfillment process

An important consideration when selecting print on demand services is the quality and consistency of the printed products. Establishing a reputation for excellent product quality is crucial, but inconsistent print runs can damage that reputation. Thus, finding a provider with a robust quality assurance process should be a priority when exploring print on demand options. 

Notably, print on demand services offer a unique feature in the form of ‘white labeling.’ When a company white-labels, they sell products produced by someone else but under their own branding. This has immense significance for brands that value customer perception and want to keep a consistent image across all their offerings.


Ecommerce businesses often outsource their fulfillment via dropshipping. Suppliers in dropshipping handle the inventory and ship products directly to customers when an order is placed, giving the ecommerce store more time to focus on marketing and customer service.


Dropshipping brings notable financial benefits, reducing overhead costs related to storage, packaging, and delivery and making it an attractive model for small and medium-sized businesses looking to scale with lean operations. In addition to cost-efficiency, it allows businesses to offer a wide array of products without worrying about storage or logistics since these aspects are handled by dropshipping suppliers.

Furthermore, with all stock held and dispatched by the supplier, businesses are unburdened from handling and shipping logistics, freeing up resources to focus on core operations and enhance customer service. In essence, dropshipping proves to be a practical solution for businesses aiming for growth, product variety, and operational efficiency.

Use cases

In terms of use cases, dropshipping is best suited for businesses that have a robust marketing model but limited resources for managing inventory. For ecommerce retailers who primarily sell print on demand or customized products, dropshipping can also prove highly fruitful. These niche products typically don't require bulk stock, making them ideal for a dropshipping model.

Key considerations when using this fulfillment process

It's important to note that dropshipping does come with some unique considerations. First of all, control over the shipping process is largely out of your hands. If your supplier messes up an order, it's your reputation on the line, not theirs. Being thorough when choosing a dropshipping partner is, therefore, crucial to avoid these pitfalls and ensure customer satisfaction

Additionally, dropshipping often offers lower profit margins than wholesaling or manufacturing. Because the supplier takes care of the store, shipping, and management, their fees can eat into your profits. Weighing the fulfillment costs and benefits of dropshipping is essential before going down this route.

Third-party logistics (3PL) providers

Many businesses turn to third-party logistics companies like FedEx Supply Chain or DHL Supply Chain for their outsourcing needs. These companies take care of warehousing, order fulfillment, and shipping, often providing global logistics support to help businesses reach international customers more effectively.


If you're looking to streamline your supply chain without getting tangled in logistics intricacies, turning to third-party logistics (3PL) providers may be just the solution. Their full-service approach, spanning from warehousing to shipping, allows you to offload these complex processes and refocus energy on critical business areas. Particularly for those eyeing new markets, 3PL providers leverage robust infrastructures and broad geographic reach to fast-track worldwide product delivery.

Opting for a 3PL provider not only shifts the logistics load but also grants access to unique features such as real-time inventory tracking, data-informed strategic decisions, and relationships with carriers that often translate to lower shipping costs, savings that ultimately find their way back to you.

Use cases

Businesses with a large inventory and high order volume may find partnering with a 3PL provider a fitting choice. Their fulfillment center will be set up to handle such scales efficiently, thanks to their specialized software systems and tech-driven processes. 

Additionally, companies in industries with intricate logistics, such as electronics or automobile parts, may also reap the benefits of the detailed, focused care that 3PLs provide. 

Key considerations when using this fulfillment process

Despite the many advantages, it's essential to consider some aspects while choosing a 3PL provider. 

Firstly, think about your business model. Do you need specific services like kitting or custom packaging? Do you have specific delivery timeframes? Knowing your company's exact needs will help you choose the right services from the 3PL provider. 

Secondly, consider the provider's track record and reliability. A trustworthy 3PL provider will not only deliver on time but also ensure the quality and condition of your products are maintained.

Eight benefits of outsourcing fulfillment

Happy team in fulfillment center

Outsourcing your fulfillment process offers a host of benefits, turning it into a game-changer for ecommerce businesses. Here are eight great reasons why you'll love it:

1. More time for what matters

The primary benefit of outsourcing order fulfillment is that it affords you more time to concentrate on key business operations, such as marketing, sales, and product development. As your business grows and orders start to accumulate from a range of sales channels, managing fulfillment in-house can turn into an overwhelming challenge. By allowing fulfillment experts to manage this aspect of your business, you are better able to focus on strategic actions to scale your business.

2. Save money on shipping costs

Outsourcing fulfillment can bring about significant cost savings, especially with regard to shipping. A fulfillment partner with an expansive network of warehouses guarantees your goods are stored closer to your customers, which translates to decreased shipping costs. Additionally, bulk shipping discounts that large fulfillment centers often receive can further contribute to cost savings.

3. Fast track delivery times

With warehouses strategically located across different regions, you can dramatically expedite delivery times. This meets and often exceeds customer expectations for quick delivery and allows you to compete with larger retail chains in terms of delivery speed.

4. Clear, accurate shipping information

In the ecommerce industry, it's crucial to provide consistent, transparent shipping information. A competent fulfillment partner ensures the accuracy of shipping details and guarantees timely deliveries, both of which significantly enhance the customer experience and foster trust in your brand.

5. Reduce operating costs

A substantial benefit of outsourcing fulfillment is the reduction in operational expenses. Traditional in-house fulfillment necessitates investment in storage space, shipping and packaging materials, and hiring personnel. Outsourcing can significantly reduce or eliminate these overhead costs. Moreover, when combined with print-on-demand (POD), you only pay for what you sell, thereby minimizing inventory costs.

6. Expand your reach

An efficient fulfillment partner can propel your business growth, both nationally and globally. Navigating the complexities of shipping rates and delivery times, particularly for international orders, becomes considerably more manageable. This enables you to tap into new markets and reach a broader customer base with relative ease.

7. Streamline your operations

Fulfillment partners leverage advanced technology to optimize your back-office operations. They provide valuable insights into inventory management, item tracking, security, shipping and handling, carrier selection, and payment processing. These data-driven insights can guide decision-making processes and ensure that your operations run smoothly and efficiently.

8. Enhance customer satisfaction

Outsourcing fulfillment leads to faster, more cost-effective shipping, accurate delivery information, and a broader reach, all of which greatly enhance the customer experience. Satisfied customers are likely to become repeat customers, and they often serve as brand ambassadors, recommending your business to others. Enhancing customer satisfaction is, after all, the ultimate goal of any business, and outsourcing fulfillment can play a significant role in achieving this objective.

How to outsource your order fulfillment

Handshake in distribution center

Contemplating outsourcing your order fulfillment? It's a significant move that could propel your ecommerce business to the next level. However, like any substantial decision, it requires careful planning and well-informed decision-making. So, let's break it down into manageable, actionable steps:

1. Understand your business needs

Your journey begins with an in-depth understanding of your business specifications - these might include your current and projected order volumes, the nature and diversity of products you're selling, your primary target market, and any particular logistics requirements your business might have. Thoroughly understanding these aspects will aid you in identifying the specific services you require from a fulfillment partner and ensure the partnership aligns with your business objectives.

2. Find potential partners

Embark on a research expedition to discover potential fulfillment providers. Consider their reputation within the industry - just as you would read reviews before purchasing a new product. In addition, evaluate their range of services, operational capabilities, technology integration, ability to scale up to meet your business's growth, and, importantly, their pricing structure. Your goal should be to create a shortlist of providers that meet your primary needs and are within your budget.

3. Check out their customer service

Embark on a research expedition to discover potential fulfillment providers. Consider their reputation within the industry - just as you would read reviews before purchasing a new product. In addition, evaluate their range of services, operational capabilities, technology integration, ability to scale up to meet your business's growth, and, importantly, their pricing structure. Your goal should be to create a shortlist of providers that meet your primary needs and are within your budget.

4. Look for adaptability

Each business has its unique character and will evolve over time. Consequently, you need to choose a partner that offers flexible, customizable solutions that can be tailored to fit your business's specific needs and potential growth. A rigid, one-size-fits-all approach may not be suitable for the unique demands of your business.

5. Understand the fine print

Once you're on the brink of finalizing the partnership, it's essential to pore over the service agreement's terms and conditions. Be clear about costs, responsibilities, termination provisions, and dispute resolution procedures. If necessary, consult with a legal professional to ensure you understand all contractual obligations.

6. Test before you go all in

Always remember, it's wise to 'try before you buy'! Implement a pilot test before transitioning all your fulfillment operations to the new system. During this test phase, you can identify potential hurdles, measure performance, and adjust your processes accordingly. This will give you a realistic view of what to expect and help you mitigate any risks before going all in.

How to choose the right fulfillment provider

Analyzing fulfillment metrics

Finding the right fulfillment provider for your ecommerce business is a pivotal decision. Make sure you align your choice with your business's unique needs. Consider evaluating potential outsourcing partners on a few critical factors, such as:

  • Technology integration: Does the provider's technology mesh seamlessly with your business's existing systems? Efficient integration means fewer headaches down the line.

  • Scalability: Can the provider grow with your business? Your future success depends on a provider that can match your pace as you scale up.

  • Reliability: Does the provider have a proven track record of delivering reliable service? Your reputation is ultimately on the line.

  • Customer service: Does the provider offer top-notch customer service? Professional and responsive support can help you navigate through hiccups efficiently.

  • Geographic reach: Can the provider reach your target customer base? Expanding your reach translates to more potential for sales.

Print on demand (POD): The ideal solution for small businesses

Print on demand is an excellent option for businesses looking to stand out in the market. It offers flexibility, low upfront costs, and customization, helping your brand to be unique. Many companies choose POD because of its adaptability.

Another notable feature of POD is that it works well with different ecommerce platforms, making the integration seamless and the process from order to delivery effortless. Smooth operations lead to increased customer satisfaction and better business outcomes. Who wouldn't want that?

Challenges of outsourcing fulfillment

While the benefits of outsourcing fulfillment are undoubtedly considerable, it's important to understand that it isn't without its fair share of challenges.

  • Loss of control: When you outsource, you're entrusting your product handling and delivery to a third party, which is a big leap for any business to take. 

  • Communication hiccups: Sometimes, there may be communication problems between your business and the outsourcing partner, which can cause delays or misunderstandings, affecting delivery times and customer satisfaction.

  • Service quality: The quality of service can also vary from one provider to another, so it's worthwhile to invest time in selecting the best fit for your needs. 

  • Integration: The initial integration phase can be complex as well, as you attempt to tie your existing systems and processes into the provider's framework. 

  • Costs: One of the key challenges of outsourcing fulfillment is managing costs. Small businesses often face difficulty estimating costs due to varying order volumes, which could potentially lead to unforeseen financial strain.

Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate these challenges. These include:

  • Careful selection of providers: Select your provider diligently, prioritizing those with a proven track record and strong client testimonials.

  • Establishing clear communication channels: To ensure smooth communication, establish clear and effective channels and response times for conversations with your provider.

  • Signing agreements: Set up robust agreements with clearly defined roles, responsibilities, and performance indicators and the flexibility to manage fluctuating demand effectively.

Handling returns and exchanges with outsourced fulfillment

While much attention is given to the front-end of order fulfillment – the storage, packing, and delivery of goods – handling returns and exchanges is an equally important aspect of customer satisfaction. When outsourcing, it's important to ensure that your partner has a robust and efficient system for handling returns and exchanges.

A good fulfillment partner will offer a hassle-free returns process, quick refunds or exchanges, and responsive customer service. This can greatly enhance the customer experience, encouraging repeat business and fostering loyalty. Discuss the returns process with potential outsourcing partners and ensure it aligns with your business's values and customer service goals.

Outsource your fulfillment with Gelato and scale your business

Outsourcing fulfillment is a transformative move that can catalyze your ecommerce business to higher levels of success. By freeing up your time, reducing overhead costs, and ensuring quicker, more reliable deliveries, it not only streamlines your operations but also elevates the shopping experience for your customers.

But how you outsource matters, too. Gelato, the world's largest platform for local print on demand production, is uniquely positioned to become your fulfillment partner. Gelato enables entrepreneurs, creators, and global brands alike to reach more than five billion potential consumers overnight. Whether you're a rising creator or an established brand, Gelato helps bring your creativity to life and turns it into a thriving business.

What makes Gelato stand out is its commitment to sustainability. With production and shipping happening locally in 33 countries, we significantly reduce carbon emissions and promote a more sustainable global supply chain. Our environmentally friendly approach aligns with the values of today's conscientious consumers, adding an additional competitive edge to your business.

Sign up for Gelato, the leading print on demand provider, and start designing and selling today. Let us handle your fulfillment needs while you focus on creating and innovating.

Outsourcing fulfillment FAQs

What is outsourced fulfillment?

Outsourced fulfillment is a business practice where ecommerce companies delegate their order processing and delivery tasks to third-party fulfillment companies. This includes storing inventory, picking and packing products, and shipping orders to customers.

Why do we outsource fulfillment?

Outsourcing fulfillment helps businesses focus on core tasks like product development and marketing. It allows them to leverage the expertise and resources of fulfillment providers, potentially reducing shipping costs, accelerating delivery times, and enhancing customer satisfaction.

Does Amazon outsource fulfillment?

No, Amazon does not typically outsource fulfillment. They have their own extensive fulfillment operation known as Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA). However, they do work with external sellers who can choose to use FBA or fulfill their orders independently.

What is outsourcing in shipping?

Outsourcing in shipping involves transferring responsibilities related to storage, packing, and delivery of goods to third-party logistics or fulfillment companies. These companies handle all the complex logistics, ensuring goods reach customers efficiently and in a timely manner.


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