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3PL Fulfillment Services or a Warehouse Investment

Phuc Le
August 23, 2023

As Your Ecommerce Venture Expands, Adaptation Becomes Vital for Sustained Success. Among the vital components of managing an online business, fulfillment logistics stands out. The strategy for fulfillment logistics demands periodic review to align with the growing expanse of your ecommerce operations. As your business reaches a certain juncture, you face the decision of either investing in a dedicated warehouse and assembling an in-house team for order fulfillment, or enlisting a third-party logistics (3PL) provider.

Opting for a warehouse investment empowers ecommerce enterprises with complete authority over their distribution processes. Nonetheless, partnering with a 3PL offers access to sophisticated logistics software that might otherwise be financially impractical. Delegating fulfillment to a 3PL also liberates ecommerce businesses to concentrate on other pivotal facets of their operations



3PL Fulfillment, also known as third-party logistics fulfillment, refers to the outsourcing of order fulfillment processes to a specialized third-party logistics provider. In the context of e-commerce and supply chain management, 3PL fulfillment involves entrusting tasks such as inventory storage, order processing, picking and packing, shipping, and sometimes even returns management to a company that specializes in logistics and distribution services.

Businesses that utilize 3PL fulfillment services essentially delegate their entire order fulfillment operations to the third-party provider. This allows the business to focus on core aspects like product development, marketing, and customer service, while the 3PL provider handles the intricacies of managing inventory, processing orders, and ensuring timely delivery.

3PL fulfillment providers are equipped with the necessary infrastructure, technology, and expertise to efficiently manage these processes. They often have warehouses strategically located to facilitate quick and cost-effective shipping, and they leverage software systems to manage inventory levels, track orders, and optimize the overall supply chain.

The term "3PL" stands for "third-party logistics," and it signifies that the provider is a separate entity from the business it serves, offering specialized logistics services as a dedicated service. This arrangement can offer businesses flexibility, scalability, and cost savings, particularly as their operations expand and become more complex.



The cost to use a 3PL (third-party logistics) fulfillment service can vary widely depending on several factors. These factors include the specific services required, the volume of orders, the complexity of the supply chain, the industry you're in, geographic locations, and more. Here are some key points to consider when estimating the cost of using a 3PL fulfillment service:

  • Service Package: According to a report by Inbound Logistics, the complexity of services greatly impacts costs. Basic services like storage and order processing may start at around $5 to $10 per order, while more comprehensive services including customized packaging and returns management can increase costs to around $15 to $20 per order.
  • Volume: A study by Supply Chain Management Review revealed that 3PLs often offer volume-based pricing models. Businesses with larger order volumes benefit from economies of scale, which can lead to cost reductions of up to 20% on a per-unit basis.
  • Product Characteristics: Data from the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) indicates that the physical characteristics of products influence costs. For example, products that require specialized handling or occupy more space might incur higher storage and handling fees.
  • Geographic Considerations: The "State of Logistics Report" by the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals highlights that the location of fulfillment centers impacts transportation costs. Choosing strategically located 3PL partners can reduce shipping costs by up to 25%.
  • Value-Added Services: Research by Armstrong & Associates indicates that 3PLs often offer a variety of value-added services, such as kitting, assembly, and customization. While these services can increase costs, they can also enhance customer satisfaction and streamline operations.
  • Shipping Costs: According to a report by Armstrong & Associates, 3PLs often negotiate shipping rates with carriers due to their combined volume. This negotiation power can lead to shipping cost savings of 10-30% compared to individual shipping arrangements.
  • Contract Length: Supply Chain Quarterly suggests that longer-term contracts (e.g., 12 to 24 months) can provide cost advantages, with potential savings of 5-10% compared to short-term agreements.
  • Industry and Seasonality: Research by Logistics Management reveals that in industries with seasonal fluctuations, such as retail, partnering with a 3PL can offer cost savings of up to 15% during peak seasons due to optimized operations and shared resources.


Warehouse investment refers to the allocation of financial resources for the acquisition, development, or improvement of physical storage facilities used for storing inventory, products, and materials. This type of investment is made by businesses to enhance their supply chain operations, optimize inventory management, and support their overall logistics strategies.

Here's a breakdown of what warehouse investment entails, with data and insights to support each point:

  • Facility Acquisition or Construction:

Investing in a warehouse facility involves either purchasing an existing property or constructing a new one. Construction costs vary significantly based on factors such as location, size, design complexity, and materials used. The cost per square foot can also be influenced by local construction labor rates and permitting requirements. Warehouse construction costs can vary by location and facility size. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average cost per square foot for warehouse construction in 2020 ranged from $45 to $90, depending on factors like material quality and regional differences.

  • Location Expenses:

The cost of leasing or purchasing a warehouse can be influenced by its location. Warehouses in prime locations near transportation hubs or major markets generally command higher rents or prices due to their strategic advantages. Businesses need to balance the benefits of a prime location against the associated expenses. Warehouses in prime locations may have higher real estate costs but offer strategic advantages. Colliers International reports that warehouse rents can range from $5 to $10 per square foot per year in secondary markets, and up to $10 to $15 per square foot in primary markets.

  • Technology Investment:

Warehouse technology, including Warehouse Management Systems (WMS), automated picking systems, and tracking solutions, can optimize operations but comes with an upfront cost. Investing in technology can improve order accuracy, inventory visibility, and overall efficiency, leading to long-term cost savings. Investing in warehouse technology, such as Warehouse Management Systems (WMS), automation, and tracking systems, can significantly impact costs. A survey by Peerless Research Group found that businesses spend between 3% and 5% of their annual revenue on supply chain technology.


  • Labor Costs:

Labor costs encompass wages, benefits, and training expenses for warehouse staff. The wage rates depend on factors such as location, skill level, and job responsibilities. Businesses investing in employee training can enhance efficiency and reduce turnover, leading to long-term savings. Labor costs include wages, benefits, and training expenses for warehouse staff. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that the median annual wage for a material mover in 2020 was around $29,000, while higher-skilled positions like warehouse managers earned higher salaries.

  • Utilities and Maintenance:

Warehouses require resources such as electricity, heating, and cooling. Utility costs depend on factors like the size of the facility, climate, and energy-efficient systems in place. Routine maintenance, repairs, and cleaning are essential for operational safety and efficiency. Warehouses incur ongoing costs for utilities (electricity, heating, cooling) and maintenance (repairs, cleaning). According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, commercial warehouses spend an average of $1.24 per square foot on energy expenses.

  • Material Handling Equipment:

Warehouses rely on equipment like forklifts, pallet jacks, and conveyors for efficient movement of goods. The cost of equipment can vary based on brand, capacity, and technology features. Investing in quality equipment can improve productivity and reduce downtime. Equipment like forklifts, conveyors, and pallet racks are necessary for efficient warehouse operations. According to Modern Materials Handling, the average cost of a basic forklift ranges from $15,000 to $30,000.

  • Security and Safety:

Ensuring warehouse security involves investments in surveillance systems, access control, fire prevention, and alarm systems. These measures protect inventory and employees while reducing the risk of theft and property damage. Implementing security measures like surveillance systems and access control adds to costs. According to Statista, businesses in the U.S. spent an average of $1.5 million on security technology in 2020.

  • Compliance and Regulatory Costs:

Warehouses must comply with safety regulations and standards. Costs include training staff, obtaining necessary certifications, and implementing safety measures to prevent accidents. Non-compliance can lead to fines and legal liabilities. Warehouses must adhere to regulations, which can lead to additional costs for compliance training, certifications, and safety measures. The National Fire Protection Association reports that businesses spend an average of $24,000 on fire protection systems.

  • Initial Inventory:

Businesses need to allocate funds to stock the warehouse with the initial inventory required to fulfill orders. Calculating inventory costs involves considering product variety, volume, and demand fluctuations. Businesses investing in warehouse fulfillment need to allocate funds for initial inventory procurement. Inventory carrying costs can range from 20% to 30% of the inventory value, as estimated by the Inventory Management Review.

  • Property Taxes and Insurance:

Warehouses are subject to property taxes, which vary based on location and property value. Additionally, insurance coverage is essential to protect against risks such as fire, theft, and liability. Insurance premiums depend on factors like property size, value, and the level of coverage. Warehouse owners need to budget for property taxes and insurance premiums. Costs can vary based on location, property value, and coverage.


The decision between embracing a 3PL fulfillment service or making a warehouse investment demands thoughtful evaluation. Opting for a 3PL can provide streamlined logistics expertise, advanced technology, and scalability advantages. On the other hand, investing in a warehouse grants you total control over your distribution processes and potentially substantial cost savings in the long run. Weighing the benefits against your business's unique needs and growth trajectory will pave the way for a strategic choice that optimizes your operations and propels you toward sustained success.

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