Ecommerce fulfillment in Europe
Ecommerce fulfillment in Europe is booming. In every corner of the continent, there are ecommerce fulfillment centers that take care of receiving, storing, and shipping your products. But what are the most important things you need to consider when you want to make use of fulfillment in Europe?
- What is fulfillment?
- How to decide the location
- Working in fulfillment centers
- Night work in fulfillment centers
As an online store owner, you could store your stock yourself. And then pick one (or several) of many ecommerce logistics companies in Europe to take care of delivering the items to your customers. But running your own warehouse can be very time-consuming. If you want to focus more on running your online store, you might go for fulfillment or e-fulfillment.
Fulfillment: the act or process of delivering a product to a customer.
What is ecommerce fulfillment?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines fulfillment as “the act or process of delivering a product (such as a publication) to a customer”. When we talk about fulfillment, we talk about the part of a product’s journey that’s handled by an external party. A fulfillment company takes care of receiving, processing, and delivering orders, which includes packing and shipping (so you probably won’t need dedicated shipping software!). Basically, a fulfillment center is a warehouse that also serves as a distribution center.
If you’re looking for ecommerce fulfillment in Europe, Amazon might get on top of your mind. The ecommerce giant has more than 175 fulfillment centers across the world, with over 40 in Europe. Amazon has warehouses and fulfillment centers in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, and the Czech Republic.
Amazon has over 40 fulfillment centers in Europe.
How to decide locations
Why does Amazon choose these locations? Well, it’s probably a mix of two factors. The first one is that it builds warehouses and fulfillment centers in regions where there are lots of customers. Amazon is very big in the UK, so it needs to have a warehouse there, so customers can get their orders as soon as possible.
But the second one is that it also builds fulfillment centers in regions where it’s (relatively) cheap to build and that are easy to reach. That’s why, for example, Amazon has a fulfillment center in Poland. It’s not because Amazon runs a very popular dedicated ecommerce website in this Eastern European country (it doesn’t), but because, compared to other countries in Europe, it’s cheap to build such big buildings in Poland.
Ecommerce fulfillment in Europe is often placed in regions where it’s cheap to build these giant centers.
Poland is known for its large fulfillment centers
Poland is a very popular destination for fulfillment centers, for example for dropshipping companies from China. The fulfillment network of Zalando shows the same strategy, for example. The German fashion retailer organizes its warehouses in a hub-spoke distribution setup. It has several warehouses in Germany that form the hubs of the network and fulfill inbound goods, customer order fulfillment, and stock returns. Zalando also has a hub in Stettin, Poland.
The spokes of Zalando’s fulfillment network are located in Italy, France, Sweden, and Poland. These handle customer returns. So, if a French customer returns something, it will be processed in a warehouse in France and then returned to one of the major hubs in Germany.
Poland is a very popular destination for fulfillment.
The location of fulfillment centers is also often dictated by where an online retailer has its most customers. Asos, for example, is a popular fashion retailer from the United Kingdom. So, logically, it has a major distribution hub there. But when Asos wanted to expand further across Europe, it opened a distribution center in Germany. By 2015, this site held 2 million units of stock and dispatched 38 percent of total EU orders.
Working in fulfillment centers
Most modern fulfillment centers are not only filled with people, but also with robots. These aren’t the human-like robots you know from the movies, but they are robots nonetheless. They move boxes very fast and very efficient. As a result, there are fewer humans working in fulfillment centers than before.
Some say this is a bad thing, as they predict robots will take over many more jobs done by humans. But the other party states it’s a good thing the robots are here. They can do the boring, repetitive, and sometimes even dangerous jobs, while people are engaged in control or focus on tasks where it’s important a human eye is watching.
Dutch logistics company Active Ants uses many robots to pick and pack orders:
Night work in fulfillment centers
There are 24 hours in a day, so there are many timeslots one could spend inside a fulfillment center. Some people only work during the day, some only work at night, and others take turns. The previously mentioned preferred location of fulfillment centers often also have something to do with how a country regulates working at night.
For example, for years, it wasn’t allowed in Belgium to work in a fulfillment center at night. Only in 2014, things started to change. But by then, it was somewhat too late, because Dutch competitors did offer night work, which meant they were able to process late orders. So, online shoppers who bought something at 23:59 could expect their order to arrive the very next day. Belgian retailers couldn’t compete with this, which has led to local shoppers fleeing to Dutch ecommerce companies like Bol.com and Coolblue.
For years, Belgium didn’t allow night work in fulfillment centers.
In the end, not every country in Europe is perfect to host multiple fulfillment centers from major retailers. It could be because it’s quite expensive to build such centers there, it could be because of national legislation, or of logistic reasons.
For example, the Netherlands is quite a perfect location. Not only does it have one of the densest road networks in the world, but it’s also home to the largest seaport in Europe (The Port of Rotterdam) and the busiest airport in Europe in terms of aircraft movements (Schiphol Airport).