photo of business partners signing a fulfillment contract


Navigating the intricacies of fulfillment contracts is as crucial as any strategic business decision. These contracts are riddled with complex terms that, if not properly understood, can lead to unexpected costs and operational headaches.

This blog delves into the often-overlooked aspects of fulfillment agreements, shedding light on the common pitfalls like hidden fees and restrictive terms, and emphasizing the necessity of transparency. Our aim is not only to educate but also to arm you with knowledge, enabling you to make informed choices that align with your business goals.

What to Look Out for in Fulfillment Service Contracts

Infographic of what to look out for in fulfillment contracts

Understanding Storage Pricing

When diving into fulfillment services, one of the first and most critical elements you’ll encounter is storage pricing. This fee is calculated based on how your inventory is stored, and understanding the nuances of this pricing structure is essential for keeping costs predictable and manageable. Here’s what you need to know:

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Common Storage Fee Structures

  • Per Unit: Charges are applied based on the number of individual items stored.
  • Per Bin/Shelf/Pallet: Fees depend on the type of storage space used, whether it’s a small bin, a shelf, or an entire pallet.
  • Per Cubic Foot: This method calculates fees based on the volume of space your inventory occupies.

Pitfalls of Complex Pricing Tiers

  • Unexpected Costs: With bin, shelf, and pallet pricing, slightly exceeding a volume limit could push your inventory into a more expensive category. For example, exceeding the bin limit by just one cubic inch could trigger a jump from a $5 per month bin fee to a $15 per month pallet fee.
  • Difficult to Estimate: Calculating exact costs can be challenging without precise dimensions and anticipated inventory volume, leading to potential budgeting errors.
  • Lack of Flexibility: Fixed space allocations like bins or pallets may not efficiently accommodate fluctuating inventory levels, resulting in either wasted space or additional costs.

The Importance of Transparent Storage Pricing

Transparency in storage pricing not only helps in forecasting costs but also ensures that you only pay for what you need. A straightforward pricing model based on cubic footage, like the one used by eFulfillment Service (EFS), offers several advantages:

  • Fair Charging: With a per cubic foot per week fee, charges accurately reflect the actual amount of space your inventory occupies, regardless of its physical configuration.
  • Scalability: This model adapts seamlessly to changes in inventory size, making it ideal for businesses with seasonal fluctuations or growth phases.
  • Predictability: Clear and simple pricing allows for better financial planning and budget control.

In conclusion, understanding and choosing the right storage pricing model can significantly impact your fulfillment costs and operational efficiency. Opting for a transparent, fair pricing structure eliminates surprises and supports your business’s financial health.

The Truth About Parcel Ship Weights

Understanding how parcel ship weights are determined is crucial for any eCommerce business, as shipping costs can significantly impact overall profitability. However, not all fulfillment services calculate these weights in the same way, and the discrepancies between calculated and actual weights can lead to unexpected expenses. Here’s an exploration of these common discrepancies and their financial implications.

image of box on scale in warehouse

Common Discrepancies in Parcel Ship Weights

  • Rounding Up Weights: Some fulfillment companies round up the weight of each item to the nearest pound or even higher increments. This practice ensures they are covered for weight variations but often results in higher shipping costs for the seller.
  • Inclusive of Packaging: The weight calculation sometimes includes additional packaging materials, which can be heavier than necessary. This not only affects the cost directly but also impacts how shipping rates are calculated by carriers.

Calculating vs. Actual Weights

  • Calculated Weight: Often derived from an estimated weight that includes the item plus an approximation of packaging. This method can significantly deviate from the actual weight.
  • Actual Weight: Measured when the package is ready to ship and is the weight used by carriers like FedEx, UPS, ePost, and USPS to determine the shipping cost.

Impact of Weight Discrepancies on Shipping Costs

  • Higher Costs for Sellers: Overestimated weights lead to consistently higher shipping charges, which can add up over time, especially for businesses that ship large volumes.
  • Pricing Inaccuracy: If the estimated shipping cost is passed onto customers, it can either lead to overcharging, which might affect competitiveness and customer satisfaction, or undercharging, which cuts into profit margins.

    eFulfillment Service’s Approach: Transparency and Accuracy

    At eFulfillment Service, we prioritize accuracy and fairness in our shipping cost calculations by adhering strictly to actual ship weights. Here’s how we handle it:

    • Actual Ship Weights Used: We calculate shipping fees based on the actual weight measured, using scales that are calibrated for precision. This ensures that you are not overcharged for slight weight variations.
    • Partnerships with Major Carriers: We work directly with FedEx, UPS, ePost, and USPS, ensuring that the weight passed on for billing is the weight that influences your shipping costs. This integration allows for more accurate billing and eliminates the guesswork involved in shipping cost estimations.

    By focusing on actual weights, eFulfillment Service not only ensures fair pricing but also helps clients maintain their competitiveness by avoiding unnecessary shipping overcharges. This approach underscores our commitment to transparency and accuracy in all logistics operations.

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      Navigating High Dimensional (DIM) Weights

      In shipping and fulfillment, Dimensional Weight (DIM weight) is a critical factor that significantly impacts shipping costs, yet it remains one of the most misunderstood aspects. Understanding DIM weights and how they are manipulated can save eCommerce businesses from unnecessary overcharges. Here’s an overview to help navigate this complex topic.

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      What Are Dimensional Weights?

      Dimensional weight, also known as volumetric weight, is a pricing technique used by shipping carriers to calculate shipping charges based on volume rather than actual weight. The formula for DIM weight typically involves dividing the cubic size of a package by a DIM divisor. This method ensures carriers are compensated not just for the package’s weight, but also for the amount of space it occupies in their vehicles.

      Formula for DIM Weight:

      Common Abuses in DIM Weight Calculations

      • Inflated DIM Divisors: Some fulfillment companies use a lower DIM divisor, which results in a higher DIM weight and, consequently, higher shipping costs. For example, using a divisor of 166 instead of a more reasonable 280 can significantly increase the calculated DIM weight.
      • Limited Carton Sizes: Offering too few box sizes can force businesses to use packaging that is much larger than necessary, increasing the DIM weight. This lack of options often leads to inefficient packing and bloated shipping costs.

      Impact on Fulfillment Costs

      The manipulation of DIM weights can lead to significantly inflated shipping costs for businesses. Here’s how:

      • Higher Shipping Rates: With an artificially increased DIM weight, businesses face higher costs, which may need to be passed on to customers, potentially making their products less competitive.
      • Wasted Space and Resources: Using larger than necessary boxes not only affects costs but also contributes to material waste and increased environmental impact.

      Strategies for Mitigating High DIM Weights

      In reducing high dimensional (DIM) weight costs, understanding the DIM calculation formula differences between carriers is crucial. This knowledge not only aids in selecting the most efficient packaging but also positions you to negotiate better terms effectively.

      To further reduce the cubic size—and consequently, the DIM weight—opting for custom packaging solutions that fit your products snugly can be a game-changer. This approach minimizes wasted space, thereby lowering the volumetric weight calculated during shipping.

      Additionally, engaging in negotiations with your fulfillment provider to secure a higher DIM divisor can significantly decrease the DIM weight costs. By proactively addressing these factors, businesses can achieve substantial savings in shipping expenses.

      Navigating DIM weights effectively requires a clear understanding and proactive management of packaging and shipping strategies. By being aware of how DIM weights are calculated and the common abuses in the system, eCommerce businesses can better protect themselves from overpaying for shipping and enhance their overall operational efficiency.

      The Myth of Zone Skip Savings

      Zone skipping is a logistics strategy where shipments are consolidated and transported in bulk to a hub closer to the destination before final delivery. This is often touted as a cost-saving measure for eCommerce businesses, but the reality can be quite different.

      Analyzing the Supposed Benefits

      • Reduced Shipping Costs: The primary benefit of zone skipping is the potential reduction in per-package shipping costs by reducing the distance each package travels with carriers like UPS or FedEx.
      • Faster Delivery Times: By moving shipments closer to customers before the final delivery stage, zone skipping can potentially reduce transit times.

      Hidden Costs of Multiple Shipping Locations

      • Increased Storage Fees: Maintaining inventory across multiple locations can lead to duplicated storage fees, which can quickly add up, outweighing the savings from reduced shipping costs.
      • Complex Inventory Management: Managing stock across several locations increases complexity and can lead to higher operational costs and errors.
      • Inflexibility: Scaling operations or responding to

      When Does Zone Skipping Make Sense?

      • High Volume Shippers: For businesses that ship large volumes regularly, the savings on shipping costs can justify the additional overhead of multiple locations.
      • Geographically Concentrated Customer Bases: If customers are heavily concentrated in specific areas, closer fulfillment centers can enhance delivery speeds and customer satisfaction.

      When Doesn’t It?

      • Small to Medium Enterprises: For smaller operations, the added complexity and cost of managing multiple warehouses can be prohibitive.
      • Spread Out Customer Base: If your customer distribution is not heavily skewed towards particular areas, the benefits of zone skipping diminish.

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        The Impact of Billing Minimums

        Billing minimums in fulfillment contracts can pose significant challenges, especially during periods of low sales. These are fees that fulfillment services charge when your account does not meet a certain threshold of activity, essentially penalizing lower volumes.

        Understanding Billing Minimums

        • Fixed Monthly Fees: Regardless of how many transactions occur, the business is billed a minimum amount.
        • Penalizes Low Activity: During slow periods, businesses still incur high costs, which can strain budgets when they are least able to afford it.

        Strain on Businesses

        • Financial Burden: Minimum billing requirements can force businesses to pay for services they are not fully utilizing.
        • Reduced Flexibility: These fees lock businesses into paying a set amount monthly, reducing the financial flexibility needed during downturns.

        Strategies to Mitigate the Impact

        • Negotiate Terms: Where possible, negotiate the removal or reduction of billing minimums when signing contracts.
        • Choose the Right Partner: Select the right fulfillment service provider that do not impose minimum billing requirements, allowing for more operational flexibility.

        Billing minimums and the supposed savings from zone skipping are aspects of fulfillment that can often mislead businesses about the true cost and benefits. Understanding these elements deeply can empower businesses to make more informed and effective logistic decisions.

        Risks with Shared Bins

        Shared bins in fulfillment agreements can appear as a cost-effective solution for storing inventory, especially for smaller eCommerce businesses looking to minimize overhead. However, this practice involves combining the inventory of multiple sellers within the same storage bin, which can lead to several complications and potential risks. Understanding these risks is crucial for making informed decisions about your fulfillment strategy.

        image of employee scanning label of product in warehouse

        Complications of Using Shared Bins

        • Inventory Confusion: When products from different sellers are stored together, it becomes challenging to keep track of which items belong to whom. This can lead to errors during order fulfillment, such as sending the wrong items to customers.
        • Quality Control Issues: Shared storage can complicate the process of maintaining product quality. If one seller’s items leak, emit odors, or cause contamination, it can affect all the inventory within the same bin.
        • Difficulty in Managing Returns: Handling returns is more complex when items are not segregated by seller. This can result in items being restocked incorrectly, potentially leading to further fulfillment errors.

        Risks Associated with Shared Bins

        • Increased Risk of Theft or Loss: With multiple parties accessing the same storage space, the likelihood of inventory shrinkage or theft increases. Determining responsibility for lost or damaged goods can become a contentious issue without clear demarcation of ownership.
        • Problems with Product Authenticity: In environments where counterfeit products are a concern, shared bins can lead to genuine products being mixed with fakes, damaging brand reputation and consumer trust.
        • Legal and Compliance Risks: If products stored together fall under different regulatory standards (e.g., food safety, hazardous materials), non-compliance by one seller could implicate all others sharing the space.

        Mitigating the Risks

        To avoid these issues, here are a few strategies that eCommerce sellers can consider:

        • Individual SKU Storage: Opt for fulfillment services that offer separate storage for each SKU. This ensures that your inventory is easily identifiable and not mixed with others, reducing errors and maintaining product integrity.
        • Clear Contract Terms: Ensure that your fulfillment agreement includes clear terms regarding inventory handling, responsibility for damages, and compliance with regulations. This protects your business interests and provides a basis for recourse in case of disputes.
        • Regular Inventory Audits: Conduct or request regular audits of your inventory to ensure accuracy in stock levels and condition. This helps in identifying any issues early and mitigating potential losses.

        While shared bins might seem like a way to reduce costs, the hidden risks often outweigh the savings. For businesses that value customer satisfaction and product integrity, considering alternatives that ensure separate and secure storage for each SKU is advisable. By understanding these risks and planning accordingly, eCommerce sellers can maintain a reliable and efficient fulfillment process.

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        Beware of Seasonal Rate Adjustments

        Seasonal rate adjustments are a common practice among some fulfillment services, particularly peak season fulfillment periods like the holiday season. While these adjustments are often justified as necessary to cover increased operational costs, they can have significant implications for businesses, especially smaller eCommerce operations. Understanding the impact of these rate changes is crucial for planning and budgeting throughout the year.

        image of employee scanning label of product in warehouse

        What are Seasonal Rate Adjustments?

        Seasonal rate adjustments involve altering the cost of fulfillment services based on the time of year. This can include increased fees for storage, handling, or shipping during peak periods when sales volumes are typically higher.

        Reasons for Seasonal Adjustments

        • Higher Demand for Services: During peak seasons, demand for fulfillment services increases dramatically. To manage this surge, fulfillment companies may hire additional staff or extend operating hours, leading to higher operational costs.
        • Increased Shipping Costs: Carriers often raise their rates during busy seasons due to the higher volume of shipments, which can be passed on to eCommerce sellers.

        Impact on Businesses

        • Cost Uncertainty: Businesses face challenges in budgeting as they cannot predict how much extra they will need to pay during peak seasons.
        • Profit Margin Compression: For products with slim profit margins, unexpected rate hikes can erase profits, making seasonal sales less profitable.
        • Competitive Disadvantage: Smaller sellers may struggle to compete with larger retailers who can absorb or offset these additional costs more easily.

        Strategies to Mitigate the Impact

        • Advance Planning: Forecasting for increased costs during peak seasons can help businesses adjust their pricing strategies or promotional activities to cover these expenses.
        • Diversifying Fulfillment Options: Using a mix of fulfillment services can reduce dependency on any single provider that implements significant seasonal adjustments.
        • Negotiating Terms: Engaging in discussions with fulfillment providers about locking in rates or capping seasonal increases can provide more stability and predictability.

        The Case for Consistent Rates

        Consistent rates throughout the year offer a predictable cost structure that aids in financial planning and decision-making. Businesses can rely on stable fulfillment costs, which helps in maintaining profit margins regardless of the season. This predictability is particularly beneficial for small to medium-sized enterprises that operate on tighter budgets and less flexible financial frameworks.

        Seasonal rate adjustments are an industry reality, but they pose challenges that can impact the profitability and operational stability of eCommerce businesses. Companies need to understand these practices fully to mitigate their effects adequately. By planning ahead and exploring stable cost solutions, businesses can bette

        Account Setup Fees and Vendor Lock-in

        Navigating the initial stages of partnership with a third-party logistics (3PL) provider can be fraught with hidden costs, particularly when it comes to account setup fees and integration charges. Understanding these fees and how they potentially lock sellers into unfavorable terms is crucial for making informed decisions. This section reviews the common types of setup fees and the implications of vendor lock-in.

        person in yellow sweater typing on computer

        Common Setup and Integration Fees

        • Account Setup Fees: Some 3PLs charge a one-time fee simply for setting up a new account. This fee can cover the administrative costs of creating the account, integrating inventory systems, and sometimes even the initial training required to use their platform.
        • Shopping Cart Integration Fees: Integrating your eCommerce platform with a 3PL’s system often incurs fees. Depending on the complexity of the integration and the platforms involved, these fees can vary significantly.
        • Software Access Fees: Monthly or annual charges may apply for access to the provider’s management software, which is essential for tracking inventory, orders, and shipments.

        How These Fees Lock Sellers into Unfavorable Terms

        • Financial Commitment: The upfront investment associated with setup and integration fees can make switching to a different provider financially unfeasible, especially for small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
        • Dependency on Provider: Once a seller’s systems are deeply integrated with a 3PL’s software, the operational dependency grows. This dependency can lead to a reluctance to switch services, even if the fees increase or the service quality decreases.
        • Limited Negotiation Leverage: Initial setup fees and ongoing costs can diminish a seller’s bargaining power. With substantial sunk costs, sellers may feel compelled to accept suboptimal terms simply to maintain some return on their initial investment.

        Navigating Setup Fees for Better Contractual Terms

        • Research and Compare: Before committing to a 3PL, it’s essential to compare not only the service offerings but also any hidden fees. Understanding the full cost of entry and ongoing expenses can help in negotiating better terms.
        • Seek Transparent Providers: Opt for logistics partners who are upfront about costs and do not hide fees behind complex service agreements. Transparency in pricing reflects a provider’s integrity and commitment to fair dealing.
        • Negotiate Waivers or Discounts: In some cases, setup fees can be negotiated away or reduced. Especially if your business promises substantial volume or long-term engagement, use this as leverage in negotiations.

        Understanding the implications of account setup and integration fees is crucial in avoiding vendor lock-in and ensuring that your fulfillment partnership remains flexible and beneficial over the long term. By being aware of these fees and learning how to navigate them, sellers can protect themselves from unfavorable terms and maintain the freedom to adapt their fulfillment strategy as their business evolves.

        Introducing eFulfillment Service: A Transparent Alternative

        After navigating the complex landscape of fulfillment contracts, it’s evident that the right 3PL partner is vital for eCommerce success. eFulfillment Service (EFS) distinguishes themselves as a transparent, reliable alternative, directly addressing the common pitfalls of the industry with straightforward and equitable practices. Here’s how EFS effectively counters each challenge:

        • Storage Pricing: Unlike many competitors who use tiered storage pricing — potentially escalating costs from a $5 per month bin fee to a $15 per month pallet fee for minor overages — EFS employs a simple and fair approach by charging based on cubic feet per week. This method ensures that clients pay only for the actual space used, avoiding unexpected cost jumps.
        • Parcel Ship Weights: EFS bases shipping fees on the actual weight recorded by carriers like FedEx, UPS, ePost, and USPS, contrasting sharply with practices of rounding up weights found elsewhere in the industry. This commitment to accuracy protects clients from inflated shipping costs.
        • High DIM Weights: Where others might limit carton sizes or use low DIM divisors to artificially inflate billed weights, EFS offers a choice of 25 carton sizes and uses a generous DIM divisor of 280. This approach significantly reduces the DIM weight charged compared to the industry-standard divisor of 166, ensuring fairer and often lower shipping costs.
        • False Zone Skip Economics: EFS avoids the common trap of encouraging multiple shipping locations to supposedly save on shipping zones. Instead, it maintains a central U.S. location that optimizes the balance between storage expenses and shipping costs, thus preventing the unnecessary duplications of fees that don’t result in equivalent savings.
        • Billing Minimums: In an industry where some impose minimum monthly billings of $250 to $500, adding financial strain in slower sales periods, EFS stands out by not enforcing any billing minimums. This approach offers financial relief and flexibility to clients when they most need it.
        • Shared Bins: EFS ensures that each client’s merchandise is stored and managed separately, avoiding the risks associated with shared bins, such as compromised inventory integrity from damaged returns or inventory shrinkage. This policy of individual SKU storage safeguards against the unfair commingling seen with other providers.
        • Seasonal Rate Adjustments: Unlike practices seen with some platforms that increase fulfillment fees during the critical fourth quarter, EFS maintains consistent rates year-round. This stability aids in predictable budgeting and shields clients from seasonal financial pressures.
        • Account Setup and Integration Fees: EFS does not charge for account setup or shopping cart integration, contrasting with other providers that may levy significant fees. This policy facilitates easier and cost-effective start-up processes for new clients, fostering long-term partnerships without upfront financial barriers.

        By directly addressing these common fulfillment pitfalls with specific, client-friendly practices, eFulfillment Service not only promotes transparency and fairness but also sets a standard in the fulfillment industry for integrity and client-focused service. This comprehensive approach underlines why EFS is more than just a service provider—it is a partner dedicated to the success and trust their clients.

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        Summary & Key Take-Aways

        Key Takeaways

        • Understand Storage Pricing:

          • Choose straightforward pricing like per cubic foot to avoid unexpected costs from tiered pricing structures.
        • Accurate Parcel Ship Weights:

          • Ensure shipping fees are based on actual ship weights to prevent overcharging due to rounding up.
        • Optimize DIM Weights:

          • Select fulfillment services that offer a variety of carton sizes and a reasonable DIM divisor to lower shipping costs.
        • Zone Skipping Economics:

          • Evaluate the true cost vs. benefit of multiple shipping locations; often, a central location is most cost-effective.
        • Avoid Billing Minimums:

          • Partner with providers that do not enforce minimum billing, which can add financial strain during low sales periods.
        • Individual SKU Storage:

          • Ensure each SKU is stored separately to avoid issues like damaged returns and inventory shrinkage from shared bins.
          • Seasonal Rate Consistency:

            • Choose services with stable rates year-round to facilitate predictable budgeting and financial planning.
          • No Setup or Integration Fees:

            • Favor providers that do not charge setup or integration fees, reducing initial costs and enhancing flexibility.
          • Address Niche Market Needs:

            • Look for fulfillment services that cater to specific industry requirements, like media mail rates for publishers.
          • Transparency and Fair Dealing:

            • Select a fulfillment partner committed to clear communication, straightforward pricing, and reliable service.