Fulfillment Center vs. Warehouse What are the Differences

Even though the terms warehouse and fulfillment center can sometimes be used interchangeably, they are different facilities in the supply chain management industry. This prompts logistics personnel to ask about the difference between a fulfillment center and a warehouse since, at the most basic level, these two facilities are used to hold inventory.

In this guide, we’ll discuss the details of a warehouse vs. a fulfillment center. We will also discuss how warehouses and fulfillment facilities function, what a fulfillment center is, and why it is more than just a housing facility for your stocks, inventory, and materials.

Fulfillment Center vs. Warehouse

A warehouse and fulfillment center basically perform the same function—they house physical products for later delivery. They can be used by retailers who sell through online stores and traditional brick-and-mortar distributors. The differences lie in their utilization.

What is a Warehouse?

Let’s use a standard warehouse definition to compare a warehouse vs. a fulfillment center. A warehouse is a commercial space used in supply chains to house and store raw materials and goods. It is widely used in various industries, not just logistics and distribution. Manufacturers and retailers store their inventory until it is ready for sale and delivery to customers.

Using a warehouse for your business provides the following benefits:

  • Cost-Effective Storage Solution: Warehouses offer an economical storage solution if you want to store your product inventory.
  • Large Industrial Space: These facilities are equipped with shelves, storage bins, pallets, and large containers, which help to organize your inventory. Your goods can be arranged on a first-in-first-out basis, by expiration date, or by customer demand.
  • Long-Term Storage Options: Warehouses can be used for long-term storage, which benefits manufacturers. These facilities can store seasonal products, allowing you to keep your goods in storage until customer demand increases for them. While these facilities allow you to store products and inventory indefinitely, take note of the storage agreements with your provider.
  • SKU management: Warehouse management can help you better manage your inventory. Each product is identified by a unique stock-keeping unit (SKU). You can use these SKU numbers to manage and monitor your inventory efficiently.
  • Equipment: Warehouses are equipped with forklifts and other machinery to move inventory. This equipment allows for better inventory management and maximizes the available storage space.
  • Wholesale and B2B Servicing: Some warehouses facilitate wholesale products, especially for B2B companies. These companies mainly serve businesses handling large volumes of inventory. These facilities have large storage spaces and equipment for handling large volumes of products and materials.
  • E-Commerce Warehousing: Some e-commerce companies may need to manage their excess inventory, which is where a third-party warehouse facility can help. These rented spaces are made available to businesses based on need.
  • Cost-Effective Solution for Small Businesses: Renting warehouse space can be a more affordable option for small to mid-sized sellers. Depending on location and rental terms, you can save on maintaining your storage facility. You also leverage a professional team managing your inventory, ensuring smooth operations and delivery.
  • Alternative Solutions for Small Sellers: Startups and smaller sellers might lease smaller, less expensive local storage units if they don’t have in-house space. Keeping inventory nearby in a different facility is a cost-effective way to manage large inventory. This approach is effective when selling seasonal products. You can store your goods during the off-season and have them ready for delivery when their demand increases.

What is a Fulfillment Center?

To help you understand the differences between a fulfillment center and a warehouse, you need to understand their functions. A fulfillment center is a facility where sellers handle the process of fulfilling customer orders. These facilities may also work closely with outsourced partners, known as third-party logistics (3PL) providers, to process logistics and deliver customer orders from e-commerce stores (direct-to-consumer).

Fulfillment centers can also handle wholesale orders to large retailers when needed. These centers are typically larger and more comprehensive in scale compared to a typical warehouse owned or rented by an individual company. A fulfillment center plays a crucial role in managing the inventory, product storage, and shipping efficiency of orders directly to customers or B2B retailers.

You can say that a fulfillment center is more than just a storage facility. The primary function of a fulfillment center is to streamline the entire fulfillment process for sellers. This includes inventory management, order storage, and order shipping.

Fulfillment centers also help sellers navigate the complexities of the fulfillment operation, ensuring that products are delivered accurately and promptly to customers, other businesses, and retail partners. This comprehensive service allows sellers to focus on other aspects of their business. At the same time, the fulfillment center handles the delivery of goods and logistics.

Here are some of the advantages when your business leverages the professional services of a fulfillment center:

  • Geographical Reach: Some fulfillment centers have site locations across the country. This geographical reach enables faster shipping to a broader customer base, allowing you to deliver to more customers. With multiple locations available, you improve delivery times and reduce shipping costs.
  • Advanced Technology: Some fulfillment centers often use cutting-edge technology for inventory management, order tracking, and shipping, enhancing accuracy and efficiency.
  • Cost Savings: Outsourcing to a fulfillment center can help to reduce overhead costs associated with warehousing, labor, and shipping.
  • Efficiency and Speed: Fulfillment centers can help you streamline order processing. You can create product bundles and other offerings to suit the needs of your customers. Professionals in these facilities will handle packing and shipping, ensuring fast and efficient customer delivery.
  • Scalability: Businesses can easily scale their operations without investing additional storage space or staff. As the demand for your products grows, you can work with fulfillment center providers and scale storage and other service needs.
  • Focus on Core Business: Working with fulfillment centers, companies can concentrate on product development, marketing, and sales. Seasoned professionals from the fulfillment center will handle the logistics and delivery details.
  • Inventory Management: Stockouts and overstock situations are two of the most common problems in inventory management. Real-time inventory tracking helps you better manage your stocks and fine-tune your production.
  • Expertise and Support: Fulfillment centers provide professional logistics and customer support expertise, improving the overall customer experience.

Fulfillment centers offer more services and support compared to warehouses. They help you reduce costs, manage inventory, and scale delivery and logistics.

How Does a Fulfillment Center Operate?

A fulfillment center plays a central role in the logistics sector. For some businesses, they are essential for delivering a seller’s products to customers, known as the order fulfillment process.

Inventory is stored at a fulfillment center, ready to be picked, packed, and shipped once a customer places an order. This process ensures efficient handling of business-to-consumer (B2C) orders. Many orders are shipped directly to individual homes, while others are business-to-business (B2B) orders sent to larger retailers.

When sellers outsource to a 3PL, the 3PL manages various tasks, including storage, receiving, packing, and shipping. Outsourcing can lead to lower shipping rates, cost-effective fulfillment, and better handling of high-volume needs. Your clients will notice the lower shipping rates, which may increase customer satisfaction.

In addition, this process simplifies inventory management for sellers, freeing up their time to focus on core business activities. Leveraging a fulfillment center can enhance efficiency. Having professionals handle order fulfillment can reduce logistical headaches since you have specialists handling this part of your business. With a smoother and streamlined order fulfillment process, this ultimately improves customer satisfaction.

Fulfillment Facility Operations

Unlike a warehouse, a fulfillment center is a dynamic hub where a 3PL provider manages the entire order fulfillment process. They ensure products reach customers efficiently and accurately. The key to this efficiency in their operations is the various services they provide in a fulfillment center, which includes the following:

Receiving Inventory

When new inventory arrives, it is thoroughly checked for accuracy and quality before being stored in the fulfillment center premises. This process involves verifying the quantities of the goods delivered and their conditions. The personnel will update inventory records and organize products in designated storage areas for easy retrieval.


As customer orders come in, the various items are selected from their storage locations. This step, known as picking, is crucial for order accuracy. Some fulfillment centers use automated systems to locate and retrieve the correct items based on the order details, improving the accuracy of delivered items and packages.


Some orders require multiple items to be assembled into kits. This process combines various products into a single package to create a new product offering or promotional bundle.


Once items are picked and kitted, if necessary, they are packed into shipping boxes. This step involves selecting appropriate packaging materials to protect the items during transit and ensuring the packages meet shipping requirements.

Preparing Shipping Labels

Shipping labels are generated, printed, and attached to the delivered packages. These labels include crucial information such as the recipient’s address, tracking number, and shipping method.

Shipping Orders

Packed and labeled orders are handed over to shipping carriers for delivery. Fulfillment centers often work with multiple carriers to offer various shipping options.

Managing Returns

Returns processing involves:

  • Inspecting the returned products.
  • Updating inventory records.
  • Restocking sellable items.
  • Handling defective or damaged goods.

On the other hand, a warehouse primarily stores inventory with limited activity. These facilities mainly focus on receiving and dispatching goods without additional processing or services.

Value Added Services

Fulfillment centers may also offer various value-added services to enhance their offers. These services include:

Custom Packaging and Labeling

Fulfillment centers can provide tailored packaging solutions that reflect the seller’s brand identity. This includes using custom-designed boxes, branded tape, and personalized labels.

Assembling Products to Create a New SKU

You can combine multiple products into a package to create a new stock-keeping unit (SKU). This service is particularly useful for promotional bundles or product kits.

Branded Tape and Marketing Inserts

Fulfillment centers can use branded tape and include marketing inserts such as brochures, discount coupons, or thank-you notes in the packages to reinforce brand recognition and enhance customer engagement.

Product Testing

This service is suited for electronics and other high-value items. Functionality tests can be performed before shipping, ensuring products are in working order.

Returns Management and Automation

Efficient return handling is critical for maintaining customer satisfaction. Fulfillment centers offer automated returns processing, which includes generating return labels, tracking returned items, inspecting the products, and updating inventory records. This streamlined process helps sellers manage returns efficiently and minimizes the impact on their operations.

These value-added services help sellers differentiate their brands, enhance the customer experience, and optimize fulfillment processes. By leveraging these services, sellers can focus on their core business activities while ensuring their fulfillment operations are handled professionally and efficiently.

Superior Logistics and Order Fulfillment with Warehousing Pro

Warehousing Pro provides innovative warehouse space management strategies and flexible services tailored to your business needs. We use the latest tools and technology to better manage inventory. Fill out our online contact form to request a quote.