William K. Turner
William K. Turner

What Makes 3PL Fulfillment Warehouses Different

7 min read

Published on: Jan 9, 2024

Last updated on: Jan 27, 2024

What Makes 3PL Fulfillment Warehouses Different

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As an eCommerce company expands, the need for a proper warehouse becomes essential. While fulfilling orders from your in-house warehouse might work in the initial stages, the growth of your business will likely require a more structured fulfillment operation. 

This brings up a crucial decision: whether to keep managing your warehouse on your own or to explore the benefits of Third-Party Logistics (3PL) providers. 

Let’s discuss how 3PL warehouses are different from traditional warehouses to see which suits your business needs the best!

How Does 3PL Fulfillment Work?

3PL companies are external partners that specialize in managing various aspects of logistics and supply chain operations for businesses. 

These entities play a pivotal role in simplifying the transportation, warehousing, and distribution of goods from manufacturers to end consumers. 

3PL companies operate warehouses equipped to handle tasks such as receiving, storing, picking, packing, and shipping products. They often have a network of transportation partners, enabling them to coordinate the movement of goods through different modes of transport. 

These services are customizable to meet the unique needs of businesses, offering tailored solutions such as cross-docking, reverse logistics or custom packaging. Outsourcing logistics functions to 3PL companies can result in cost savings and operational efficiency, allowing businesses to focus on their core competencies. 

Moreover, 3PL services are scalable, providing flexibility to adapt to changing demand and seasonal variations in order volumes. Overall, 3PL companies serve as strategic partners, contributing to the seamless functioning of the supply chain.

How Are 3PLs Different From Warehouses?

While both Third-Party Logistics providers and warehouses are integral to the supply chain, it's crucial to understand the distinctions between the two.

Warehouses, in a traditional sense, primarily offer storage space for inventory. They act as static facilities where products are stored until they are needed for distribution. 

On the other hand, 3PL providers go beyond mere storage and offer a comprehensive suite of logistics services. Here are some of the integral differences between the two:

  • Warehouses provide a physical space to keep inventory but unlike 3PLs, do not offer additional logistics services like inventory management, order fulfillment, transportation coordination, and often technology integration.
  • Warehouses are often managed by the businesses themselves or by third-party warehouse operators. Whereas, 3PLs assume responsibility for tasks such as inventory storage, order fulfillment, and transportation management, actively taking a role in the entire logistics process. 3PLs even manage international fulfillment and last-minute fulfillment for your business.
  • Warehouses primarily focus on providing a secure storage environment, however, they might not be equipped to tackle other logistics issues like transportation delays or inventory discrepancies. The 3PL fulfillment process, on the other hand, handles multiple logistics challenges to minimize risks and implement contingency plans to ensure smooth operations.

Types Of 3PL Fulfillment Houses

Third-Party Logistics (3PL) fulfillment houses come in various types, each catering to different aspects of the supply chain. Understanding these types helps businesses choose the right 3PL provider based on their specific needs. 

Here are the primary types of 3PL fulfillment houses:

Public Warehousing

Public warehousing is a shared facility where multiple businesses store their inventory. This type of 3PL provider offers flexible storage solutions, making it cost-effective for businesses with different storage needs. 

Public warehouses are suitable for companies seeking short-term storage solutions for storing their products.

Private Warehousing

Private warehousing involves exclusive storage facilities dedicated to a single client. 

Businesses with consistent and substantial storage requirements often opt for private warehousing to have complete control over their inventory. While it offers a higher degree of customization, it may entail higher fixed costs.

Distribution Centers

3PL distribution centers specialize in efficiently managing the distribution of products. They play a crucial role in optimizing order fulfillment processes, ensuring timely and accurate deliveries to end consumers. 

Distribution center 3PLs often integrate advanced technologies and 3PL Software to enhance order processing and shipping efficiency.

E-commerce Fulfillment Centers

This type of fulfillment service is tailored to the unique needs of ecommerce businesses, ie; online retailers. 

These 3PL providers focus on picking, packing, and shipping individual customer orders, often with features like same-day shipping and returns processing. E-commerce fulfillment centers are integral to meeting the demands of the rapidly evolving online retail landscape.

Some examples of e-commerce fulfillment centers and services include:

Temperature-Controlled Warehousing

For businesses dealing with perishable or temperature-sensitive goods, temperature-controlled warehousing is crucial. 

This type of 3PL fulfillment house maintains specific temperature conditions to preserve the quality of products like food, pharmaceuticals, or electronics. It ensures that goods reach customers in optimal condition.

Cross-Docking Facilities

Cross-docking facilities minimize the need for long-term storage by facilitating the direct transfer of goods from inbound shipments to outbound transportation. 

This type of 3PL provider is beneficial for businesses aiming to streamline their supply chain, reduce storage costs, and enhance overall efficiency.

Returns Processing Centers

Returns processing centers specialize in managing the reverse logistics process. 

They inspect returned items, restock inventory if possible, and update the system accordingly. Businesses that prioritize a seamless and efficient returns process often choose 3PL providers with expertise in returns processing.

International Fulfillment Centers

International fulfillment centers cater to businesses with a global reach. 

These 3PL providers have a network of warehouse spaces strategically located in different regions, facilitating efficient order fulfillment, customs clearance, and ship orders internationally. This type of fulfillment house is essential for businesses engaging in cross-border e-commerce.

By grasping the distinct roles and benefits of different types of 3PL fulfillment houses, businesses can match their logistical needs with a provider's capabilities.

Which Fulfillment Warehouse Is Best For You?

After looking closely at how fulfillment warehouses work and learning about the different kinds of 3PL warehouses, a question comes up: Which fulfillment warehouse is best suited for your business? 

When it comes to choosing between a 3PL provider and managing your own warehouse, the decision depends on your specific business needs and objectives. 

Here are some key questions you need to ask yourself about to make an informed decision:

  • How regular are your storage requirements, taking into account considerations for potential storage fees?
  • How much control do you want over your inventory management?
  • What budget limitations do you have for warehouse management, including considerations for shipping costs?
  • Where do you want your team's primary focus – on core business functions or logistics operations?
  • What is your anticipated growth trajectory?
  • Does your business operate on a global scale?
  • Do you require specialized expertise in managing the returns process or would your business benefit from outsourcing fulfillment?
  • How risk-averse is your business when it comes to potential logistics challenges?

Considering these factors will help you make an effective choice that aligns with the unique demands of your business.

If you're leaning towards the flexibility and efficiency of a 3PL solution, consider exploring how our 3PL Fulfillment and Prep could complement your unique requirements. Feel free to reach out for a consultation, and let's discuss how our 3PL solutions can seamlessly integrate with your business strategy.

Frequently Asked Questions

What's the difference between a distribution center and a 3PL warehouse?

A distribution center specializes in optimizing product distribution processes, ensuring efficient and timely deliveries to end consumers. 

In contrast, a 3PL warehouse, as part of Third-Party Logistics services, provides a comprehensive suite of logistics functions, including storage, picking, packing, and shipping. It actively manages various aspects of the supply chain beyond distribution.

What is the difference between a warehouse and a fulfillment center?

A warehouse primarily offers storage space for inventory until needed for distribution. On the other hand, a fulfillment center is tailored for e-commerce order fulfillment, focusing on picking, packing, and shipping individual customer orders. 

While a warehouse emphasizes storage, a fulfillment center is crucial for streamlined processing and quick shipment of online customer orders.

William K. Turner


William K. Turner (International Trade, Global Logistics)

Willian K. Turner, our esteemed author with expertise in International Trade, Global Logistics, and Supply Chain Management, has a lot to offer when it comes to writing about these topics. He has a wealth of experience and knowledge to share with readers. Whether he's writing blog posts or articles his insights will be surely valuable to anyone interested in these industries.

Willian K. Turner, our esteemed author with expertise in International Trade, Global Logistics, and Supply Chain Management, has a lot to offer when it comes to writing about these topics. He has a wealth of experience and knowledge to share with readers. Whether he's writing blog posts or articles his insights will be surely valuable to anyone interested in these industries.

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