How to Set up Shopify Fulfillment (Sep 2021)

Learn how to activate Shopify Fulfillment for efficient 3rd-party fulfillment on your Shopify store

The Shopify Fulfillment Network is Shopify‘s version of a 3PL (third-party logistics) company. Merchants still partner with a third-party, but there's no need to manage multiple dashboards or billing accounts, seeing as how your Shopify account is handled in the same invoice and dashboard as the Shopify Fulfillment. We've completed a thorough review of the Shopify Fulfillment Network here, so we recommend you check out that guide if you're having trouble understanding what it's all about or if your company should consider it as a viable 3PL company. In this guide, we'll talk about how to set up Shopify Fulfillment by covering everything from activating your account to figuring out your rates and choosing where to store your products.

How to Set Up Shopify Fulfillment

The process of how to set up Shopify Fulfillment is a little more complicated than the usual situation where you go to the App Store and click the Install button. Since Shopify runs this operation, and it functions as a separate part of the company (outside of the ecommerce platform's realm), you must first apply online to see if you're eligible for the Shopify Fulfillment Program. After that, they send you along to a customer sales representative to figure out your needs as a business.

During the interaction, you'll go through a list of questions with the Shopify rep and explain to them what elements you need to be included with the fulfillment service. For example, they want to figure out how much space you'll need in their warehouses. They also want to factor in things such as the picking and packing rate, transportation options, and special projects like if you plan on sending out monthly subscription boxes.

All of this goes into the calculator for them to decide upon your overall fulfillment rate. After that, they'll help you get integrated with your current online store.

Speaking of which, you must have a Shopify website in order to utilize the Shopify Fulfillment Network. You don't necessarily need one right now if you're just launching your business, but they do eventually make you create a website on Shopify. Otherwise, you'd have no way to accept orders to be sent to the fulfillment network in the first place.

Therefore, we recommend you start by setting up a Shopify store with our in-depth tutorial. Shopify offers a two-week free trial if you'd rather not pay for a plan yet.

Step 1: Set Up Shopify Fulfillment by Starting the Application

Once you figure out things like your requirements for fulfillment and the potential costs, it's time to actually apply to the Shopify Fulfillment Network.

This application process only takes a few minutes and essentially asks you if you plan on using any outside tools that might affect the way Shopify can support you with its own fulfillment features. In addition, they want to find out if you have any special requirements such as custom packaging or kitting. These all factor into the cost of your fulfillment and whether or not you'll be able to use the Shopify Fulfillment Network in the first place.

So, to get started, go to the Shopify Fulfillment website.

Feel free to browse through the website to understand its features, watch the main video, and look at some nice pictures of elements like custom packaging and the automated robots they use in the Shopify facilities.

Otherwise, click on the Apply Online button to set up Shopify Fulfillment.

apply online - setup Shopify fulfillment

Step 2: Make a Shopify Account or Choose One from Your List

As mentioned before, a Shopify account is required in order to utilize the Shopify Fulfillment services. And that doesn't just mean making an account and letting it sit there. You need to develop a website, add products, and run your entire online shop from the Shopify ecommerce platform. There's no way to tap into the Shopify Fulfillment Network with platforms like WooCommerce, Bigcommerce, or Volusion.

So, if you don't already have a Shopify account, go ahead and make one. You can always refer to our guide on how to build a Shopify store in 15 minutes or less. That tutorial starts out by showing you how to make a free trial account and move onto other options like setting up your products and choosing a pricing plan.

Are you looking into the Shopify Fulfillment Network but need to migrate from another platform before doing so? In that case, we recommend completing the migration before applying for acceptance into the network. We have a few guides on moving a site from another platform. For instance, this article covers how to migrate a website from Bigcommerce to Shopify.

Finally, it's possible you already have a fully functioning Shopify account, or maybe you own an account but the website hasn't been designed yet. Regardless, that allows you to choose one of your current Shopify accounts and make an application for the Shopify Fulfillment Network. That's all you need in order to apply for an account with Shopify: it doesn't matter if you're on a Partners account, a free trial, a paid plan.

So, go ahead and either migrate your site, create a new Shopify account, or log in with an account you already own.

In this case, I already have a Shopify website ready to roll. I can click on the account in order to start my application.

choose account

Step 3: Decide Which Shopify Store You Want to Use

A Shopify account contains your general contact and payment information, but you can also make several Shopify websites under that one account. If you have a list of websites, you must choose one of them to apply for the Shopify Fulfillment Network. This way, Shopify knows which of your sites is the one that's going to be partnering with the fulfillment company.

If you don't have any sites attached to your account, finish off the site creation process so that you at least have something in there to walk through the application.

Click on the site you want to link to the Shopify Fulfillment Network. This then brings you to the next page.

choose site

Step 4: Start Your Shopify Fulfillment Network Application

The next page is simply your Shopify dashboard. You can see the main menu for items like Orders, Products, and Customers. However, you should also have a Shopify Fulfillment Network module on the right-hand side. This is the start of your Shopify Fulfillment Network application. They continue to fill you in on the details with a link to the main Shopify Fulfillment Network webpage, along with the main sales video that talks about how the process works.

Now all you have to do is scroll down the page to get started.

Note: Remember, this isn't like any other Shopify App. You can't just add the Shopify Fulfillment Network under your sales channels or the app area and start fulfilling your orders. The application is the only way to gain acceptance into the program. 

setup Shopify fulfillment - apply

Step 5: Explain Your Business Requirements for Orders and Inventory

The initial part of the Shopify Fulfillment Network application asks some questions about orders and inventory. They want to understand if all of your orders will be fulfilled through Shopify or if you plan on completing some of the fulfillment on your own (or with a different 3PL). It's also clear that Shopify doesn't want you using any other apps that might interfere with the supply chain of its own fulfillment process.

Let's take a look at the first question.

It asks, “Will you continue to fulfill some orders or products on your own?”

We encourage you to honestly answer all of these questions. Otherwise, you'll end up with a conflict of interest in the future and either get shut down for not following the rules or you'll find that your fulfillment process is far less efficient than it should be.

You can put a Yes or No for this question. For instance, you may still want to send out a few special products that you store in your own office or warehouse. The Shopify Fulfillment Network allows for this, but only if you're working with them as your main 3PL company. You shouldn't be utilizing both the Shopify Fulfillment Network and something else like Redstag or ShipBob, seeing as how having two 3PL companies for the same products could cause problems as you move around your inventory.

Having said that, the self-fulfillment option seems to be fine with Shopify.

The next question asks “Do you use other apps to manage inventory?”

Again, answer Yes or No.

Overall, Shopify doesn't necessarily care if you're using other apps for fulfillment as long as you're not overlapping and using multiple fulfillment companies for the same products. For instance, you can ship out shirts with an app like Printful but still handle all of your product needs with the Shopify Fulfillment Network. The main problem that arises is when a merchant tries to sell one product and then chooses afterward which fulfillment company they want to use (this could help with costs, but it becomes far too confusing for both you and the fulfillment companies).

Shopify can't keep track of your inventory or fulfill any orders when you attach two fulfillment apps to the same product. So, if you plan on having a configuration like that, you should not set up Shopify Fulfillment. However, there's no harm in using multiple fulfillment apps if they're storing and shipping out completely different items.

orders and inventory - setup Shopify fulfillment

Next up, you'll see a question asking the following:

“Do you require Shopify to fulfill orders with additional routing guidelines, palletization, or EDI?”

What exactly does this all mean?

Special routing guidelines come into play when you partner with a fulfillment company like Shopify. In general, they already have their fulfillment rules set out, so when you stray from those techniques, it could either make things very expensive for you or nearly impossible for the company to fulfill your orders. For instance, EDI (electronic data interchange) is a form of standardized exchange of business documents occasionally used by B2B ecommerce stores for fulfillment. EDI is a very niche part of the fulfillment world, and it's clear Shopify doesn't participate in this type of fulfillment. The same can be said for palletization or just about any other unique routing situation.

The Shopify Fulfillment Network sticks to the standard direct-to-consumer routing method, making it easier on them, the merchant, and your customers.

Again, we encourage you to be as honest as possible on this application, but keep in mind that a Yes answer to the question will result in your application getting denied.

That's okay, though, since you just have to look around for another 3PL company. The Shopify Fulfillment Network isn't for everyone. Trying to make a special routing guideline work with Shopify will only result in costly delays and potential problems with your Shopify account.

routing guidelines - setup Shopify fulfillment

There are two links below the “special routing guidelines” question. They send you to support pages for managing your inventory and products. If you have any questions about changing your routing guidelines, or configuring your product fulfillment so that you align with Shopify's guidelines, we recommend you check out those articles.

manage inventory

Step 6: Answer Questions About Product Eligibility (And Learn About What Shopify Allows you to Ship Through Its Program)

The Product Eligibility section of the application has details about what you're able to store in Shopify facilities and send out to customers. Some of the eligibility questions are simply trying to understand how much you may have to spend with the Shopify Fulfillment Network. After all, sending out larger products usually costs more. However, they also want you to see the categories of products that aren't allowed for fulfillment via Shopify. These categories are often illegal objects or products that have shaky regulations like smoking paraphernalia or works of art.

The first question asks “Are any of the products you plan to fulfill larger than 18 inches in length, width, or height?

They want to get a straight answer about the size of your items because Shopify doesn't currently support items that are too large. Although it may happen in the future, they've made the decision to stick with items under 18 inches in any direction to ensure a more efficient shipping process.

So, mark Yes or No and just realize that a Yes response will most likely get you declined from the Shopify Fulfillment Network.

The following question states: “Are any of the products you plan to fulfill on the restricted or prohibited item list?”

If you're wondering what list they're talking about, it's not some government-managed list or something to do with your payment processor (even though they have restricted product lists as well).

The restricted and prohibited items list comes directly from Shopify, since they want to ensure that they don't get into any legal trouble sending out troublesome products. It's also to protect your own business, seeing as how you're bound to receive a fine or get shut down eventually.

Answer Yes or No to this question. A Yes response will result in declination from the Shopify Fulfillment Network.

Before clicking on the No box, make sure you read through the full list of prohibited and restricted items. You may not know that Shopify doesn't allow something you're planning on selling. Also, you're allowed to sell some of the restricted items, but with limitations. For instance, you may not be able to send some of your products to a certain state, or maybe you have to store one type of product in a special container.

product eligibility - setup Shopify fulfillment

Therefore, click on the Types of Products link to navigate to the full list of restricted and prohibited items.

types of products

The items in the screenshot below aren't the only ones on the list. This is just a sampling of what you can't send through the Shopify Fulfillment Network. We strongly encourage you to look at the entire collection.

Some examples of restricted items (or items that you can probably still sell but may have limitations) include:

  • Sealants and pastes
  • Adult items and toys
  • Pressurized canisters
  • Hair products and beauty supplies
  • Medical devices
  • Shelf-stable food items
  • Smoking and vaping products
  • Non-prescription medication and supplements
  • Works of art

Examples of prohibited items (or products you can never sell through the Shopify Fulfillment Network) include:

  • Anything weighing over 35 pounds
  • Anything longer than 18 inches in a single direction
  • Items related to illegal activities
  • Products requiring a license for their distribution
  • Agricultural products
  • Perishable items
  • Hazardous items like poison, raw chemicals, and hand sanitizer
  • Prescription drugs
  • Engines
  • Hoverboards
  • Loose precious stones
  • Magnetized materials
  • Tobacco products
  • Ammunition
  • Firearms
  • Lead-acid batteries
  • Military or law enforcement equipment

restricted items

Moving on, the next question asks “Do you require any advanced inventory tracking like first in first out or lot tracking?”

As with most of the questions on this application, answering Yes will result in your application getting denied. Why's that? Because Shopify does not fulfill products where the inventory tracking requirements are outside of its own software scope.

The Shopify Fulfillment Network already has an excellent inventory tracking system that should work for the majority of companies. Therefore, we either recommend switching over to Shopify completely or seeking out another 3PL company that's more willing to work with your advanced inventory tracking software. The same can be said if you need to run a first in first out operation. That usually means that your products have an expiration date; Shopify doesn't want to mess with that when it comes to fulfillment.

advanced tracking

Step 7: Answer Questions About Your Desired Fulfillment Services

Shopify has several special project categories where you can have them include your branding, assemble bundles to send to your customers, and more. Therefore, these Fulfillment Services questions are more for calculating the types of costs you should expect. After all, a kitting or assembly process should cost more since Shopify is handling all that extra work for you.

The first question under this section asks “Do you plan to provide your own branded order packaging?”

The good news is that all the standard packaging items like unbranded boxes, tape, and other materials are included with the Shopify Fulfillment Network pricing. So, if you don't have any problem with that, choose No as your response.

However, many business owners know the power of branding, so it's not a bad idea to at least consider making your own packaging. It adds several roadblocks to the setup, but it's nothing Shopify can't handle. Overall, you'll be required to pay for your own packaging, send it to Shopify, and pay extra fees for them to accept and utilize this packaging.

To use your own packaging, select the Yes radio button.

services - setup Shopify fulfillment

The following question states “Do you require kitting or assembly on demand as orders are fulfilled?”

Once again, Shopify has special services for putting together items as orders come in. They have no problem with kitting.

However, kitting and assembly come with an extra monthly charge. This question gauges what that charge may be and allows them to send you an accurate quote.

Select Yes or No depending on what you plan on selling.

kitting - setup Shopify fulfillment

The final question on the application asks “Do you require any type of returns processing?”

Luckily, the Shopify Fulfillment Network offers a service to take back returns and put them back on shelves. You can also opt to donate the returns or destroy them. Part of this process involves the Shopify warehouse workers inspecting the items if they need to go back into your inventory.

As such, the question is meant to establish extra fees for return processing. You're more than welcome to collect returns yourself, but that gets expensive and you need your own space. We recommend considering the Shopify Fulfillment Network returns service for an extra fee.

returns - setup Shopify fulfillment

Step 8: Submit Your Application and Wait to Hear Back!

You'll see an Apply Now button at the very bottom of your application.

Make sure you scan through the entire application to ensure you properly replied to all of the questions.

Then, click on the Apply Now button.

setup Shopify fulfillment and hit apply now

You're then sent to a final message that tells you how Shopify will review your application and get back to you in a matter of 24 hours. And that's how you set up Shopify Fulfillment. Now you have to manage it all!

we'll be in touch

How to Manage the Process After You Set up Shopify Fulfillment

After you're accepted to the program, a Shopify Fulfillment tab shows up in your dashboard. This way, you can start choosing products to send to the Shopify warehouses.

setup Shopify fulfillment

What's more is that Shopify offers an automated, smart distribution tool that decides where to place your products. Shopify has seven distribution centers in the US and one in Canada, so it's nice to know that your products get placed closest to the customers who buy them.

get smart suggestions

As sales come in, the Shopify Fulfillment Network tracks your inventory. You'll receive notifications for when you need refill inventory counts based on trending items, seasonal needs, and more.

get inventory updates

When an order comes in, you can either manually confirm the order or have it automatically sent for fulfillment. Afterward, the folks at your Shopify fulfillment centers pick and pack the products based on your requirements.

setup Shopify fulfillment for picking

And they use all of your custom packaging and inserts if that's what you decided.

custom packaging for - how to setup Shopify fulfillment

Finally, the Shopify Fulfillment Network wraps up the package in a carrier slip or box and sends it via the carrier you decided on in your dashboard. For instance, Shopify has partnerships with UPS, USPS, and DHL. Your customer gets a tracking message and receives the item a few days later.

send it out

Our Final Thoughts on How to Set Up Shopify Fulfillment

Although you can't just install an app and start fulfilling through Shopify, the process of learning how to set up Shopify fulfillment is straightforward. It only takes a few minutes, and you should get a response to your application within 24 hours.

After that, you can move onto choosing your fulfillment center locations and managing your inventory.

If you have any questions about how to set up Shopify fulfillment, let us know in the comments section below.

Shopify Fulfillments
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Joe Warnimont

Joe Warnimont is a Chicago-based writer who focuses on eCommerce tools, WordPress, and social media. When not fishing or practicing yoga, he's collecting stamps at national parks (even though that's mainly for children). Check out Joe's portfolio to contact him and view past work.