In conventional retail, your customer picks the merchandise up off the shelf, or else you go into the back storeroom and get what he or she wants, and conclude the deal at the counter. With e-commerce, of course, you don't have a counter, or possibly even a back storeroom, and the customer pays for the product first. But you've still got to get the goods into his or her hands by shipping it. That part is called fulfillment, and if your startup business is really small, you'll do most of the work yourself, by hauling your goods to the post office or UPS store.
As your operation gets bigger, though, you'll eventually need to outsource the fulfillment. One way to do that is to work with a manufacturer who offers dropshipping, which we described earlier. Another option is to use an e-commerce fulfillment provider such as Shipwire. Basically, you send your inventory to them, they store it in a big warehouse and pack and ship it whenever you get an order. Not only do you save yourself the trouble of doing the legwork, but you may actually lower your costs, since these providers are able to negotiate bulk shipping rates [source: Hawkins].