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E-commerce Shipping 101: A Guide to Fulfillment Pricing, Costs, and Key Strategies

At a glance, e-commerce order fulfillment and delivery may not seem like the most significant cogs in your business, but that is where much of the post-sale magic happens. You can have the best product in the world, but without an optimal fulfillment/delivery solution, your business will soon be out of the running. 

There is a wide range of fulfillment providers and solutions to choose from, from third-party logistics companies (or 3PLs) and carriers like FedEx to instant delivery platforms like Ohi. Therefore, understanding the spectrum of different fulfillment solutions and how much they will cost you is crucial to your e-commerce success. 

Whether you’re a fast-growing brand that’s ready to expand nationwide or you’re just getting started, this guide will help you understand several of the most popular approaches to e-commerce order fulfillment and how they differ from a cost standpoint.

1. What are e-commerce order fulfillment services?

Fulfillment services entail a bunch of steps carried out by one or more fulfillment companies to get orders delivered to the end customer. 

Typically, if you hire a 3PL or a fulfillment partner, your business will be charged fees for each of these services and will be invoiced as part of the total fulfillment cost. Some services, such as pick and pack, may be further subdivided into different charges depending on your business needs.

Want to learn more about e-commerce order fulfillment services? Check out our straightforward guide.

2. What are e-commerce order fulfillment costs?

Put simply, it’s all the money you’ll spend on delivering an order to the end customer. The cost of fulfilling an order is determined by various factors such as receiving and storing products, processing orders, and shipping orders.

Typically, order fulfillment costs will vary depending on the provider, order pricing models, and any additional services.

The fulfillment fee comprises the following bulleted workflows: 

  • Receiving/storing inventory
  • Order processing
  • Picking/packing
  • Shipping
  • Reverse logistics

Many popular third-party logistics providers charge an additional surcharge on top of the standard fulfillment fee for SKUs that contain batteries or hazardous materials. 

3. How to calculate your e-commerce order fulfillment and delivery costs?

Fulfillment and shipping costs can seem like a black box at first, but understanding how your costs accrue and what each cost is will offer you better control over your budget and enable you to confidently use fulfillment as a growth lever.

In addition, you’ll have a better sense of where and how to distribute your inventory and which fulfillment solution(s) will be the most business-friendly, given your specific product and demand characteristics.

 Let’s take a look at the pricing models for some of the most common e-commerce fulfillment and shipping options out there. 

3.1 Pricing model for traditional 3PLs (third-party logistics companies)

Fulfillment fees vary from 3PL to 3PL depending on the services (you choose), their billing system, and their rates. But some fulfillment companies charge on a monthly or time-based basis, and many others charge on an order-by-order basis. For example, with Amazon, your biggest expense might be storage fees, which are typically premised on bin, pallet, or size and can add up quickly if products are left in the warehouse for an extended time.

A traditional 3PL houses your inventory in their warehouses or fulfillment centers, picks, and packs, and delivers products to your customers. If reverse logistics is a part of your contract, then they manage product returns as well.

speed delivery

When choosing a logistics partner, remember to base your decision on the services a 3PL offers and carefully consider its pricing model. These days, many modern 3PLs deliver orders from several distribution centers to minimize travel time and costs, enabling delivery in 2-5 days, for example. Here’s a leading 3PL’s approach to pricing, for reference:

  1. Delivery fees: These costs will vary based on the following order/parcel characteristics. This variability can make it hard to forecast and plan expenses, especially if there is great variability in the product mix and/or demand patterns:
    • destination 
    • weight and size
    • dimensions 
    • shipping speed, etc. 
  2. Pick & pack fees: These costs are often rolled into fulfillment costs but can be a standalone expense too. The fees will vary from standard packaging (e.g., generic poly mailers and boxes) to branded packaging. 
  3. Storage fees: Storage fees are determined by the amount of space required to keep your items safe in the warehouse. The pricing model may differ depending on the fulfillment provider and the product.
    • The per-pallet pricing model is considered the most cost-effective option. (With monthly rates ranging from $5 to $20.)
    • When you need to avoid ’empty space,’ the per cubic foot of space model is used. (The monthly cost for this particular example ranges between $.30 and $.60.)
    • The per bin model is used for quick fulfillment and costs between $1 and $2.50 per month.

Some other fees associated with fulfillment 

  1. Setup fees: there’s usually a one-time onboarding fee. Some companies charge a flat rate while others base the setup fee on the type of inventory they need to deal with, along with other factors from intake to delivery.

3PLs often calculate an item’s monthly storage fee by cubic foot, which is important to consider if your products are large. Besides that, fulfillment services may charge additional fees for temperature control (cold chain, for example) or fragile items in some cases.

  1. Inventory receiving and intake fees: typically cover the process of receiving a new inventory and sorting it at the warehouse. These fees can be charged in two ways:
    • Per hour
    • Per-unit basis 
  2. Kitting fees (if applicable): the fee associated with bundling individual products into ready-made sets or ‘kits’. Kitting is provided as an add-on by many 3PLs.
  3. Reverse logistics fees: costs associated with restocking or disposing of returned items. Some 3PLs accept returns on your behalf, while some don’t.

3.2. Pricing model of carriers (i.e., UPS/FedEx) 

If you decide to fulfill your own orders and partner with a carrier such as FedEx or UPS for last-mile deliveries, bear in mind that each carrier service provides a smorgasbord of e-commerce shipping solutions with varying pricing, giving you different options based on your budget and requirements. 

Here’s how a carrier typically calculates charges: 

  • Your shipment’s origin and destination 
    • Generally, the farther your shipment needs to go, the more zones it has to travel to reach the end customer, the more you’ll pay to ship it.
    • FedEx, USPS, and UPS create their zone lists by dividing the country into seven shipping zones (as shown in the table below) to calculate the distance a package travels from origin to destination.
    • These zones impact both the cost and delivery speed of your packages. Here’s a breakdown of shipping zones for FedEx and USPS:
Shipping ZoneMile Radius (from origin)
Zone 1 (local)50 mile radius
Zone 251 – 150 mile radius
Zone 3151 – 300 mile radius
Zone 4301 – 600 mile radius
Zone 5601 – 1000 mile radius
Zone 61001 – 1400 mile radius
Zone 71401 – 1800 mile radius
Zone 81801+ mile radius
  • Package type, dimensions, and weight 
    • The delivery service you pick will decide the price you pay.
    • The size and weight of your package also impact your shipping cost.
    • Carriers such as FedEx and UPS calculate prices using either the dimensional weight (dim weight) or the actual weight of the package—whichever is greater.
    • Usually, the bigger and heavier your shipment is, the more it will cost.
  • Other factors that affect shipping rates
    • Shipping/delivery prices can be affected by factors like: 
      • Fuel costs – carriers such as UPS and FedEx apply fuel surcharges to the base transportation rate.
      • Delivery and pickup conditions such as any areas outside the carrier’s range (rural, hard-to-access, or remote), or weather constraints causing the delay.
      • Special handling requirements for products that are fragile, large, heavy, climate-sensitive, or have special storage needs.
      • Holiday package volumes.

Now that you have a better understanding of how carriers price shipping, below is a list of shipping calculators for some of the most popular shipping carriers to help you find the most cost-effective option for your business needs. 

  1. FedEx – Shipping Calculator 
  2. UPS – Shipping Calculator 
  3. DHL – Shipping Calculator
  4. USPS – Shipping Calculator 

But before you choose a shipping carrier, it’s helpful to know the answers to the following questions:

  • Where are you shipping to?
  • Where are you shipping from?
  • What products are you shipping? Are your products heavy?
  • What type of packaging will you use? Standard or branded?
  • Have you determined a budget? Do you intend to offer free shipping, flat-rate shipping, or exact-cost shipping?
  • What do your customers anticipate from your delivery policy? Do they want their order to be insured, or do they have specific delivery deadlines?
  • How will you handle the other aspects of e-commerce fulfillment, including storage, pick & pack, and more? Will you need to team up with third-party logistics (3PL) providers?

Once you have the answers to these questions, you can then move on to select a carrier to ship your e-commerce orders—or several, if that’s what you think will work best for your business. Many businesses employ a mix of several carriers to improve coverage, keep an aspect of cost competition between carriers, and optimize delivery speed. 

One important thing to keep in mind with regard to traditional carriers like UPS/FedEx is that despite relatively mediocre delivery speeds (3-5 day ground, for example), prices can quickly get expensive based on distance traveled (related to fuel costs). And if you’re looking to ship expedited via UPS/FedEx, jet fuel costs can often catapult shipping costs into the $100+ range per order, particularly if your products are heavy/large.

That’s why micro-fulfillment based platforms like Ohi exist – to offer instant delivery (2-hour, same-day, next-day) at a reasonable cost. Ohi achieves great speed and efficiency by forward-positioning inventory in major cities, near the end customer.

Need faster e-commerce fulfillment? Choose an instant delivery platform.

If your e-commerce brand already enjoys substantial nationwide order volume, you could be eligible for an instant delivery platform like Ohi’s, enabling much faster deliveries and setting the stage for improved conversions, customer lifetime value, and repeat purchases. A successful e-commerce business is a consistent orchestration of pre and post-sale operations. With delivery standards continuously being raised by the likes of Amazon and customers demanding faster shipping, your direct-to-consumer business might consider adding instant delivery to your existing fulfillment strategy. 

For instance, with Ohi’s instant delivery platform your e-commerce business will enjoy the following:

  • Ultrafast two-hour, same-day, and next-day delivery
  • Simple, flat-rate pricing, regardless of weight, parcel size, etc. for nationwide deliveries, due to hyperlocal micro-fulfillment centers
  • Fixed monthly storage fees
  • Delivery without fuel surcharges (since last mile fuel consumption is very low)
  • Competitive per-order pricing inclusive of pick & pack, last-mile delivery, and live ops/CX support/account management
  • Reduced packaging costs due to micro-fulfillment (i.e.: less travel distance)
  • Keep your current 3PL; Ohi can layer on to your existing fulfillment strategy to provide delivery speed where it matters most.

If you want to learn more about Ohi, get in touch here.  


At Ohi, we’ve flipped the script for e-commerce fulfillment, transforming it from what is traditionally seen as a cost center into a growth engine. Brands join the Ohi platform to deliver powerfully fast, brand-focused, and memorable post-purchase experiences that enable them to grow. Want to learn more about how Ohi enables instant commerce? Get in touch today.

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