Choosing to prepackage items on your own before sending them to Amazon is like trying to grow a small garden into a vast farm with just a single watering can. At first, it's manageable - but there’s a problem: as you aim for more crops and larger yields, you realize you're outpaced, stretched thin, running from one end to the other, trying to keep everything watered.
Imagine if, instead of that single watering can, you had a team helping you plant seeds — another group focused on weeding, and an advanced irrigation system ensuring every crop gets the right amount of water. You could then focus on strategizing the farm's growth, researching new crops, and building relationships with buyers.
It's the same with selling on Amazon. If you want to scale your Amazon business, consider using an Amazon Prep Center.
Using a prep center helps you scale your amazon FBA business.
This guide will walk you through the basic information you need to know before choosing an Amazon prep center. And at the end, we shared ten prep centers to consider.
What Is an Amazon Prep Center?
An Amazon Prep Center is a third-party service provider that specializes in preparing and processing inventory for Amazon sellers. The primary objective of a prep center is to handle the labor-intensive tasks involved in getting your products ready for sale on Amazon. This frees you up to focus on other aspects of your business, such as sourcing products, marketing, and customer service.
Amazon Prep Center Is the Bridge Between Your Suppliers and Amazon’s FBA Warehouses
Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) is a service provided by Amazon that allows sellers to outsource the storage, picking, packing, and shipping of their products to Amazon's fulfillment centers. While FBA takes care of these logistics once your products reach their warehouses, getting your inventory to that point in a compliant manner is your responsibility as a seller.
This is where Amazon Prep Centers come in. They act as an intermediary step between your suppliers and Amazon's fulfillment centers.
Using a prep center can ensure that your products are received, inspected, labeled, packaged, and shipped according to Amazon's stringent requirements. A prep center bridges the gap between sourcing your products and getting them into the FBA system, making the entire process more streamlined and efficient.
What Prep Centers Do
Amazon Prep Centers offer a range of services to make your life as an Amazon seller easier. These services often include:
- Inspection: Checking each item for damages or defects before it gets sent to Amazon.
- Labeling: Applying necessary labels such as FNSKU, expiration dates, or warning labels.
- Packaging: Ensuring items are securely packaged according to Amazon's guidelines.
- Kitting and Bundling: Assembling multiple items into a single package for sale as a bundle.
- Prep for Oversized or Special Items: Handling items with unique prep requirements due to their size or nature.
Why Use an Amazon Prep Center?
We've broken down the reasons into four main categories: Time Efficiency, Cost Efficiency, Quality Management, and Business Scalability.
1. Time Efficiency
Free up your time: One of the most compelling reasons to use a prep center is the time you save. Preparing products for Amazon FBA involves multiple steps, like inspection, labeling, and packaging, which can be time-consuming. Outsourcing these tasks frees up valuable time that can be better spent on other aspects of your business, such as sourcing and marketing.
Speed to market: A prep center's expertise and streamlined processes can help you get your products to market faster. This is particularly beneficial during peak seasons or when launching a new product and wanting to gain a competitive edge.
2. Cost Efficiency
Economies of scale: Prep centers often have the infrastructure to handle large volumes of inventory, allowing you to benefit from economies of scale. This can result in lower per-item costs as your business grows.
Avoid hidden costs: Doing prep work yourself involves not just the cost of labor but also the cost of materials, storage, and potentially even renting a workspace. These hidden costs can add up, making a prep center a more cost-effective option in many cases.
3. Quality Management
Compliance and quality control: Prep centers are experts in Amazon's complex requirements for packaging, labeling, and shipping. Their expertise ensures that your products meet these standards, reducing non-compliance risk and associated fees or penalties. Many also offer quality control services, inspecting each item for defects or damages, which can help maintain your seller reputation and reduce the rate of returns.
4. Business Scalability
Focus on growth: With the operational aspects of FBA handled by a prep center, you can focus on strategic activities that contribute to business growth, such as product development and customer engagement.
Flexibility: Prep centers offer a range of services and can adapt to your needs as your business grows. Whether expanding your product line or entering new markets, a prep center can scale with you.
How To Choose the Right Prep Center
Below are key factors to consider when selecting the prep center that meets your needs.
Step 1: Identify strategic locations.
- Proximity to Suppliers: If your suppliers are located in a specific region, choosing a prep center near them can reduce shipping costs and time.
- Proximity to Amazon Fulfillment Centers: Being closer to Amazon's warehouses can also cut shipping costs and speed up delivery times.
Step 2: Evaluate geographic benefits.
Some locations offer tax benefits or lower operational costs, which can financially benefit your business.
Step 3: List your needs.
Make a list of the services you absolutely need, such as inspection, labeling, and packaging, as well as any specialized services like kitting or photography.
Step 4: Match services to prep centers
Compare your list with the services offered by various prep centers. Eliminate those that don't meet your essential criteria.
Step 5: Understand the pricing structure
Prep centers may charge per item or box or a flat monthly fee. Some may also have hidden fees for storage or additional services.
Step 6: Calculate total costs
Use your average monthly sales volume to estimate how much you'll be spending on prep services. Make sure this fits within your budget.
Reviews and Testimonials
Step 7: Research online reviews
Look for reviews on third-party websites, forums, and social media to gauge customer satisfaction.
Step 8: Ask for references
Feel free to ask the prep center for references or testimonials. Reach out to these references to get firsthand accounts of their experiences.
Questions to Ask Before Partnering
Step 9: Conduct an interview
Prepare a list of questions to ask potential prep centers. Here are some to consider:
- What is your turnaround time?
- Do you have experience with my product category?
- What is your process for handling damaged or defective items?
- Can you handle returns?
- What are your storage capabilities?
Step 10: Evaluate communication
Pay attention to how quickly and clearly the prep center communicates with you. Good communication is crucial for a successful partnership.
How Much Do Amazon Prep Centers Charge for Their Services?
The cost of using an Amazon Prep Center can vary widely depending on the range of services you require and the pricing model of the specific prep center. Common services like inspection, labeling, and packaging can range from $0.10 to $1.00 per item. Some prep centers may also charge setup fees, ranging from $50 to $200, and storage fees, which can be around $0.50 to $1.50 per cubic foot per month.
Are There Any Hidden Fees I Should Be Aware Of?
Not all prep centers are upfront about their fees. Here are some hidden charges you should be aware of:
- Setup Fees: Some prep centers charge an initial setup fee to onboard new clients. This fee can range from $50 to $200 and is usually a one-time charge.
- Long-Term Storage Fees: While short-term storage might be included in the service package, long-term storage usually incurs extra fees. These fees can vary based on the size and volume of the inventory and can range from $0.50 to $1.50 per cubic foot per month.
- Rush Order Fees: If you need your items processed in a shorter time frame than the prep center's standard turnaround time, you may be subject to rush order fees. These fees can significantly increase the cost per item.
- Special Handling Fees: Items that are fragile, oversized, or require special packaging may incur additional handling fees. Ask about this beforehand, especially if your products fall into these categories.
- Return Handling Fees: Some prep centers offer return management services, but this is often an additional cost. Fees for this service can vary widely, so it's essential to clarify this upfront.
- Miscellaneous Fees: Other hidden fees could include charges for labeling services if they are not part of the standard package, for handling hazardous materials, or for additional quality control checks.
While we've covered the potential hidden fees you might encounter, the key to a profitable partnership lies in proactive communication and due diligence. By reading contracts carefully, asking pointed questions, and requesting detailed quotes, you not only safeguard against unexpected costs but also foster a transparent and trustworthy relationship with your prep center.
Logistics and Operations
In this section, we'll cover how to send your inventory to a prep center, what the typical turnaround time is, and whether prep centers handle returns and damaged goods.
How Do I Send My Inventory to a Prep Center?
Sending your inventory to a prep center is generally a straightforward process:
- Coordinate with the Prep Center: Before shipping anything, coordinate with your chosen prep center to understand their receiving guidelines.
- Create a Shipment Plan: Use your Amazon Seller Central account to create a shipment plan, which will include details like the destination (prep center's address), products, and quantities.
- Ship the Inventory: Use a reliable shipping service to send your products to the prep center. Some prep centers may offer discounted shipping rates through partnerships with carriers.
What Is the Typical Turnaround Time for a Prep Center To Process My Items?
The turnaround time for a prep center to process your items can vary significantly based on the services you need. For standard services such as inspection, labeling, and packaging, you can generally expect your items to be ready for shipment within 24 to 48 hours.
However, if you require more specialized services like kitting or bundling, the turnaround time may extend to 72 hours or even longer. It's essential to discuss your specific needs with the prep center to get an accurate estimate of the turnaround time, especially if you're working with tight deadlines or have specialized requirements.
Do Amazon Prep Centers Handle Returns and Damaged Goods?
When it comes to managing returns and damaged goods, many Amazon Prep Centers offer specialized services to ease these logistical challenges. Some prep centers provide return management services, taking care of customer returns by inspecting the items and either restocking them or disposing them based on your specific instructions.
Additionally, a number of prep centers will scrutinize your incoming inventory for any damaged goods. Depending on your preferences, these items can be returned to the supplier or disposed of properly. By leveraging these services, you can enhance your inventory management strategies and further streamline your Amazon FBA business operations.
List of the Best Amazon Prep Centers
- ShipBob: Known for its fast shipping and excellent customer service, ShipBob is a popular choice for Amazon sellers. They offer a range of services, including inventory management and order fulfillment.
- eFulfillment Service: This company offers a wide range of services, including kitting, bundling, and even crowdfunding fulfillment services. They are known for their transparent pricing and excellent customer service.
- Fulfillment.com: This prep center offers global fulfillment solutions and is known for its scalability, making it a good choice for both small and large businesses.
- Red Stag Fulfillment: Known for their accuracy and fast shipping, Red Stag is a good option for sellers with high-value or oversized goods.
- Deliverr: While not a traditional prep center, Deliverr is popular for its fast shipping capabilities, enabling sellers to offer 2-day shipping across various platforms, including Amazon.
- MyFBAPrep: Offers a full range of prep services and is known for its fast turnaround times. They also provide services for Amazon's international marketplaces.
- Prep It Pack It Ship It: Known for its personalized service, this prep center offers a wide range of services, including inspection, labeling, poly bagging, and more.
- McKenzie Services: This Oregon-based company offers a wide range of services, including storage, and is known for its attention to detail and high-quality service.
- FBA Forward: Specializes in helping international sellers navigate the complexities of shipping to Amazon FBA in the United States.
Frequently Asked Questions