What is fulfilment? (in the mailing and logistics world!)

20 October, 2017

Fulfilment is a word commonly used in the mailing and logistics industry, whether it’s e-commerce fulfilment, mailing fulfilment, third party fulfilment, order fulfilment, etc, etc. So what do all of these terms mean and how are they different?

A quick Google search for the word fulfilment brings up 24 million results and the following dictionary definition:





the achievement of something desired, promised, or predicted.

"winning the championship was the fulfilment of a childhood dream"


the meeting of a requirement, condition, or need.

"the fulfilment of statutory requirements"

But it’s hard to find much information in the first pages of results that seems closely linked with this definition, paid or organic listings. The results are dominated by businesses looking to promote themselves to people searching for mailing, logistics and e-commerce services. So this tells us that the word fulfilment is really important to these businesses, which in turn illustrates that thousands of people must be searching for these services using fulfilment in their search.

So what do these different fulfilment related search terms mean?

Warehousing and fulfilment

Warehousing and fulfilment options allow your business to outsource storage and fulfilment of deliveries. The combination of warehousing and fulfilment covers everything from products and marketing literature to merchandise, whether it’s a question of storing items and fulfilling orders on a regular basis or handling everything for one off ad hoc campaigns.

e-commerce order fulfilment

E-commerce order fulfilment takes the entire process of fulfilment and puts it in the hands of an e-commerce professional service, helping you to lower your costs and raise the standards of your customer service. It is essentially the same as warehousing and fulfilment, but focused to the specific needs of e-commerce retailers.

Global fulfilment

Your target market might be local or national – or you could be looking to expand your reach further afield. Global fulfilment services are describing order fulfilment companies that have global reach. This could be from one country exporting internationally through mail and parcel services, or a truly global fulfilment supplier who has fulfilment centers worldwide.

Third party fulfilment

Third party fulfilment services or 3PLs are another way of describing a fulfilment services supplier. Often a company describing itself as a 3PL is involved in B2B as well as B2C fulfilment services and will provide solutions for larger items as well as those delivered through the mail or parcel networks.

Cross docking fulfilment

Cross docking fulfilment is a solution where stock is delivered just in time and not held in storage and picked and packed in the traditional way. Almost immediately as it is received it is packed and distributed. This is a very efficient solution where appropriate.

An example of where cross docking fulfilment can be a great solution is Groupon style sales where orders have already been obtained in bulk and simply need packing, addressing and sending. The exact number of products to be distributed can be sent to the fulfilment supplier who can process the whole job in hours or days. No need to pay for storage or stock management systems.

Collection and labelling services

Some postal and parcel companies will provide a fulfilment service that is limited to collecting parcels and labelling them ready for delivery. This is part of the fulfilment process, but isn’t a true order fulfilment solution. You still need to handle storage, picking and packing.

Mailing fulfilment

Fulfilment isn’t just used by order processing suppliers. The phrase mailing fulfilment is also widely used as is direct mail fulfilment. These are services offered by mailing houses, and these companies will often come up in Google results when searching for order fulfilment suppliers. Some mailing houses have expanded into order fulfilment, but it’s important not to confuse mailing fulfilment with order fulfilment.

From filling envelopes, to high volume polywrapping and printing solutions, mailing fulfilment means all your mailing needs are managed e.g. direct mail, letter, magazines. These are bulk mailings, not individual orders picked and packed on demand.