3PL vs. Amazon Storage (AWD Program)

3PL vs. Amazon Storage (AWD Program)

For e-commerce businesses and Amazon sellers, choosing the right fulfillment solution can be a make-or-break decision. Third-party logistics providers (3PL) offer flexibility and customization, while Amazon’s Warehousing and Distribution (AWD) program boasts deep integration with the Amazon marketplace.

This guide provides a head-to-head comparison of 3PL and AWD, breaking down their pros and cons, pricing structures, and key considerations like inventory control and flexibility. By the end, you’ll have the insights you need to choose the best fulfillment strategy for your business, whether you’re prioritizing control, cost-efficiency, or seamless Amazon integration.

Understanding 3PL and Amazon Storage

Here’s a breakdown of both options.

Third-Party Logistics Provider (3PL)

A 3PL or third-party logistics service provider is a company that helps e-commerce sellers with tasks related to getting products to customers and/or to a marketplace warehouse, i.e. Amazon Fulfillment Centers across the globe. It handles receiving, transloading, storing, packing, and shipping orders and is great for FBA sellers who sell on different platforms like Amazon (or other marketplaces) and need cost-effective and flexible solutions.  

Here’s what 3PL services include:

  1. Warehousing – apart from storage, obviously, 3PLs can receive your goods and transform them into what’s needed before the next step- going to final destinations, such as an Amazon Fulfillment Center. In some cases, if they can fulfill themselves and make sure the goods are delivered to the final customer/s (D2C).
  2. Inventory Management – They keep track of how much inventory stock you have, so you don’t run out or have too much of it sitting around.
  3. Order Fulfillment – When someone buys something from you, the 3PL prepares, and ships the order, taking care of packaging & labeling, and choosing delivery services, whether it be for B2C- going to the final consumer, or in case of B2B- going to a final warehouse destination.
  4. Transportation – Choosing who will deliver your items, bargaining for competitive prices, and ensuring your products get where they need to go, efficiently and on time
  5. Real-Time Tracking – professional 3PLs must offer their customers the capability to track their goods in real-time.
  6. Reverse Logistics – Some 3PLs also offer reverse logistics services, which means they deal with returns, refurbishment, waste services, and recycling items for their clients. This saves you time and unnecessary costs.
  7. Value-Added Services – Some 3PLs provide bonus services like bundling multiple items, customizing packaging, or handling delicate or temperature-sensitive products.

Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA) and Amazon Warehousing & Distribution (AWD)

Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA) is a 3PL service by Amazon to take care of the fulfillment process for products you sell on their marketplace. Here’s what FBA offers:

  1. Storage – Amazon stores your inventory in their fulfillment centers all over the country.
  2. Order Fulfillment – When someone buys your product, Amazon gets it ready and sends it directly to them.
  3. Customer Service – Amazon deals with any questions or issues customers have about orders, like delivery or returns, although with limitations
  4. Returns Processing – If a customer wants to send back something they bought through Amazon, Amazon handles the return process for you.

Like FBA, Amazon Warehousing & Distribution (AWD) is also Amazon’s 3PL solution for e-commerce sellers. Its primary aim is to assist brands facing problems with FBA storage limits and running out of stock, which can hurt sales.

AWD provides a long-term storage solution for FBA sellers, helping them avoid stockouts by automatically replenishing inventory directly into Amazon’s fulfillment centers and network. It also lets e-commerce sellers combine their inventory from different places into one big pool.

Then, Amazon can send it out to customers all over the world, whether they’re buying online or in stores. However, AWD is quite different from FBA because it offers extra perks to e-commerce sellers and also comes with certain restrictions such as:

  1. Automatic Inventory Handling – Sellers don’t have to handle inventory themselves as Amazon’s system automatically orders and moves inventory from suppliers to their warehouses. This helps FBA sellers by taking away the hassle and time to be on top of the process.
  2. Product Handling Limits – AWD can handle certain types of products with specific size and weight limits, but it can’t process packages with multiple different items.
  3. Product Restrictions – AWD has rules on what products can be stored and sold. It can’t handle items like perishables, bulky goods, or hazardous materials. Some products, like shoes and jewelry, aren’t supported either.

Though, there are some similarities between AWD and FBA as well such as:

  1. Inventory Replenishment – AWD offers automatic inventory replenishment, but just like with FBA, sellers can still manually send bulk shipments to restock their inventory.
  2. Labeling Policy – There’s no difference in how sellers need to label and pack bulk shipments for FBA or AWD. The process remains consistent.
  3. Amazon Prime Benefits – Products sold through AWD and FBA are eligible for Amazon Prime.
Scope of ServicesOffers a broad range of logistics services beyond storage, including inventory & transportation management, reverse logistics, tracking, order fulfillment, and value-added services.Handles storage, order fulfillment, customer service, and returns processingFocuses solely on long-term, bulk storage within Amazon’s fulfillment centers
Control and FlexibilityIt offers more control and flexibility as you can choose specific services according to your needsLimited control over the fulfillment process as Amazon handles most aspectsLimited control as AWD only provides storage without handling other logistics
CostCosts can vary depending on the services chosen, potentially more cost-effective for certain e-commerce businesses with specific needsGenerally predictable costs that may include storage & fulfillment fees. Not always the cheaper option.Offers lower storage costs within the Amazon ecosystem, ideal for large inventories
SuitabilityIdeal for e-commerce businesses selling on multiple platforms including Amazon, needing control and continuous visibility, customer service, and having diverse fulfillment needsIdeal for e-commerce sellers primarily selling on Amazon and needing a comprehensive fulfillment solutionBest suited for FBA sellers primarily selling on Amazon, with large inventories needing cost-effective storage solutions

Pros and Cons of 3PL and Amazon Storage

Once you understand the difference between a 3PL and AWD program, the next step is to learn the pros and cons of both services. Looking at their advantages and disadvantages helps you discern which choice gives you the right combination of features, cost, and control for your fulfillment needs.

3PL Pros

3PL offers flexibility, control, and customization for businesses. Here’s a detailed overview of these points:

1. Flexibility in Storage Options and Fulfillment Services

You’re not stuck with just one storage option. A 3PL can give you different choices like storing products in big batches, putting them on pallets, or keeping them in a special environment with controlled temperature.

They can also tailor how they handle your orders to fit what you need. Whether it means receiving prelabeled and prepacked goods and simply transferring them according to scheduled dropoff locations, or re-labeling, re-packing, palletizing them, and getting them ready according to specific requirements, such as by Amazon marketplace (or other marketplaces)

Unicargo’s All-in-One service offers competitive pricing and ongoing support as you expand your product range. We ensure all packaging meets Amazon’s regulations.

2. Multi-Channel and Multi-Geography Fulfillment

A 3PL service like Unicargo provides a very flexible solution due to its boot-on-the-ground on a global level.  Owning and operating key warehousing solutions in several continents and operating domestic trucking in the U.S. gives its customers operational efficiency that translates into time savings, and increased efficiency. 

Unicargo is part of Amazon’s Solution Provider Network (SPN), making us the ideal choice for FBA sellers globally. Our strategically located regional offices ensure efficient handling of your cargo from start to finish, no matter where you are.

3. Customizable Solutions Tailored to Your Business Needs

A 3PL doesn’t offer one-size-fits-all solutions. They’ll talk with you to figure out your business needs. Then, they’ll make a plan to help you optimize cost and efficiency. For instance, if you’re an Amazon FBA seller, selling cosmetics globally requires a deep understanding of importation regulations, including government approvals, special packaging, and staying compliant with MocRa regulations.

4. One-Stop Shop for Fulfillment

For FBA sellers, dealing with inventory, sending out orders, and keeping up with Amazon’s rules can be really challenging. Moreover, dealing with multiple companies for shipping, storing, preparing, and trucking goods to Amazon’s fulfillment centers can be a nuisance.

Each company has its own rules, which can lead to inconsistencies in fulfillment. That’s where a 3PL like Unicargo offers a one-stop shop for fulfillment. We can handle everything in one place.

From storing your goods near Amazon’s centers to packing them according to Amazon’s rules and delivering them to the right place we cover all.

You’ll have one dedicated team and one manager for your shipping account, providing a single point of contact and making communication easier. Our team can adjust to your specific needs, whether it’s more space, handling seasonal fluctuations, or expedited shipments. Managing your freight, warehousing, and trucking under one roof is a rare service.  Unicargo is one of the few freight and logistics companies offering all three under one place.

3PL Cons

Although 3PLs can be really helpful for B2B, there are some points to watch out for. You might have to do a lot of research, and there can be hidden costs or confusing prices. Sometimes, a 3PL might seem cheap at first, but it ends up costing more than you thought- if you don’t do your homework properly. Here are the downsides of a 3PL service, explained in more detail:

1. Requires Research and Effort to Find the Right 3PL Partner

Choosing a 3PL can be overwhelming since they all offer different services and prices, so finding the right one for you takes time. First, you’ll need to do some research.

This means looking at their websites, reading reviews online, and asking for quotes. You might also need to hold meetings with a few of them to learn more. Then, you need to figure out if they can actually do what you need.

Not every 3PL can handle every type of service, kind of product or the amount of orders you expect. You also need to make sure their technology integrates with your existing e-commerce platform and they have warehouses in the right places for your customers. All of this process is very time-consuming and takes a lot of effort, and planning

2. Potential for Higher Costs Compared to FBA

Using a 3PL service might end up costing more than using FBA if the pricing isn’t clear. Sometimes, sellers don’t understand the price list as 3PL pricing can be complicated, with different fees for storing, packing, shipping, and extra services.

Sellers might not realize that some fees are charged per item or order, or that charges can change based on the weight or size of the package. Also, some 3PLs don’t clearly explain all the costs upfront. It’s up to the seller to ask questions and check the price list carefully beforehand.

They might have minimum fees or add extra charges for things like fuel or handling large items. This can eat into a seller’s profits and cause problems with cash flow, especially for new businesses.

Amazon Storage Pros

Amazon Warehousing and Distribution (AWD) offers huge benefits because it’s closely linked with the Amazon store. Here are the major advantages you’ll get with this service:

1. Seamless Integration with the Amazon Marketplace

If you’re an FBA seller, you can link your FBA stock with AWD. This lets you keep your items in AWD for a long time while still getting FBA perks. It helps you cut storage costs, lower shipping fees, and improve your store’s overall efficiency.

You can also use AWD for MCF orders, which means you can fulfill orders from places like Amazon, your own site, or eBay using your FBA inventory. Amazon will handle picking, packing, and shipping for these orders.

Besides, AWD works directly with your Seller Central account. It automatically syncs your inventory levels across AWD and FBA, so you don’t have to update it manually.

For example, if you sell candles, you can store your inventory in bulk at AWD.  When your FBA stocks get low, AWD will automatically send more to the FBA center.

2. Access to Amazon’s Vast Fulfillment Network

With AWD, FBA sellers can make use of Amazon’s huge network of storage and distribution centers. For instance, there are over 175 of these centers where products are stored and over 25 centers where items are sorted for delivery, across North America.

This makes it easier and quicker for sellers to get their products to customers compared to using regular storage options. When customers order from Amazon, the system sends their order to the closest FBA center with the item. This is done irrespective of whether the product will come from AWD or the FBA center.

For example, someone in California orders your lavender candle, and the closest FBA center is out of stock. AWD will send the candle from Nevada to the FBA center. This makes sure the order is fulfilled quickly. You do need to verify this is an available service and make sure there you’re not getting charged an arm and a leg for it.  Reading the small print in contracts is recommended.

In addition, when you add new products to AWD, they show up in Amazon listings right away. This prevents delays and ensures customers can find them sooner.

Amazon Storage Cons

Like 3PL, Amazon Storage also comes with certain drawbacks. Some that stand out are:

1. Limited Control Over Inventory and Fulfillment Process

Once your products are in AWD warehouses, you don’t have much control over how they’re treated. You can’t choose how they’re packed or prioritize certain items. So, if your product needs extra care because it’s fragile, Amazon’s handling might not be the best.

Even though you can check how much inventory you have online, you can’t physically check it yourself. This makes it hard to know exactly when to restock, which could lead to running out of stock or having too much.

For instance, if you sell something popular during certain times of the year, a delay in restocking could mean missing out on sales. Furthermore, Amazon deals with returns, and they might throw away damaged items without telling you, which means you might lose stock unexpectedly.  Plus, throwing them away or destroying them comes with additional cost.

2. Potential for Long-Term Storage Fees

If you keep your stock in AWD warehouses for a while, they charge you based on how much space it takes up. If something stays there too long (more than 180 days), they charge you extra. Let’s say you don’t sell as much of something as you thought you would.

If it stays in storage for a year, you might end up losing money because of the extra fees. Besides, if you need to take some stock out of AWD warehouses, they charge you for that too, depending on how many items you’re taking out.

This can cost a lot, especially if your goods are large or heavy. Suppose you have some products that are going to expire soon. If you need to get rid of it fast, taking it out of Amazon’s warehouses could cost you a substantial amount.

3. Dependence on Amazon’s Policies and Restrictions

Amazon can change the rules and fees for storing your products in their warehouses whenever they want.  For example, if Amazon decides they don’t want certain types of products in their warehouses anymore and yours is one of them, you’ll have to find somewhere else to keep them.

These changes can really affect your bottom line and profit margins. They might also set limits on how much you can store based on the Inventory Performance Index (IPI) or overall warehouse capacity.

If you go over these limits, Amazon might stop you from sending in more inventory stock. Let’s say you have a successful holiday promotion sale and suddenly sell a lot more than usual. If you hit Amazon’s storage limits, you might not be able to keep up with all the orders.

4. Limited Capacity of Sending Volume of Goods

AWD storage system isn’t great for suddenly receiving huge influxes of inventories. They might have rules about how much you can send in pallets or space. This could be a problem if you’re starting a new product line or if you sell a lot during certain times of the year.

If you have a ton of goods to store, you might need to find other places to keep it besides Amazon. For example, using a service like Unicargo for initial bulk storage in China before sending it to AWD could be a good idea.

It might be cheaper to store things in China than in the US, especially if that’s where you source your products from. Then, you can send smaller amounts to AWD bit by bit based on how much space they have and how much you think you’ll sell. This could help you save money on storage fees in both places.  Working with a global logistics company, such as Unicargo, provides you with this type of solution in China, even if you choose to send it directly to Amazon. Meaning, you can use them only for storage purposes, in China, and disburse them to Amazon slowly according to your inventory levels.

Pricing Comparison

Now that we’ve discussed the pros and cons of 3PL and AWD, let’s compare their pricing structures and requirements. So, you can pick the best choice for your budget and operational needs.

Comparing pricing also ensures optimal utilization of resources, maximizes efficiency, and ultimately contributes to the overall success of your business. Here’s a pricing comparison of 3PL and AWD:

Breakdown of Costs Associated with 3PL Services

1. Inbound Costs – These expenses are what you pay when your inventory arrives at the 3PL warehouse. They can include:

  • Receiving Fee – This is a fee for the 3PL to unload and check in your items, either charged per item or pallet.
  • Unpacking Fee – If you want the 3PL to unpack your boxes or pallets, there might be an extra charge for that.
  • Freight Management – If the 3PL manages the transportation of your goods to their warehouse, there could be more costs for managing the transportation.

2. Storage – These costs are what you pay for keeping your inventory at the 3PL warehouse. Here’s what they might include:

  • Storage Fee – This is a fee based on how much space your items take up in the warehouse. It could be charged per cubic foot, per pallet, or per item. And if you store things for a long time, the fee might go up.
  • Minimum Storage Fee – Some 3PLs charge a minimum fee, even if you don’t use much space.

3. Outbound Costs – Outbound costs are what you pay to get customer orders ready and shipped out. Here’s what they might include:

  • Pick Fee – This is a fee for finding and picking the items that are ordered from the warehouse.
  • Pack Fee – This fee covers packing the items into boxes before shipping.
  • Shipping Costs – The actual cost of sending the order to your customer. This is usually based on carrier rates and how much you’re shipping.

Tips for Achieving Transparency in 3PL Pricing

Just knowing about the main costs isn’t always sufficient. It’s crucial to communicate clearly and have a pricing plan that’s easy to understand when working with a 3PL provider. That’s why we’ve added some extra tips. By following them, you can feel sure about 3PL pricing and steer clear of surprise charges later on:

  • Look beyond the main prices – Sometimes, what seems like a good deal upfront might have extra charges hidden in the details. So, always check carefully.
  • Ask questions – If something isn’t clear about the fees, don’t be afraid to ask your 3PL service provider to explain. It’s important to know exactly what you’re paying for.
  • Watch out for vague answers – If the 3PL isn’t clear about costs, it could be a sign of trouble. Find a provider who’s open about their prices and knows how to explain them thoroughly.
  • Negotiate – You can often haggle on the price, especially if you’re dealing with a big order. So, talk about your needs and how much you plan to order to get a better deal.  Bigger volume is usually a driver for this.
  • Understand the contract – Make sure you know about any minimum storage requirements, how you can end the contract and any extra fees that might pop up in special situations.
  • Get quotes from different places – Don’t settle for the first offer. Get quotes and compare prices and services from a few different 3PLs before you finalize.  But going beyond pricing make sure you ask about service times and availability to attend to your ongoing needs.  Price alone does not mean efficient operations.

Overview of Amazon Storage Fees

Starting March 1, 2024, Amazon Warehousing and Distribution (AWD) has two types of charges:

1. Base rate – If you’re using your own transportation or carrier service to send shipments to AWD.

2. Integrated rate – If you’re using Amazon Global Logistics or the Partnered Carrier program for transportation to AWD.

AWD FeesBase RatesIntegrated Rates% Off from Base Rate
Storage fee$0.48/cu ft/month$0.36/cu ft/month25%
Processing fee$2.50/box$2.13/box15%
Transportation fee$1.00/cu ft.$0.85/cu ft.15%
  • Upstream storage fees are charged monthly for all inventory sent to AWD, based on daily usage per cubic foot of space.
  • Processing fees cover handling activities for AWD inventory, applied when inventory leaves AWD and is sent to Amazon’s Fulfillment Network/FBA.
  • Transportation fees are charged per cubic foot for cases sent from the AWD center to Amazon Fulfillment Network/FBA.

AWD Requirements for Integrated Rate

  • If You Use Amazon Global Logistics – You need to send at least one LCL or FCL shipment through this service to AWD in the last four months. They check eligibility on the 25th of the month for the next month’s charging.
  • If You Use the Partner Carrier Program – You need to send at least one LTL shipment through this program to AWD in the last two months. They also check eligibility on the 25th for the next month’s charging.

AWD Requirements for Auto-Replenishment

AWD handles inventory replenishment into FBA for you. So, certain fees like low inventory level, storage utilization, and capacity overage fees don’t apply at the SKU level. This is when you auto-replenish 70% or more of that SKU to FBA through AWD over the previous 90 days.

Note: make sure to always check updates on Amazon Seller Central to avoid any surprises or discrepancies.

Factors Affecting Pricing for Both Options

Whether you opt for a 3PL or AWD, for storage and fulfillment, one thing’s for sure: how big and complicated your operation is what matters for the price tag.

Besides, your specific needs, along with technological advancements, and contractual terms, all factor into how much you’ll end up paying, no matter which route you choose. Have a look at the factors that affect pricing for both 3PL and AWD:

For 3PL:

1. Size and Complexity of Operations – This includes how many products you sell, how many orders you have, and how many warehouses you use. Bigger and more complex operations usually cost more because they need more resources and customization.

2. Geographic Scope – If you ship over a large area or internationally, it’ll cost more because the 3PL needs a bigger network and sometimes special transportation.

3. Services Needed – Basic services like warehousing and shipping are cheaper than extra services like kitting or labeling. The more you need, the more it’ll cost.

4. Technology – Some 3PLs have advanced Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) that make things more accurate and efficient.

5. Contract – Different contracts have different pricing. Some charge a fixed monthly fee, some charge per order, and some do both. It’s important to understand how the pricing fits your needs.

For AWD:

1. Storage Needs – AWD mainly stores bulk inventory for the long term. The more space you need, measured in cubic feet or pallets, the more it’ll cost.

2. Moving Inventory – AWD automatically moves products to fulfillment centers, but how often this happens can affect the price. If you need more frequent movements, there might be extra fees.

3. Location – Where your inventory is stored in AWD facilities can change the price. Costs might vary depending on the specific distribution center and how close it is to fulfillment centers.

4. Contract Terms – The details of your agreement with AWD, like how long the contract is and how much inventory you commit to, can impact the price. Amazon might give discounts for longer contracts or higher volume commitments.

Inventory Control and Flexibility

Knowing what inventory you have and where it is helps you avoid having too much or too little stock. Having too much ties up money and space, while having too little means lost sales and unhappy customers. Good inventory control makes the fulfillment process consistent, which directly affects your monthly gross sales.

You can find items quickly, pack orders faster, and make fewer mistakes. It also reduces the risk of running out of stock, spoilage (for things that go bad), and damage. When choosing between a 3PL and Amazon’s Warehousing and Distribution (AWD) program, consider how well they handle inventory control and flexibility:

Inventory Control Capabilities

  • 3PL – Most 3PLs have advanced systems to manage inventory (WMS). These systems let you see stock levels, get alerts for low stock (not all), and make reports to understand inventory levels. However, the level of control you get over these systems varies with each 3PL.
  • AWD – It also has inventory management features, but it focuses more on storing large amounts of inventory and moving it to fulfillment centers. You can see overall stock levels, but you might not have as much control over where specific products are placed or how they’re picked.

Flexibility in Storage Options and Fulfillment Strategies

  • 3PL – Many 3PLs give you different storage options, like pallet racks, shelves for small items, or climate-controlled storage. You can pick what works best for you and often customize how orders are stored, prepared, and fulfilled
  • AWD – It mostly does bulk storage for a long time. While you might have some choice in where your inventory is stored within their warehousing centers, there aren’t as many customization options.  Plus, Amazon limits the amount of goods you can have stocked in their warehouses at any given time, which creates a bit of a hassle in replenishments from your end

Unicargo: The Best All-In-One Solution

With Unicargo, you get a reliable partner for all your supply chain needs. We handle everything from international freight forwarding to global warehousing and fulfillment, as well as domestic trucking services in the US.

What You’ll Get with Us

1. Save Time and Effort – We’re your single point of contact for all logistics, simplifying communication and operations.  From pick up, in-between, and to final destination.

2. Enhanced Visibility – Track your shipments worldwide in real-time from origin to destination using our digital platform.

3. Improved Efficiency – We optimize your supply chain for cost-effectiveness and faster delivery.

4. Global Warehousing Network – We have warehouses strategically located in North America, Europe, China, and India. This ensures faster fulfillment and lower shipping costs.

5. Unified Inventory Management System (IMS) – Gain complete control over your inventory with our robust system, offering real-time visibility across all global warehouses.

Don’t leave your logistics and business operations at risk. Contact Unicargo today for a free consultation and discover how we can optimize your logistics and elevate your business.

And if you need a quick quote for an upcoming shipment, simply quote here.

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