What is one of the biggest challenges of growing a business-to-consumer (B2C) ecommerce business? Reliable order fulfillment.
Believe it or not, logistics operations (from warehousing to shipping) are more tied to your customer experience than you might think. They’re fundamental to becoming a long-term beloved brand.
Though much of the time is spent on marketing (website design, email copy, social media content), the post-purchase experience is just as important.
Learn how to master B2C fulfillment, so you can build a solid foundation for long-term success.
What is B2C fulfillment?
B2C fulfillment refers to fulfilling orders that are shipped directly to an end consumer as opposed to a business or other party. The process tends to be relatively more straightforward than fulfilling B2B orders, since product pricing is standardized, orders are smaller, and in most cases, there are no contracts associated with orders.
What is the difference between B2B fulfillment & B2C fulfillment?
With B2B fulfillment, orders are fulfilled and shipped directly to a business, whereas B2C fulfillment requires picking and packing items for smaller, one-off orders or subscriptions fulfilled at a predetermined, recurring basis.
Here is an overview of the key differences between B2B and B2C fulfillment.
With B2C, there’s a single buyer or customer and the sales cycle is often shorter. B2B orders are often repeat purchases done in bulk and ordered less frequently.
B2B markets are more niche, and there are multiple customers who represent a single buyer (like employees at a company). When marketing to B2B buyers, it’s important to focus on relationship-building, as well as implementing technology and processes that make it easy to place a B2B order. EDI may even be a component depending on the retailer.
B2C repeat purchases rely solely on a customer experience and there is no obligation for a customer to purchase from the same brand again.
Order size & volume
B2C orders are much smaller than B2B orders, but there is often a higher order volume (with fewer units). Average order value can also be incentivized, such as offering free shipping if a customer reaches a minimum cart value threshold.
B2C orders usually have fewer items per order, are shipped in a box or poly mailer, and are directly delivered to the end customer.
On the other hand, B2B customers will typically order every few months, but the purchase quantity will be much larger. B2B orders are larger, likely to purchase in bulk, and require freight shipping.
Rules & regulations
In most cases, there are fewer rules and regulations with B2C fulfillment than there are with B2B fulfillment.
Some B2B customers (including larger retailers) require fulfillment warehouses to comply with electronic data interchanges (EDI), and must use barcodes, parcels, and invoices. For international B2B, shipments tend to be slower than international B2C shipments due to cross-border shipping regulations tied to larger orders. EDI is most common with retailers like Target, but smaller, independent companies and boutiques aren’t as likely to employ it.
No matter what type of order it is, there are rules around shipping hazardous items, and the rules vary across the board. It’s always important to double check what products are made of, where you can legally ship items to, and refer to your carrier partners’ rules around shipping certain items as each carrier has their own set of regulations.
For B2C fulfillment, you will want to implement order tracking since customers prefer to real-time tracking of orders. Lastly, a clear and concise shipping policy and returns policy posted on your online store is a must.
Customer relationship management
The customer relationship also differs between B2C and B2B ecommerce. B2B entails customer contracts with retailers, while B2C customers are free to purchase whenever and from any brand of their choice.
Based on a signed contract, B2B orders are often repeat purchases done in bulk and ordered less frequently. When marketing to B2B buyers, it’s important to focus on relationship-building, as well as implementing technology and processes that make it easy to place a B2B order.
“Most recently our sales have exploded not just for online DTC orders but we’ve also seen a lot of B2B growth. While our Instagram and Facebook ads are directed toward consumers, our customers are often decision makers for a business.
There can be a gray area in knowing which use case someone is buying for, but we want to get it right since we have different funnels and approaches in how we cultivate loyalty, enable repeat purchases, and market to DTC vs. B2B customers.”
Andrea Lisbona, Founder & CEO of Touchland
5 important factors to look for in an ecommerce B2C fulfillment partner
Not all B2C fulfillment partners are created equal. That’s why it’s important to take your time and choose the right partner for your business.
Here are the five important factors to consider when choosing the right fulfillment partner (also known as a 3PL) for B2C fulfillment.
1. Connects to your online store
Technology plays a key role in B2C fulfillment. A 3PL’s technology should directly integrate with your online platform(s). This allows orders that are placed online to be automatically sent to your fulfillment provider to be picked, packed, and shipped right away.
If you sell across sales channels, make sure the fulfillment provider’s technology directly integrates across all your sales channels, including Amazon and/or Walmart Marketplace. This will help eliminate duplicate SKUs and inaccurate inventory levels.
The 3PL’s software should also provide data and analytics to help you get a complete view of your orders, shipments, inventory, and more.
Note: Some 3PLs, like ShipBob, offer a Developer API, which enables a custom build for brands that require a more advanced, high-tech solution.
2. Integration with other ecommerce solutions
The right B2C fulfillment partner can become your logistics operations hub by easily integrating with other ecommerce solutions, from inventory planning to returns management tools.
When looking for a B2C fulfillment partner, become familiar with their partner integrations to see how easy it will be to fit them into your existing tech stack.
Choosing a B2C fulfillment partner that continues to introduce new integrations and partners to their network provides room for improvement and growth.
3. Order accuracy
Order accuracy is an important metric to track because it highly impacts customer satisfaction. It refers to the percentage of all orders that are fulfilled and shipped to their final destination without error.
Delivering the wrong order not only negatively impacts the unboxing experience, but it can also be costly and time-consuming as you will need to spend extra time and labor to make it right.
Be sure to ask potential B2C fulfillment providers what their average order accuracy rate is (a strong order accuracy rate should be greater than 96%-98%).
It’s also wise to ask potential 3PLs what their operations team has done recently to improve internal processes to maintain a high accuracy rate across their network.
4. Shipping reliability
Establishing a shipping strategy is one of the most important parts of B2C fulfillment. Though there is less control once orders are in a carrier’s hands, there are ways to improve last-mile delivery from a B2C fulfillment standpoint.
First, you can split inventory across distribution centers based on where your customers live. Not only does this enable fast, affordable shipping, but it also minimizes risk since some packages won’t have to travel as far to reach its destination.
“When shipping glass bottles, especially in the winter, the longer the transit time, the more likely it is to break. We see that our customers are getting their packages safer, with fewer frozen bottles exploding.”
Lindsay Louise, Fulfillment & Retail Manager at Synchro
Working with various shipping carriers, both major and regional parcel carriers, also improves shipping reliability.
Sometimes, carriers get backed up or don’t offer the same level of service in certain areas. By diversifying your carrier network, you have more options to expand customer reach and provide a positive experience.
5. Responsive customer service
B2C fulfillment providers offer different levels of customer service, so it’s important to ask about their customer support and if they can share testimonials that speak on customer support and how quickly issues are resolved.
Note: 4PLs are commonly mistaken for 3PLs, but there are differences — especially when it comes to customer support.
Since a 4PL manages multiple third-parties, a 3PL actually operates B2C fulfillment operations. This enables faster, reliable, and more consistent customer support with a team that understands your brand.
“One of our must-haves for a fulfillment solution was partnership. We wanted to partner with a 3PL that would be kind of like us: positive, relaxed, but also reliable. We really wanted a provider with whom we could form a relationship, where it wouldn’t just be based on numbers — and we found that with ShipBob.”
Adelina Zotta, Co-Founder of NutriPaw
How to choose the right B2C fulfillment service for your ecommerce business
At ShipBob, we understand choosing the right B2C fulfillment service can be a time-consuming and challenging process. But it doesn’t have to be; Knowing what to look for and what questions to ask potential 3PLs can help you find a long-term solution.
Below is an overview of how to vet potential B2C fulfillment providers, including what to look for, what to ask them, and what to expect as you start search process.
Determine whether your business is ready to outsource B2C fulfillment
The first step is always determining whether or not you and your team is ready to outsource fulfillment. There is no “right” time, but there are signs to look out for within your business.
Here are a few ways to identify whether or not you’re ready to outsource. If one or more relate to your business today, it might be time to hand off B2C fulfillment to the experts.
- I spend several hours a week packing and shipping orders.
- I’m running out of space to store inventory.
- I need more time to spend on strategic projects.
- I don’t want to invest in distribution infrastructure .
If you decide you’re ready to outsource B2C fulfillment, here are some tips to help you choose the right fulfillment provider for your business.
List your “must-have” requirements
As you shop around, be sure to take note of the different services each B2C fulfillment company offers and sure to write down your “must-haves” before having a conversation with multiple providers.
Besides the basic services that every B2C fulfillment provider should offer (inventory receiving, warehousing, picking and packing, and shipping), every 3PL provides a different set of value-added solutions.
For instance, a bulk of your customers might be located in a different country. If that’s the case, you might want to consider an international 3PL that operates fulfillment centers in different countries to reduce cross-shipping challenges and speed up transit times.
Throughout this process, you will have conversations with multiple sales representatives that will provide information on services, pricing, rules and regulations, processes, merchant-facing fulfillment software, and more.
Just like buying a car or house, you will need to weigh the pros and cons before making a decision. The cheapest option might not offer the best technology, while the more expensive solution lacks in a “must-have” requirement.
“We started looking for the best option possible. In networking with other CPG manufacturers and friends in the space, I was pointed to ShipBob several times.
ShipBob came highly recommended. We even did our own research on other 3PLs, but ShipBob was definitely the gold standard.”
Yannick Crespo, Co-Founder & President of Pot d’Huile
Ask about inventory distribution
If a B2C fulfillment provider only operates limited locations, you won’t be able to create a truly strategic geographic footprint.
A 3PL’s distribution network should always provide room for growth. Not only should a 3PL partner help you save time, they must offers solutions to reducing shipping costs and transit times.
For instance, ShipBob offers inventory distribution. Since our entire fulfillment network is operated by the same warehouse management system (WMS), you can use fulfillment data to identify an ideal product allocation strategy and store inventory in strategic locations based on where your customers are and where there is most demand.
Working with a 3PL that has fulfillment centers in different regions of the country (that you can always expand into over time) can be vital to making sure your customers’ expectations are met through faster, affordable shipping.
“We love that ShipBob actually operates its fulfillment centers — they know their operations and they are very clear about it. ShipBob having multiple locations was also huge for us.
Keeping our inventory in Chicago and Los Angeles has brought cost savings since we ship from the locations that are closest to the customer.”
Courtney Lee, founder of Prymal
Switching 3PLs can be a stressful process, so you will want to consider your long-term goals as you’re searching for the right B2C fulfillment partner.
- Do you want to take your brand global?
- Does your brand need a custom solution?
- Will you eventually want to offer a subscription box service?
These are just few examples of how ecommerce growth relies on the type of 3PL partner you choose. Many 3PLs offer additional services, such as international fulfillment, so be sure to choose a 3PL that offers room for growth based on your brand’s current needs and your vision for the future.
Why are 3PLs a good choice for B2C fulfillment?
Behind many fast-growing brands is a best-in-class 3PL partner.
In-house fulfillment works fine when you’re first starting out, but as your business grows, you will face hidden costs to self-fulfillment, including the opportunity costs associated with not having the time or resources to focus on product development and marketing.
To meet customer expectations around fast and affordable shipping, online brands need the right technology, inventory management software, distribution infrastructure, and expertise to run a successful ecommerce supply chain.
Instead of investing in your own warehouse and logistics automation, 3PLs like ShipBob provide access to a full-stack fulfillment solution, from warehousing to real-time inventory tracking tools, to retail fulfillment to automated shipping.
Here is an overview of how ShipBob has supported growth for direct-to-consumer brands.
Juspy saved 50% of time spent on fulfillment
Based in Ireland, Juspy offers a wide range of powdered formulas, including collagen supplement, protein powders, and meal replacements that are high protein, good fats and antioxidants, and gut-health.
After a year in business, Juspy founder Leionie Lynch was determined to find a way to no longer have to fulfill dozens of orders herself out of her home office. Because all her time was spent packing boxes, she had no time for marketing and branding her business.
Ever since she partnered with ShipBob, she’s been able to save 50% of her time that was spent on B2C fulfillment, while saving money in the process.
“When I was shipping orders myself, what I paid per order is the same price now to pick, pack, and ship orders through ShipBob. It’s even much cheaper to ship to certain countries, which used to take ages and often got lost with localized post here.
Now, I have very transparent pricing, and I can easily run and plan my business.”
Leonie Lynch, Founder & CEO of Juspy
Black Claw centralized fulfillment and simplified international growth
Based in Portland, Oregon, Black Claw provides the world’s best tools for tattooing and serves customers across the globe.
When the company was first starting out, there were only two people fulfilling orders in-house, and it soon became a challenge to keep up with the monthly order volume. So they started with a local 3PL, but soon realized that ShipBob was a better option for them.
Since they are a worldwide brand, ShipBob’s global fulfillment solution allows them to expand into different countries and monitor their supply chain from one dashboard.
“Off the bat, I liked that I would be able to control multiple warehouses through one page with ShipBob.
With my old 3PL, I could never just open a page and get the info I wanted. I had to click several times, then export it, and try to make sense of it.
ShipBob lets you manage your inventory while providing important data in a very digestible way.”
Wes Brown, Head of Operations at Black Claw LLC
Dossier scaled from 0 to 100,000 orders
Dossier sells affordable, luxury-level fragrances that are vegan, cruelty-free, and made with 100% clean ingredients.
Before partnering with ShipBob, B2C fulfillment was done in-house. Before reaching a breaking point, they started their search for the ideal 3PL partner and came across ShipBob.
With an easy-to-understand pricing structure and excellent customer service, ShipBob is now a long-term partner that has enabled the brand to grow fast.
“Logistics is something you never think about until it stops working, and we’ve never come to that point with ShipBob. Everything just works. We are super happy with ShipBob and very impressed by how well they’ve pumped out our large volume of orders.”
Sergio Tache, CEO of Dossier
ShipBob is a best-in-class 3PL that offers premium B2C fulfillment services. Start a conversation with the ShipBob team by clicking the button below.
B2C fulfillment FAQs
Here are common questions and answers related to B2C fulfillment.
Why is B2C order fulfillment a difficult task?
B2C order fulfillment can be difficult because it requires orders to be fulfilled quickly and accurately. Since inventory levels fluctuate, you need a system that track and manages inventory in real time to avoid stockouts (or overstocking). There’s a lot that goes into a fulfillment strategy, from warehousing to returns, so it can be a time-consuming and costly process. That’s why many online brands outsource B2C fulfillment to a 3PL.
What are the best B2C order fulfillment services?
For the best B2C order fulfillment services, look for a 3PL that offers a robust fulfillment network with locations across the country or even internationally. Another factor to keep in mind is a 3PL’s software. Make sure a fulfillment provider’s technology integrates with your tech stack, and that it provides full visibility into the fulfillment process. Check out ShipBob here.
What are the benefits of working with a B2C fulfillment partner versus self-fulfillment?
Many online brands start out by fulfilling orders in-house. However, there’s a lot more to order fulfillment than picking and packing boxes. Aside the fact that fulfillment is a time-consuming process, you will need access to technology, especially when it comes to inventory management. There are also hidden fees to self-fulfillment, one of them being the low opportunity costs as your time is better spent on revenue drivers like product development and marketing.
How do I choose the right B2C fulfillment service for my business?
It’s always a good idea to source several B2C fulfillment service providers before choosing one. As a 3PL becomes an extension of your brand, you will want to partner with the right 3PL from the beginning, so as you expand, you won’t need to deal with the stresses of switching 3PLs. The two most important services to look for in a 3PL is fulfillment location(s) and technology. To request a pricing quote from ShipBob, fill out the form here.