Often, the smallest businesses come with the largest workloads. Find out how you can ease yours, with our top seven order fulfilment providers in the UK
Growing your ecommerce business is fun.
Seeing orders rush in, watching your bank balance grow, and witnessing your products (quite literally!) fly off the shelves – it’s all part and parcel of the adrenaline rush that is online selling.
What’s less fun, though, is the legwork. Staying up late to sort through stock and pack goods, with only a cup of coffee and a few flattened cardboard boxes for company… who wants to be doing that?
Not you – so it’s time to start outsourcing your ecommerce fulfilment responsibilities. By hiring a company to handle the picking, packaging, and postage of your sold stock, you can cut costs, streamline your operation, and free up time for what matters.
In other words, you can focus on growing your business – not running it.
But choosing the right ecommerce fulfilment company (also known as a third party logistics, or 3PL, supplier) isn’t always that easy. Most 3PL providers are geared towards catering to clients with larger sales volumes. Smaller businesses tend to get the short end of the stick, becoming saddled with minimum charges and bloated monthly fees.
It’s not fair. So, we decided to put together our list of the best fulfilment companies for small businesses.
Read on to explore which one is best for yours.
Time, money, hassle, coffee consumption… outsourcing your small business’ order fulfilment duties can save you more than you think
The best fulfilment services for small businesses in 2021
We compared the range of ecommerce fulfilment services in the UK to find the ones best suited to the needs of small businesses. In particular, we kept an eye out for low fees, straightforward pricing, and a focus on catering to the needs of smaller scale operations. And here’s what we came up with.
The best small business fulfilment companies in the UK are FedEx, Bezos.ai, Huboo, Core Fulfilment, Abstrakt, James and James, and Amazon FBA.
Best for online stock and order management
FedEx is, quite simply, a huge name – if not the name – when it comes to delivery services. In the UK alone, FedEx boasts 75 locations, over 4,000 employees, and a fleet of vehicles that’s more than 2,200 strong. FedEx is common knowledge – but what’s less well-known is how adept this big business is at catering to small ones. As well as integrating with marketplaces such as Etsy, Magento, eBay and more, FedEx’s stock and order management software is among the best on the market. Why?
Well, FedEx’s cloud-based platform syncs with your existing software to provide insight into the whole ordering process – from placement to fulfilment, and all the way to transit and delivery. You’ll also know exactly when it’s time to order in new stock, while FedEx’s best in class analytics let you crunch the numbers to drive better business decisions.
Just ask FedEx Supply Chain’s senior vice president Ryan Kelly:
“FedEx Fulfillment gives small and medium-sized businesses the potential to achieve profitable and scalable growth. Online shoppers show deep-rooted loyalty to brands with fast shipments, easy returns, positive customer service experiences and flexible delivery options.”
- Its brand name inspires trust and confidence
- Its broad network of fulfilment centres promises quick delivery
- Integrates with payments, payroll and accounting tools, such as Square, Quickbooks, and Xero
- Rates aren’t transparent, so you won’t know how much you can expect to pay unless you enquire with FedEx directly
FedEx offers pricing that's tailored to the unique product, storage, and packaging demands of your business. Get in touch with FedEx with a few more details, and they’ll be able to provide a better idea of what your fees will be.
Alternatively, you could answer a couple of quick questions and receive quotes tailored to your small business right here, right now.
It’s nothing like a survey – we’ll just ask for a little more info about how you currently deliver your products, where you deliver them, and how many parcels you ship daily.
In return, you'll receive quotes from the best ecommerce fulfilment suppliers in your area. And you can rest assured that the companies that get in touch have all been hand-picked by our team, to help small businesses like yours scale.
Best for scalability
Using AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning software to help with your company’s logistics, Bezos.ai is one of the most exciting ecommerce fulfilment companies out there.
Offering flexible and tailored services to suit different businesses, whether you’re B2C, B2B, or DTC (direct-to-consumer), Bezos.ai can easily scale with you. In our research, we were also impressed by the company’s ability to have client’s inventory checked-in and ready to sell within 48 hours or less.
- Uses AI technology to streamline the logistics side of things
- Offers customisable returns service
- Checks-in and prepares your stock to be sold in 48 hours or less
- No pricing information available
Bezos.ai doesn’t have any pricing available on its website because it offers a bespoke service, meaning you'll only pay for what you need.
Best for lowest costs
If there’s anything small businesses shouldn’t have to do, it’s pay through the nose for fulfilment services. And with Huboo, you won’t – its rates are the lowest in the industry, and by a fair distance, too. Huboo offers two months' worth of free storage when you sign up, and tailored discounts on space after that. Huboo also boasts an incredible range of integrations – not just the big names such as Amazon and eBay, but the more obscure ones, too. And if they don’t already have it, Huboo promises to build that integration for you – for free!
- Offers instant setup
- Provides strong customer support
- Huboo sports excellent online customer reviews across the board
- You'll need to be shipping at least 30 units per month for it to be worthwhile
Huboo’s standard rates for individual items start from 95p (a small letter – up to 20g – processed within 72 hours) and go up to £4.49 (an medium parcel – up to 2kg – processed within 24 hours). This fee includes all receipt, picking, and packing, as well as your postage and courier costs.
This is a partially tracked service, meaning a third-party company collects your package from Huboo and delivers it to Royal Mail. At this stage, you'll receive a notification that it's been dispatched, and is on its way to your customer. It's a cheaper service, but comes with clear logistical limitations, and is slower than Huboo's other options.
Here's where Huboo's fully end-to-end tracking service comes in. Rates for this start from £3.70 (for a small parcel – up to 500g – processed within 48 hours), and go up to £7.40 (for an extra-large parcel – up to 20kg – processed within 24 hours).
And, if you're a fan of simplicity (and why wouldn't you be?!), you can also opt for one of Huboo's subscription tiers. Pricing is as follows:
- Bronze (30 unit per month limit) £10
- Silver (300 unit per month limit) £25
- Gold (1,500 unit per month limit) £50
- Enterprise (5,000 unit per month limit) £150
For corporate rates of over 5,000 units per month, contact Huboo directly.
Best for late order cut-offs
There’s a lot to get excited about when it comes to Crewe-based 3PL provider Core Fulfilment. Its industry-leading 10pm order cut-off times for next-day delivery, for instance. Its weekend order processing, too. Oh, and did we mention Core Fulfilment’s cloud-based software, and its seamless integrations with Magento, Shopify, and WooCommerce? Core Fulfilment is also totally upfront with its pricing, with a handy cost calculator on its website to help you understand exactly what you’ll pay in fees.
- Allows you to offer your customers a wider choice of parcel delivery partners
- Has experience in several sectors, including cosmetics, clothing, and consumer goods
- You’ll need to be processing at least 250 orders per month to be eligible
Core Fulfilment pricing
Core Fulfilment’s picking and packing fees start at £1.95 per single order with one item in it. It’s 25p extra for each additional item added to the same order.
Storage fees weigh in at £10.88 per pallet (approximately one m³), when you have up to 50 unique products (SKUs, or stock-keeping units) in your inventory. As you add more unique SKUs, storage fees will increase accordingly.
Best for returns handling
These days, handling returns is a huge part of running an ecommerce business. If it’s not easy to return, a customer won’t buy it. That’s why it’s such a relief that Abstrakt goes the extra mile to accept and process any returned items; getting them repackaged, re-shelved, and ready for resale. Abstrakt also offers kitting, reworking, and gift-wrapping services, too, while its software chips in with daily insights into the status of your stock.
- Offers excellent integration with the big ecommerce marketplaces, such as Amazon
- Its Birmingham-based warehouse allows it to cater to businesses from all over the UK
- No pricing information available
Abstrakt doesn’t advertise its rates transparently on its website. All of Abstrakt’s pricing is bespoke, so you’ll need to get in touch with the supplier directly, and provide some information about your business.
Remember, though, that you can also do that here. Simply provide us with some brief details about where and how you currently sell online. Then, leading 3PL providers will be straight back in touch with quotes tailor-made for your small business.
James and James
Best for startups and micro-businesses
Unlike many 3PL providers in the UK, James and James offers a fulfilment service that caters to businesses taking as few as 150 orders per month. As well as being tailored towards young businesses looking to grow, James and James’ service is also highly scalable – which means it’s perfectly placed to handle spikes in demand from marketing pushes, fresh investment, or kickstarter campaigns. Better still, this is all powered by James and James’ award-winning cloud-based software, which offers real-time stock and dispatch information to keep you in the loop.
- Its highly intuitive software provides a 360-degree view of your stock levels
- Its US, European, and New Zealand fulfilment centres pave the way for your business to scale internationally
- Its network of fulfilment centres isn’t as wide as those of the big 3PL providers
James and James pricing
James and James is also coy when it comes to disclosing exact ecommerce fulfilment rates. What it’s website does tell us, though, is that you’ll pay three different types of fees:
- Fulfilment services costs: These include dedicated customer support, integration with your shopping cart, and your order fulfilment software licence fees
- Fulfilment centre costs: These are what you’ll pay for the receipt and storage of your stock at James and James’ fulfilment centres (warehouses)
- Order fulfilment costs: These fees are for the picking, packing, packaging, and shipping of your stock, and include a returns handling service
Amazon FBA (Fulfilment by Amazon)
Best for selling small-sized, low value goods at high volume
Amazon may have its faults, but we’ll say one thing – it has big, big brand power. Its name and logo alone inspire enormous consumer confidence. And, for your small business, ‘piggybacking’ on that brand recognition can go a long way towards boosting sales – at least in the early days. Add to this Amazon’s slick returns handling, excellent customer care, and vast network of fulfilment centres, and you’ve got a whole host of reasons to give it a go.
Oh, and those faults we were talking about? Well, Amazon FBA hikes its prices during the leadup to Christmas. It’s also widely known that Amazon co-mingles stock, meaning the product your customer ordered may not be the one they actually receive.
- Provides 24/7 customer support
- Has no monthly minimum order amount
- Allows you to sell through a variety of ecommerce channels and platforms – not just Amazon
- Amazon has strict guidelines for having goods shipped to their fulfilment centres
Amazon FBA pricing
Amazon FBA offers two pricing plans. There's the ‘Basic' plan, for sellers shifting fewer than 35 items per month, and ‘Professional' – for everyone else.
With the ‘Basic' plan, you won't pay a subscription fee. Sounds good, right? Well, let's dig a little deeper. Firstly, you will pay a ‘selling' fee of 75p on every item you sell – plus ‘additional fees'. Huh?
Looking into the latter a little more closely, they're what Amazon dubs ‘referral fees'. This is an extra charge calculated against the total sales price of your item, and includes the cost of any delivery or gift wrapping, too. It'll depend on the category of the items you're selling, and is typically a minimum of 25 per item.
Percentage-wise, these ‘additional' fees (or ‘referral' fees, if you like that better) can be as low as 7.14% of your item's sale price (clothing, computers, cars/motorbikes, consumer electronics, large appliances, and tyres), and as high as 45.9% (Amazon device accessories).
Not sounding quite so cheap any more, is it?
The alternative is Amazon's ‘Professional' plan. With this, you'll pay a monthly subscription fee of £25 per month (excl. VAT). You won't be charged the 75 per item ‘selling' fee of Amazon's pay-as-you go plan here. However, you will still be eligible for those pesky ‘additional fees'.
Don't let guesswork define your small business's approach to ecommerce fulfilment. Find out exactly what you can expect to pay with FBA's ‘additional fees', or… simply go with another provider!
There's five excellent ones here – and, when it comes to affordable, professional service, Huboo in particular is hard to top.
Which ecommerce fulfilment provider you ultimately choose for your small business should depend on several factors.
The first is down to which kind of features you’re looking to prioritise. If it’s total visibility and control over your inventory and order management – with excellent reporting features to match – then FedEx is your best bet. If low fees are at the top of your wishlist, though, don’t look past Huboo.
As a young, growing business, you’ll also need to think about how to best optimise your customers' experience. To do this, we’d recommend both Abstrakt (for making the returns process as seamless as it can be), and Core Fulfilment (for offering your customers late cut-offs for next-day delivery).
Finally, you’ll need to take into consideration the size and specific needs of your ecommerce business. If you’ve literally just started out, James and James is the best option for you. Likewise, if you’re building your reputation selling low value goods at high volume, Amazon FBA is a good place to start.
Don’t just take our word for it, though – find out for yourself which ecommerce fulfilment service is the most well-suited to your small business. It takes 30 seconds, and it’s your shortcut to getting the best deal.
Simply answer a few short, straightforward questions about your current situation. We’re talking about:
- How long you’ve been trading for
- How you currently deliver your products
- Where you sell your stock
- The number of parcels you deliver daily
- The rough size of an average parcel you’d deal in
Once we have all this, we’ll match you with the suppliers that are most well-equipped to handle the channel and volume of the products you’re shipping.
They’ll then provide you with quotes tailored to the responses you gave, ensuring you get an ecommerce fulfilment solution that’s as unique as your small business is.