3PL vs. In-House Ecommerce Fulfilment: Which Is Best for Your Business?

Are you navigating the 3PL vs. in-house ecommerce fulfilment conundrum? Your choice can significantly impact operational costs, scalability and customer satisfaction.

This article addresses the pivotal factors influencing 3PL vs in-house ecommerce fulfilment which is best, providing insights tailored to businesses considering both short-term gains and long-term growth. 

Let’s explore the merits and drawbacks of each method, setting you on a well-informed path toward an efficient and effective ecommerce fulfilment strategy.

Key Takeaways

  • In-house fulfilment provides control and customisation but demands significant resource investments and can struggle with scalability, whereas 3PL fulfilment offers expertise, cost savings and handles high volumes efficiently but reduces direct control over logistics.
  • Businesses must consider factors such as size, order volume, customisation needs and desired control when choosing between in-house and 3PL fulfilment, as the right choice depends heavily on individual business goals, financial capacity and long-term strategy.
  • Regularly assessing fulfilment performance using KPIs is vital for operational efficiency, while recognising red flags in order fulfilment can indicate the need to reconsider or switch fulfilment methods to better align with evolving business requirements and customer satisfaction.

Understanding In-House Fulfilment

In-house fulfilment, also known as DIY logistics, self-fulfilment, or in-house logistics, involves the ecommerce business managing the entire order fulfilment cycle internally. It offers greater control over the fulfilment process, increased potential for customisation and the flexibility to swiftly adapt to changes. However, it demands significant investments in resources, expertise and time.

In-house fulfilment requires:

  • Seamless integration with other company operations, including the entire fulfilment process and order fulfilment processes
  • Expertise in logistics, inventory management and order processing
  • Improved communication, collaboration and efficiency across the business strategy
  • Allocating the necessary resources
  • Substantial financial investments in staff, warehousing space and equipment to efficiently process orders.

Key Components of In-House Fulfilment

One of the key components of in-house fulfilment is having direct control over warehouse space. This is integral for managing inventory effectively. Another important component is technology, which plays a crucial role in in-house fulfilment. For instance, inventory tracking systems and SKU systems mitigate errors and enhance order picking accuracy.

Employee management also falls under the company’s direct control, allowing for customisation of processes and adjustment of staffing according to demand. Lastly, strong relationships with shipping carriers are a key component of in-house fulfilment, influencing shipping efficiency and customer satisfaction.

Advantages and Disadvantages of In-House Fulfilment

On one hand, in-house fulfilment allows businesses to have direct control over the entire process, including staffing and inventory management, by utilising their own warehouse. This provides an advantage in process customisation and enhancing the customer experience. Products that require simple packaging and handling are ideal for in-house fulfilment, offering alignment with brand preferences and unique unboxing experiences.

On the other hand, businesses face high upfront costs such as warehouse facilities, technology and inventory management systems when choosing in-house fulfilment, stretching financial resources. High order volumes can overwhelm in-house fulfilment, leading to slow delivery times and potential inefficiencies.

Grasping 3PL Fulfilment

Third-party logistics (3PL) providers take on the role of handling a company’s order fulfilment and logistics functions. This is a strategy where a company collaborates with external service providers, like 3PLs, to manage the order fulfilment process, also known as outsourced fulfilment.

The use of 3PL fulfilment brings advantages such as scalability, expertise in logistics and potential cost savings. It is especially ideal for businesses dealing with high order volumes and those aiming to expand into new markets, where in-house logistics can impede critical business tasks or growth.

Core Services Offered by 3PL Providers

3PLs leverage their expertise in logistics, supply chain management and fulfilment operations to provide modern tech-enabled services including streamlined shipping and fulfilment solutions, seamlessly integrated systems and real-time inventory tracking.

Core functions of 3PL providers include various areas of inventory management, such as receiving, picking, packing and shipping, which are managed through efficient order verification processes. They also offer warehousing solutions that can be influenced by the number of SKUs a business has, as well as specialty packaging needs like kitting or cold storage.

To complement their services, 3PLs manage return logistics with customer returns, product inspections and restocking, as well as optimising nationwide shipments, thus reducing transit time and costs.

Advantages and Disadvantages of 3PL Fulfilment

3PL providers offer added advantages, including:

  • Using volume to secure bulk discounted shipping rates
  • Possessing networks of partners
  • Scaling workforce to handle volume spikes
  • Having multiple fulfilment locations to reduce shipping cost and transit time

Businesses that outsource to 3PLs can benefit from cost savings, the ability to efficiently manage fluctuating demand, cut staffing and overhead costs, and acquire top-notch technology and logistics expertise.

However, the disadvantages of most 3PL’s include:

  • Loss of complete control over some supply chain aspects
  • Need for businesses to carefully evaluate pricing structures and potential hidden fees
  • External factors such as tariffs and regulations can lead to higher transaction costs
  • Dependency on 3PLs can pose risks of disruptions if they encounter financial instability, operational issues, or changes in leadership.

3PL Fulfilment with Tap’in

Whilst these are definite disadvantages of working with a 3PL, it’s worth noting that the service we offer at Tap’in is different from the vast majority of 3PL’s on the market. We offer flexibility in areas where many other 3PLs can’t accommodate.

While partnering with a third-party logistics provider like Tap'in might seem like ceding control, it actually enhances operational efficiency. We provide a high level of transparency and integration, allowing businesses to maintain oversight while benefiting from specialised expertise. This partnership allows you to focus on your core business, knowing that the logistics are handled by experts who are as committed to your success as you are​​.

Choosing Tap'in means partnering with a reliable and financially stable logistics provider that minimises the risk of disruptions. Our robust operational framework and experienced management team ensure continuity and resilience, even in the face of challenges. The company's proactive approach to problem-solving and contingency planning further mitigates potential risks associated with dependency on third-party services​​​​.

We also operate a clear and simple pricing model. The service charges a straightforward price per box, with no hidden fees, subscriptions, or complex invoices, making financial planning and budget management much more predictable and transparent​​.

You can find out more about our ecommerce fulfilment here.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Between 3PL and In-House Fulfilment

Choosing between 3PL and in-house fulfilment requires careful analysis of several factors, including:

  • Your business size
  • Order volume
  • Customisation requirements
  • Cost analysis
  • The degree of control and visibility you wish to retain over your operations.

For instance, your company’s specific requirements and long-term strategy are critical in determining whether to adopt 3PL or in-house fulfilment, with attention paid to current sales and future fulfilment needs. Similarly, the order volume impacts the choice between 3PL and in-house fulfilment by determining the warehouse space needs and preferred shipping strategy.

Business Size and Order Volume

For businesses dealing with low order volumes, in-house fulfilment can be more appropriate. However, in-house fulfilment faces challenges with limited scalability, particularly during unexpected surges in orders or seasonal peaks. To overcome these challenges, some businesses may consider outsource fulfilment as an alternative solution.

As the business expands and the number of orders and SKUs increases, the transition to outsourcing with a 3PL may be a logical step. This is especially true if the business aims to expand into new markets where in-house logistics can impede critical business tasks or growth.

Customisation and Packaging Requirements

In terms of customisation and packaging requirements, businesses in highly regulated industries or those that require specialised services, such as cold storage, may find 3PLs lack a full understanding of their specific needs, leading to potential inadequacies.

On the other hand, 3PL fulfilment is particularly adept at handling complex situations that have diverse packaging needs, and can cater to specific requirements like kitting or products that require cold storage. Therefore, it’s important to carefully evaluate your business’s specific requirements and choose a fulfilment method that best suits your needs.

Cost Analysis and Investment

When it comes to cost analysis and investment, in-house fulfilment necessitates substantial capital investments, including:

  • The costs associated with acquiring or leasing warehouse space
  • Purchasing equipment
  • Implementing technology systems
  • Recruiting and training staff

But with 3PL providers, businesses can reduce large upfront costs by leveraging shared infrastructure, which distributes expenses over many clients, making 3PL an economically favourable option. For growing ecommerce businesses, ensuring the adequacy of storage space is crucial, as it impacts the ability to meet customer demand and manage costs effectively.

Control and Visibility

Control and visibility are important factors to consider when choosing between in-house and outsourcing fulfilment. Outsourcing to a third-party logistics provider can result in a loss of control over the delivery process and can impact customer satisfaction if service level agreements are not met.

However, for companies that value complete control over every aspect of their operations, in-house fulfilment can offer a greater level of visibility over processes, especially with the advancement of technology that enables real-time tracking and analytics of inventory and shipments.

Tips for Assessing Your Fulfilment Performance

Once a fulfilment method is chosen, it’s crucial to continually assess its performance to ensure it aligns with your business goals and customer expectations. This involves tracking ecommerce KPIs and recognising red flags in the following areas:

  • Order accuracy
  • Customer feedback
  • Return rates
  • Inventory management
  • Shipping performance

Furthermore, sound inventory management leads to efficient fulfilment operations. Stockouts or overstock can cause delays and affect the business’s ability to fulfil orders accurately and on time. Analysing fulfilment costs, including shipping, handling, and storage, can reveal if a business’s fulfilment operations are financially efficient.

Tracking Ecommerce KPIs

Tracking ecommerce KPIs is crucial in assessing the effectiveness of the fulfilment process. Some key KPIs to track include:

  • Order fulfilment rate
  • Order accuracy rate
  • Average order processing time
  • Average order delivery time
  • Return rate

Fulfilment technology that integrates with an e-commerce platform is critical for automating tasks and providing real-time updates and tracking for successful in-house fulfilment. By utilising fulfilment services, businesses can streamline their operations and focus on growth.

Looking at ecommerce KPIs related to fulfilment success, it is important to track metrics such as:

  • Order accuracy
  • On-time deliveries
  • Delayed shipments
  • Order lead time
  • Inventory carrying costs
  • Fulfilment costs
  • Shipping costs

Each of these metrics provides valuable insights into the efficiency and effectiveness of the chosen fulfilment method.

Recognising Red Flags

Recognising red flags can help you identify issues in the fulfilment process that require immediate attention. A lengthy total order cycle time can be a red flag indicating inefficiencies in order fulfilment and shipping operations.

Poor inventory management and recurrent errors in order fulfilment are indicators that it might be time to switch to a different 3PL provider or reassess the partnership. A high rate of return can indicate underlying issues such as order inaccuracies or product quality, leading to customer frustration and return costs.

Making the Switch: When and How to Transition Between Fulfilment Methods

Recognising when to make a switch and how to transition between fulfilment methods is key to maintaining efficient operations. Businesses should consider switching to 3PL when constantly facing fulfilment errors or delays underline inefficiencies in in-house operations.

On the other hand, a switch to in-house fulfilment might be needed when a business has reached a stable order volume that internal teams can efficiently manage. When planning to transition fulfilment methods, businesses should first thoroughly document current operations, including inventory levels and supply chain partners.

Identifying the Right Time to Switch

Identifying the right time to switch fulfilment methods can significantly impact the efficiency and effectiveness of your operations. Businesses should consider switching to 3PL fulfilment when:

  • In-house logistics impede critical business tasks or growth
  • Warehousing space is insufficient due to growing inventory
  • In-house operations start to hinder growth

Firms aiming to expand into new, especially international, markets might find it necessary to employ a 3PL partner to handle the complexities of international logistics and customs. Customer dissatisfaction with the fulfilment experience serves as a critical indicator that a business may need to switch to a 3PL that offers a higher level of service or reconsider its current fulfilment strategy.

Steps for a Successful Transition

Transitioning between fulfilment methods requires careful planning and execution. Begin by thoroughly researching and selecting a compatible 3PL company that aligns with your business needs.

Conduct a test run with a manageable amount of inventory to mitigate risk and ensure the 3PL’s services meet expectations. After transitioning, continuously monitor the partnership and make adjustments as necessary to optimise the fulfilment process.


In conclusion, the choice between in-house and 3PL fulfilment is a critical decision that can significantly impact the success of an ecommerce business. Each method has its own set of advantages and challenges, and the best choice depends on various factors such as business, order volume, customisation requirements, cost analysis, and the degree of control and visibility desired.

Regardless of the chosen method, it’s crucial to continually assess fulfilment performance and recognise when a switch might be necessary.

We are always open to answering any questions you may have about starting to work with a 3PL or switching from your existing provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Tap’in a great 3PL provider for growing ecommerce brands?

Tap’in is a top choice for growing ecommerce brands because of its clear, simple pricing, personalised service and expertise in handling logistics with a focus on scalability and transparency. This ensures brands can focus on growth without worrying about the complexities of fulfilment.

What is the difference between in-house and 3PL fulfilment?

The main difference between in-house and 3PL fulfilment is that in-house involves managing the process internally, while 3PL involves outsourcing it to a third-party provider. This is a crucial distinction to consider when making fulfilment decisions.

What are the advantages of in-house fulfilment?

The advantages of in-house fulfilment include greater control over the process, increased potential for customisation and flexibility to adapt to changes quickly. This can help improve overall efficiency and customer satisfaction in the long run.

What are the benefits of using a 3PL provider?

Using a 3PL provider can provide benefits such as scalability, logistics expertise, potential cost savings and the ability to handle complex packaging needs. These advantages can help streamline your business operations and enhance customer satisfaction.

What factors should I consider when choosing a fulfilment method?

When choosing a fulfilment method, it's important to consider factors such as business size, order volume, customisation needs, cost analysis and the level of control and visibility you want.

How do I know when it's time to switch fulfilment methods?

If you're experiencing constant fulfilment errors or delays, insufficient warehousing space, or customer dissatisfaction with the fulfilment process, it might be time to consider switching fulfilment methods.