Fulfillment: What it is, process management and advantages

In a world that is becoming faster and more connected, with thousands of possibilities to choose from, fulfillment is an essential process for all e-commerce and online stores, as it ensures to meet customer expectations. If the delivery is not quick and smooth, customers will turn to other brands: as a matter of fact, 38% of customers say they will never shop again from an online store after a negative experience. Outsourcing the fulfillment of your brand, (i.e.: the management of the storage and shipping processes of the products) to external professionals allows you to obtain a quality service and save resources. According to a research by Grand View Research, the global market for e-commerce fulfillment services was worth approximately $ 70 billion in 2019. It is now estimated that it could reach pproximately $ 115 billion by 2027, due to the high number of fast and reliable delivery options.

But why is fulfillment such an important activity? What does it include? And what are the advantages of relying on an external fulfillment service?

What is fulfillment?

Enterpreneur defines fulfillment as the process of receiving orders, their management, packaging and shipping to the consumer.

Contrary to what is commonly thought, shipping and fulfillment do not refer to the same activity. Fulfillment, in fact, includes the entire process, from the moment a customer's order is processed on an e-commerce to the moment the customer receives the package in their hands. Shipping is an essential component of fulfillment, but the two terms cannot be overlapped.

The processes that make up fulfillment

Fulfillment can be divided into six phases:

  1. Order acquisition

  2. Management in the warehouse

  3. Order pick-up

  4. Packaging

  5. Shipping

  6. Management of the returns.

So, the order is received through various sales channels (website, app, etc.), and it is automatically registered in the system. At this point, the customer receives a confirmation of its purchase and other details about the order. When the order processing is requested, it is sent to the warehouse, where an operator picks up the desired goods, packs and prepares them for shipment (with the necessary documents). Once the order is shipped, the customer receives a notification and the inventory is updated. Finally, there’s the management of the returns, replacements or refunds.

Although the term fulfillment is mainly applied to e-commerce, every company that sells products directly to the consumer has to deal with fulfillment. Once the site is up and running – and the first orders are received – you need to find a way to prepare and ship them. Entrepreneurs can take care of it themselves or entrust it to contractors who offer complete end-to-end solutions: they manage the orders and restock them, take the product off the warehouse shelves, package it and ship it - sending also an email to the customer so that they know that their purchase is on the way, while offering inventory and customer support services. Finally, they take care of product replacement and returns.

All the greatest ecommerce have one thing in common: an excellent fulfillment process. Having the best product in the world, the most user-friendly website and competitive prices will be useless if the fulfillment process doesn't flow properly.

Why outsorucing the fulfillment

E-commerce, distribution and logistics experts suggest relying on fulfillment services when you have little to no time to manage it, so you can focus on the rest. But does fulfillment only save time? Absolutely not! Making sure that the customer gets a great service requires an enormous effort: you can use perfect pictures, have an amazing website and promote your products efficiently, but if the shipment is not carried out correctly all these efforts will be a waste of time. The outsourcing of the fulfillment allows you to rely on professionals who are responsible for managing orders and solving any problem that may occur during the process.

The advantages, however, don't end here:

Optimisation of space, storage and management of goods

Warehouses must be safe and secure places, in order to store goods and organise them efficiently, so that they can be retrieved quickly when they need to be shipped. Small businesses can start by using a garage, basement or small room as a warehouse, but over time it will be necessary to rent more space and deal with more logistics. Entrusting the fulfillment to subcontractors allows you to have a more agile business. There will be no need to own a warehouse, but you will be able to negotiate the storage space according to your needs, minimising the costs and associated risks. Some businesses outsource the fulfillment before they are even operational, in order to be ready for the product launch. Although demand is difficult to predict, a successful marketing campaign can enormously increase the volume of orders in a short time, so it is better to be already prepared.

Process automation

The orders flow directly into the fulfillment service, that is integrated with the e-commerce. The processes, orders and inventory are managed with software that process everything independently.

Data collection and traceability

Order management includes the receipt of the product, its cataloguing, its storage, the receipt of the purchase order through different sales channels, its preparation and shipment. All these phases are tracked in real time. This allows you to obtain data to be analysed, which may be useful to better understand the characteristics of your business model (such as, for example, the types and quantity of goods to sell, what remains in stock in the warehouse, etc.) and customer preferences (for example, regarding returns or shopping habits).


While small companies have to personally go to the post office to send their products or contact courier services, fulfillment service providers can negotiate cheaper fares on large volumes. Furthermore, having logistics hubs also in foreign countries and commercial agreements with postal and courier services, they manage shipments more quickly.

Bureaucracy simplification

E-commerce and online shopping exponentially increase products and brand awareness, as anyone can potentially buy them. It is an opportunity that should not be missed, but it also hides some issues, because different nations have different customs requirements. A fulfillment service allows you not to worry about all these aspects, which will be managed by professionals with years of experience within the sector.

Easy returns management

It is impossible to avoid dealing with returns, so simplicity and speed in their management are two of the main factors to consider for your business. The faster the order is processed, the faster the customer will get a refund or a replacement. The operations related to returns and refunds are the most time-consuming, expensive and difficult, as it is necessary to receive the product back, check the problem, process the refund/replacement and make the product usable again or dispose of it. The fulfillment service takes care of all this, shares information with the tracking systems, sends communications on the status of the product and/or the refund to the customer and allows the management of the returned goods or sends them to the original manufacturer as quickly as possible.


To summarise, fulfillment is the management of all that there is behind the purchase of an item on an e-commerce, from the order confirmation to the delivery. Outsourcing these activities allows brands, especially the ones at the initial stages of the e-commerce launch, to save money while also ensuring optimal management of the process thanks to professionals who take care of all the tasks, even the more unexpected. In fact, if your business is growing and expanding, managing the whole process in-house can lead to delays and huge costs. Relying on external fulfillment services allows you optimize the workload, quickly and economically, without having to rent a warehouse and manage it entirely.

IFS, with its twenty years of experience within the sector, has helped several businesses to grow. For more information on the fulfillment services offered by IFS Italy, you can download the brochure or visit the fulfillment & c-commerce section.