Speed Commerce

Fulfillment Costs Explained

Order Fulfillment Costs: Components, Calculator & 3PL Pricing

What do you want to learn?

When determining to engage with a third-party logistics provider (3PL), it is often difficult to make a side-by-side comparison of the costs. Order fulfillment costs can vary widely depending on several factors, including the nature of the products, order volume, location, and the specific services you require.

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Often times, the difficulty starts with the eCommerce business who hasn’t defined their needs or products category, let alone products. Additionally, understanding how much space is required, the packaging needs, or what delivery methods they will offer their customers are yet to be determined.

Here’s an overview of the components that contribute to order fulfillment costs, a brief explanation of how to calculate those costs, and considerations regarding 3PL pricing. Ultimately, define your needs first and then determine what is the “all in” cost per order and see how it fits into your financial model.

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Components of Order Fulfillment Costs

Components of Order Fulfillment Costs:

1. Warehousing costs include rent or lease expenses for the storage space required to house your inventory.

2. Labor cost for activities such as picking, packing, quality control, and shipping.

3. Costs associated with boxes, packing materials, tape, labels, and other packaging supplies.

4. The most expensive cost is to ship products to customers, including shipping fees charged by carriers like FedEx, UPS, or USPS.

5. Technology costs are significantly more than most expect. Expenses related to order management software, inventory tracking systems, and other technological tools that streamline the fulfillment process.

6. The costs associated with processing and restocking returned items.

7. Expenses for customer support related to order inquiries, tracking, and issue resolution.

Value-Added Order Fulfillment Fees

Value-added order fulfillment fees refer to additional charges or services that go beyond the basic order fulfillment process and provide extra value to customers. These fees are often associated with services or features that enhance the customer experience, offer customization, or provide specialized handling. Here are some common examples of value-added order fulfillment fees:

1. If customers have the option to request gift wrapping or special packaging for their orders, this service may come with an additional fee.

2. Adding a personalized note or message to the order can enhance the customer’s experience, and a fee may be charged for this customization.

3. For products that require assembly or configuration according to the customer’s specifications, an assembly fee might apply.

4. If your products can be personalized with engravings, monograms, or custom designs, a fee might be charged for this added service.

5. If you deal with fragile, delicate, or unusually shaped items that require extra care in handling and packaging, a fee could be imposed to cover the specialized handling process.

6. If you offer bundles or kits composed of multiple items, a fee might be applied for the assembly and packaging of these kits.

7. If you provide premium or eco-friendly packaging options, there might be an extra charge for these specialized materials.

8. For subscription-based models, where customers receive products regularly, a subscription management fee might be added to cover administrative costs.

9. If you offer white-label or private-label options for products, there could be a fee for branding and labeling services.

10. Providing sample packs or testers for customers to try before committing to larger purchases might involve a fee.

11. If you offer consultation or customization support to customers before they place an order, there might be a fee for the time and expertise provided.

12. Providing premium or dedicated customer support channels, such as a hotline or chat support, might involve a fee.

The key to implementing value-added order fulfillment fees is transparency. Make sure customers are aware of these fees upfront during the ordering process, and clearly communicate the benefits or enhancements they’ll receive in exchange. Always strive to balance the additional value provided with the associated costs to ensure customer satisfaction and sustainable business practices.

Why Is It Important to Understand Your Fulfillment Costs?

When you are building out your eCommerce store understanding your costs is critical to survive the challenging landscape and create a business model that is profitable. Let’s further explore your order fulfillment fees:

Clear insight into your order fulfillment costs allows you to manage your expenses effectively. This understanding helps you allocate resources, set prices, and make informed decisions to maintain profitability. Knowing your fulfillment fees enables you to set accurate and competitive prices for your products. You can factor in these costs while determining your profit margins and ensuring that your pricing aligns with the value you provide. By understanding your fulfillment fees, you can assess the profitability of individual products, product lines, or customer segments. This helps you identify which areas of your business are generating the most profit and which might need optimization.

Detailed knowledge of fulfillment fees allows you to identify areas where operational efficiencies can be improved. You can streamline processes, reduce waste, and identify bottlenecks to enhance overall efficiency. Accurate fulfillment fee data supports better financial planning. You can create more realistic budgets and forecasts, which are essential for business growth and stability. Understanding fulfillment costs is vital when making decisions about outsourcing, investing in technology, expanding to new markets, or introducing new products. It helps you evaluate the potential impact of these decisions on your bottom line. With a clear understanding of your fulfillment fees, you can negotiate better terms with suppliers and service providers. This can lead to cost savings and improved relationships with your partners. Being aware of your fulfillment costs helps you set accurate delivery times, manage customer expectations, and provide reliable shipping options. This leads to better customer satisfaction and loyalty.

If your fulfillment costs change due to factors like increased order volume, new product lines, or changes in carrier rates, you can adjust your pricing strategy accordingly. Knowledge of your fulfillment costs is essential for creating a robust business strategy. It ensures that your strategy is realistic, achievable, and aligned with your financial capabilities. By accurately understanding and managing your fulfillment fees, you can position your business competitively in the market. This can help you offer attractive prices while maintaining profitability.

In essence, understanding your order fulfillment fees is fundamental to running a successful and sustainable business. It allows you to make informed decisions, optimize operations, maintain healthy profit margins, and provide excellent customer experiences.

What We Do


The inbound shipping team with Speed Commerce is ready to receive, inspect, enter into inventory, and place your products on the shelves, ready for the warehouse team to pick products for your orders.

Picking & Packing

Accurate assembly of ecommerce orders can make or break your business. Our team goes the extra mile to ensure orders are assembled correctly, packed with care, accurately labeled, and sent to shipping on time.


Because of our shipping volume to and from our facilities, we have established relationships with major carriers and negotiated favorable rates. Ensuring your orders are received by the carrier as expected is our top priority.

Inventory Management

Making sure you have enough stock on hand (but not too much) takes expertise in ecommerce retail trends. We work closely with our clients and their Speed Commerce client success manager to anticipate spikes or dips in demand. Our team also manages monthly inventory reporting and takes measures to avoid shrinkage.


Need to expedite order fulfillment to meet unexpected high-demand? We're experts in cross-docking. Our team is agile and can quickly receive (and complete their inbound checklist) on the dock, then our pick-pack team will quickly assemble orders and prepare for shipment. We don't waste time putting items on the shelves; instead we get them out the door!

Returns Management

Get your reverse logistics under control. We manage the full end-to-end process of returned product, including refreshing and reviving! Reducing shrinkage and get your product back out the door generating profit with our returns management service.

Long-Term Storage

Store your inventory in our safe and secure warehouse and gain flexibility you need in your operations. We have space for your long-term storage needs. Centrally located, our warehouses are ideally situated to give you access to your inventory in a secured location. We offer transparent pricing, quick start, and flexible terms.

Managed Services

We remove the headaches in managing your ecommerce fulfillment and warehousing operation. We work with you to learn what's important to you and craft our agreements to match your expectations. You'll meet with your client account manager regularly to review our performance and make adjustments.


Your customers want their orders delivered quickly. In ecommerce, fast order fulfillment is a must! We live up to our name and ensure speed in everything we do. Same-day fulfillment gets your orders packed and shipped shortly after your customer makes their purchase.

Effects of Fulfillment Errors on Cost per Order

Fulfillment errors can have significant effects on the cost per order in your business. A fulfillment error occurs when there is a mistake or discrepancy in processing an order, which can lead to various issues that impact both the financial and operational aspects of your business. Here’s how fulfillment errors can affect the cost per order:

The most common result leads to returns and exchanges. Fulfillment errors often result in incorrect or damaged items being sent to customers. This can lead to higher return rates as customers seek replacements or refunds. The cost of processing returns, restocking items, and managing exchanges contributes to the overall cost per order. If a fulfillment error requires sending replacement items to customers, you’ll incur additional shipping costs. These costs include shipping the correct item to the customer and covering the return shipping of the incorrect item.

Addressing fulfillment errors requires customer service resources to manage inquiries, complaints, and resolution. The time and effort spent on correcting errors increases the cost per order. Correcting fulfillment errors involves processing the order again, which consumes labor, time, and resources. This adds to the operational costs associated with the fulfillment process. Maybe most importantly is that fulfillment errors can erode customer trust and loyalty. Customers who experience errors may be less likely to return for future purchases, leading to a loss in recurring business. Customers who receive incorrect or damaged items may leave negative reviews, impacting your online reputation. This can deter potential customers and result in lost sales. The strain on resources can occur when staff time and effort that could be used for other productive tasks are diverted to correcting fulfillment errors, reducing overall operational efficiency. Fulfillment errors can lead to excess or unsellable inventory if incorrect items are returned. Managing this inventory adds to costs and decreases inventory turnover. If products need to be repackaged or repaired due to fulfillment errors, there are additional costs associated with fixing the mistakes.

Fulfillment errors can cause delays in processing other orders, potentially leading to backlogs and further operational challenges. Fulfillment errors might prevent cross-selling or upselling opportunities, resulting in missed revenue potential. Fulfillment errors can disrupt the smooth flow of operations, affecting productivity and potentially leading to lower output.

All of these factors contribute to an increased cost per order when fulfillment errors occur. Preventing and minimizing these errors through effective quality control, process optimization, employee training, and robust order management systems are crucial for maintaining operational efficiency and reducing these negative impacts on your business. On a positive note, handling customer errors can also lead to an opportunity to take responsibility for the error, apologize, make things right with customer and build a stronger relationship because the mistake was handled expeditiously and with grace.

Hidden Costs of Order Fulfillment

Hidden costs of order fulfillment refer to expenses that might not be immediately apparent but can significantly impact your overall operational costs. Identifying and understanding these hidden costs is crucial for accurate budgeting and ensuring your business’s financial health. Here are some common hidden costs of order fulfillment:

Returns Processing

While returns are a known aspect of e-commerce, the costs associated with processing returns might not be fully accounted for. This includes restocking fees, damaged item disposal, labor costs for inspection, and potential loss of resale value for returned items.

Inventory Holding Costs

Keeping excess inventory on hand comes with expenses like storage fees, insurance, potential obsolescence, and the opportunity cost of tying up capital in inventory that could be invested elsewhere. Some 3PL’s might have dynamic pricing, where the fees increase on slow moving products or that are seasonal.

Obsolete Inventory

Over time, products can become outdated, seasonal, or obsolete. The costs associated with disposing of or discounting these products need to be factored in.

Technology and Software

Order fulfillment relies on various software and technology systems, including inventory management, order processing, and shipping platforms. Licensing, maintenance, upgrades, and integration costs can add up.

Shipping and Carrier Fees

Shipping costs can include various surcharges, such as remote area fees, address correction fees, and additional charges for special services.

Payment Processing Fees

Credit card processing fees and payment gateway charges can eat into your profit margins, especially for smaller transactions.

Customs and Duties

For international orders, customs fees, duties, and taxes can significantly increase the cost of fulfilling orders.

Unpredictable Peak Period Costs

During busy seasons, unexpected costs can arise due to temporary labor hiring, overtime pay, and expedited shipping to meet customer demands.

Opportunity Costs

Spending time and resources on inefficient fulfillment processes might prevent your team from focusing on more strategic tasks that contribute to business growth.

To accurately assess the total cost of order fulfillment, it’s important to conduct a thorough analysis that includes both the direct and hidden costs associated with your specific operations. Regularly reviewing and optimizing your processes can help mitigate some of these hidden costs and improve overall efficiency.

Common Fulfillment Pricing Models Explained

Fulfillment pricing models outline how fulfillment service providers charge for their services. These models can vary based on the specific needs of your business, the types of products you sell, and the level of service you require. Here are some common fulfillment pricing models explained:

Per Order/Pick-and-Pack Pricing:

In this model, you are charged a fixed fee for each order processed. This fee typically covers picking products from inventory, packing, and preparing the order for shipping. It’s a straightforward model that’s easy to understand and budget for. It works well for businesses with consistent order sizes and volume.

Per Item Pricing:

With per-item pricing, you are charged a fee for each individual item picked and packed, regardless of the order size. This model can be advantageous if your orders vary significantly in size and complexity. It provides a more granular approach to pricing.

Storage/Inventory Holding Fees:

Warehousing providers often charge storage fees based on the amount of space your inventory occupies in their facility. This can be a monthly fee determined by the cubic footage or pallet space used. Storage fees can vary based on the volume and type of inventory you have. They are particularly relevant for businesses with seasonal products.

Subscription/Membership Pricing:

Some fulfillment providers offer subscription or membership models where you pay a regular fee for access to their fulfillment services. This fee can cover a certain number of orders or items per month. This model can provide cost predictability and is suitable for businesses with consistent order patterns.

Tiered Volume Pricing:

Tiered pricing involves different pricing levels based on order volume. The cost per order or per item decreases as your order volume increases. This model encourages growth and rewards businesses that scale their operations.

Variable Pricing Based on Service Level:

Fulfillment providers might offer different service levels with varying levels of speed, accuracy, and support. Each service level comes with a different price point. This model allows you to choose the level of service that aligns with your business needs and budget.

Customized Pricing: 

In some cases, fulfillment providers might offer customized pricing tailored to your specific requirements. This can involve negotiating rates based on your unique needs and volume. Customized pricing is suitable when you have specific needs that don’t fit neatly into standard pricing models.

Additional Service Fees:

Apart from the core fulfillment pricing, additional service fees can apply for value-added services like gift wrapping, kitting, customization, and special packaging.

Shipping Fees:

Fulfillment providers may offer shipping services with negotiated carrier rates. You’ll be charged based on the shipping method, distance, and weight of packages.

Setup Fees or Onboarding Costs:

Some providers charge an initial setup fee to cover the costs of integrating your systems with theirs and onboarding your products into their fulfillment process.

It’s important to carefully review and compare fulfillment pricing models to ensure that they align with your business’s needs and growth trajectory. Consider factors like order volume, order complexity, storage requirements, and the value-added services you might require. Ultimately, the goal is to find a pricing model that offers transparency, cost-effectiveness, and the level of service that supports your business’s success.

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A fulfillment expert will get back to you within 1-2 business days.

Average Fulfillment Costs by Pricing Models

Fulfillment costs can vary widely based on factors such as the nature of your products, order volume, geographical location, the level of service required, and the specific pricing model used. It is important to note that actual costs can differ significantly depending on your unique circumstances. Here’s a rough estimate of average fulfillment costs based on common pricing models:

Per Order/Pick-and-Pack Pricing:

On average, per order or pick-and-pack pricing can range from $2 to $5 per order. This includes the costs associated with picking products, packing materials, and preparing orders for shipping. Keep in mind that the exact cost can vary based on the complexity of the order and the number of items included.

Per Item Pricing:

Per-item pricing can range from $0.50 to $2 per item. This model is particularly suitable for businesses with a wide variety of products and order sizes.

Storage/Inventory Holding Fees:

Warehousing costs can vary based on factors such as the size and weight of your products, the amount of storage space required, and whether the provider charges monthly or yearly. On average, you might expect storage fees to range from $0.50 to $3 per cubic foot per month.

Subscription/Membership Pricing:

Subscription-based models can range from $100 to $500 per month for a certain number of orders or items. The exact price will depend on the level of service included in the subscription.

Tiered Volume Pricing:

In a tiered pricing model, costs per order can decrease as your order volume increases. For example, the cost might be $4 per order for the first 500 orders, $3.50 per order for the next 1,000 orders, and so on.

Variable Pricing Based on Service Level:

Costs based on service levels can vary significantly. Basic service levels might start around $2 per order, while premium service levels with faster shipping options and additional services might range from $5 to $10 per order or more.

Additional Service Fees:

Additional service fees, such as gift wrapping or kitting, can vary widely based on the type of service. For example, gift wrapping might cost an extra $2 to $5 per order, while kitting services could range from $0.50 to $5 per kit.

Shipping Fees:

Shipping fees are highly variable depending on the shipping method, carrier rates, and shipping distance. Fulfillment providers often offer negotiated shipping rates, which can help you save on shipping costs compared to standard carrier rates.

Setup Fees or Onboarding Costs:

Setup fees or onboarding costs can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on the complexity of the integration process and the level of customization required.

It’s important to remember that these estimates are rough averages and can vary based on your specific situation. When evaluating fulfillment providers and pricing models, consider obtaining detailed quotes that take into account your product specifics, order volume projections, and any unique requirements your business may have.

Fulfillment Costs Calculator: How to Calculate Fulfillment Costs

Calculating fulfillment costs involves considering various components, such as labor, storage, packaging, shipping, and any additional services you offer. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to create a basic fulfillment cost calculator:

First, identify the cost components that will be applicable to your business. List all the components that contribute to your fulfillment costs. This could include:

  • Labor (picking, packing, quality control)
  • Storage (warehousing fees)
  • Packaging materials (boxes, tape, labels, inserts)
  • Shipping costs (carrier fees, postage) • Technology costs (software, integration)
  • Returns processing costs
  • Customer service expenses
  • Additional service fees (gift wrapping, kitting, customization)
  • Any other relevant expenses

Second, collect the data for each cost component. This could involve looking at invoices, receipts, employee wages, carrier contracts, and any relevant financial records.

Third, calculate the average cost for each component based on historical data. For example, if you spent $1,000 on packaging materials last month and fulfilled 500 orders, the average packaging cost per order would be $2 ($1,000 / 500).

Fourth, determine your order metrics, such as average order size, order volume per month, and order items per month. These metrics will help you calculate costs for a specific time frame.

Fifth, calculate the total fulfillment costs. Multiply the average cost per component by the corresponding order metrics:

  • Labor cost per order = Average labor cost per order × Order volume per month
  • Packaging cost per order = Average packaging cost per order × Order volume per month
  • Storage cost per month = Warehousing fee per month
  • Shipping cost per order = Average shipping cost per order × Order volume per month
  • Technology cost per month = Technology cost per month
  • Returns processing cost per month = Returns processing cost per month
  • Customer service cost per month = Customer service cost per month
  • Additional service cost per month = Additional service cost per month
  • Other costs = Other costs

Finally, calculate total fulfillment cost per order. Sum up all the calculated costs to find the total fulfillment cost per order:

Total Fulfillment Cost per Order =

Labor cost per order + Packaging cost per order + Storage cost per month / Order volume per month + Shipping cost per order + Technology cost per month + Returns processing cost per month + Customer service cost per month + Additional service cost per month + Other costs

Creating a fulfillment cost calculator helps you understand the breakdown of your costs and allows you to make informed decisions about pricing, process improvements, and operational efficiency. Review your calculations and adjust them as needed based on real-world observations. Regularly update your data to ensure accuracy as conditions change. Keep in mind that complexities can arise based on your business’s unique needs and the diversity of products you offer.

How a 3PL Can Keep Fulfillment Costs Down

A Third-Party Logistics (3PL) provider can take several strategic steps to keep fulfillment costs down while maintaining high-quality service. Here are three effective approaches:

Efficient Warehouse Management

Optimize warehouse layout and storage practices to minimize the time and effort required. Implementing efficient inventory management systems can reduce errors, decrease search times, and increase overall productivity. Group orders by geographic location or shipping method to optimize order picking routes. This reduces the distance traveled within the warehouse and improves order picking efficiency. Regularly monitor and analyze key performance indicators (KPIs) related to fulfillment, such as order accuracy, processing times, and shipping costs. Use data-driven insights to identify areas for improvement. Follow lean inventory principles to reduce excess inventory and holding costs. This involves optimizing reorder points, using just-in-time inventory strategies, and focusing on product velocity.

Automation and Technology

Invest in warehouse automation and technology solutions, such as barcode scanning, robotics, and order management software. These technologies can streamline processes, reduce manual labor, and enhance accuracy. Evaluate short term needs and align with your long-term strategy to determine how to incorporate the right solutions that reduce your per unit expenses and allow you to scale without additional per unit costs.

Negotiated Carrier Rates

Leverage the 3PL’s volume to negotiate favorable shipping rates with carriers. This can result in cost savings on shipping fees. It is important to determine what your carrier strategy will be. Multi-carrier versus single-carrier and how the product mix affects volume by weight, size, and region.

These three areas of focus can align with your strategic plans and effectively reduce fulfillment costs while delivering efficient, accurate, and timely order fulfillment services.

Wrapping Up

Evaluating and comparing third party logistics costs can often be overwhelming. Understanding the terminology and the different components to understanding the actual cost, will be critical in the success of your eCommerce business. Transparency is ultimately the key sign to determine if you have found the right partner. The billing should be simple and easy to follow. Ultimately, it should provide clear measurement to your cost per unit and cost per order.

How Speed Commerce Manages Fulfillment Costs

Speed Commerce approaches managing fulfillment costs as a partnership. We have a responsibility of providing a pricing structure that is competitive and positions our clients to go to market favorably. Speed Commerce pricing typically does not present as the lowest in the market. With over forty years of being in business, we recognize the importance of providing a stable partner, that fully protects our clients future. We are fully self-funded and do not rely on leveraging the company or seeking private equity money that often creates a higher risk environment.

FAQs About Fulfillment Costs

1. What are fulfillment costs?

Fulfillment costs refer to the expenses incurred in the process of receiving, processing, packing, and shipping customer orders. These costs include labor, packaging materials, shipping fees, technology expenses, and more.

2. How are fulfillment costs calculated?

Fulfillment costs are calculated by considering various factors such as labor, packaging, shipping, storage, technology, and additional services. The specific calculations depend on the pricing models, order volume, and unique aspects of your business.

3. What are hidden costs in fulfillment?

Hidden costs in fulfillment are often overlooked expenses that contribute to the overall cost per order. These can include returns processing, inventory holding costs, setup fees, quality control, and more.

4. What pricing models do fulfillment providers use?

Fulfillment providers typically use pricing models such as per order/pick-and-pack, per item, storage fees, subscription/membership, tiered volume pricing, variable pricing based on service level, and more.

5. How can I keep fulfillment costs down?

To keep fulfillment costs down, focus on optimizing warehouse management, implementing technology solutions, forecasting demand accurately, following lean inventory practices, negotiating shipping rates, and continuously improving processes.

6. What factors affect fulfillment costs?

Factors that affect fulfillment costs include order volume, order complexity, product types, storage requirements, shipping destinations, service level requirements, and the level of automation in your fulfillment processes.

7. How can I choose the right 3PL to minimize fulfillment costs?

Choose a 3PL that offers transparent pricing, tailored services, technology integration, favorable shipping rates, efficient warehouse management, and a track record of providing cost-effective solutions.

8. What are the benefits of understanding fulfillment costs?

Understanding fulfillment costs helps you set accurate pricing, manage expenses, optimize operations, make informed business decisions, maintain profitability, and provide better customer experiences.

9. Can fulfillment costs impact my profit margins?

Yes, fulfillment costs directly impact your profit margins. If these costs are not managed effectively, they can reduce your profit margins and lead to financial challenges.

10. How can I create a fulfillment cost calculator?

To create a fulfillment cost calculator, identify cost components (labor, packaging, shipping, etc.), gather cost data, calculate average costs, determine order metrics, calculate total fulfillment costs, and refine your calculations based on real-world observations.

11. Why should I pay attention to hidden costs in fulfillment?

Paying attention to hidden costs is essential because they can have a significant impact on your overall expenses. Understanding and addressing these costs can help you accurately assess your business’s financial health.

12. How often should I review and adjust my fulfillment costs?

It’s advisable to review and adjust your fulfillment costs on a regular basis, especially if there are changes in your order volume, product offerings, or operational processes. Regular reviews ensure that your pricing and budgeting remain accurate and up to date.

Let's Get Started

A fulfillment expert will get back to you within 1-2 business days.