The Comprehensive Guide to Third-Party Logistics (3PLs) and How They Manage Order Fulfillment

When businesses expand, they sometimes find themselves straining to keep up with the logistics of shipping and order fulfillment. This is where third-party logistics (3PL) firms come in. These organizations specialize in handling the logistics of order fulfillment, allowing businesses to focus on other areas of their operations. In this definitive tutorial, we will cover all you need to know about 3PLs and how they handle order fulfillment. 

What is Third-Party Logistics (3PL)?

Third-party logistics, or 3PL for short, is the process of outsourcing logistics and fulfillment operations to a third-party provider. These can involve transportation, warehousing, order fulfillment, and other logistical services. 3PL providers deal with organizations of all sizes and can provide tailored solutions depending on the individual needs of each customer.

How Do 3PLs Work?

The process of collaborating with a 3PL supplier begins with an initial meeting to determine the needs of the organization. The 3PL provider will then construct a tailored plan that incorporates the exact services necessary, such as transportation, warehousing, and order fulfillment. Once the plan is in place, the 3PL provider will handle all logistics and fulfillment operations, including the reception and storage of goods, order processing, packaging, and shipping.

Advantages of Working with a 3PL Provider

There are several benefits to collaborating with a 3PL provider. Here are just a few:

  1. Cost Savings

Partnering with a 3PL supplier can be more cost-effective than handling logistics and fulfillment in-house. 3PL providers can utilize economies of scale to negotiate better prices on transportation and warehousing, resulting in cheaper overall expenses for their clients.

  1. Scalability

As firms grow, their logistical needs might get more complex. 3PL providers may grow their services to suit the changing needs of their clients, allowing businesses to focus on other elements of their operations.

  1. Expertise

3PL suppliers specialize in logistics and fulfillment operations. They have the expertise and experience to conduct these processes more efficiently and effectively than enterprises can on their own.

  1. Flexibility

3PL providers offer a wide range of services and can customize solutions to fit the individual demands of each client. This allows organizations to choose the services that are most relevant to their operations.

Varieties of 3PL Providers

There are various sorts of 3PL suppliers, each offering different services. Following are the primary types of 3PL providers:

  1. Transportation-Based 3PL 

Transportation-based 3PL providers specialize in transportation services, including freight forwarding, shipping, and delivery.

  1. Warehouse/Distribution-Based 3PL 

Warehouse/distribution-based 3PL providers specialize in warehouse and distribution services, including inventory management, order fulfillment, and shipping.

  1. Forwarder-Based 3PL 

Forwarder-based 3PL services specialize in coordinating overseas shipments, including customs clearance and documentation.

  1. Financial-Based 3PL 

Financial-based 3PL providers specialize in providing financing and insurance services to facilitate international trade.

How to Pick the Best 3PL Provider

Selecting the proper 3PL supplier is important to the success of your logistics and fulfillment operations. Here are some points to consider while choosing a 3PL provider:

  1. Experience and Expertise

Search for a 3PL provider with experience and knowledge in your industry. They should have a track record of accomplishment and be able to provide references.

  1. Technology 

The correct technology can assist streamline logistics and fulfillment processes. Search for a 3PL supplier that employs the latest technologies to manage inventory, handle orders, and track shipments.

  1. Customization

Be sure the 3PL provider can modify their services to match your individual demands. They should be willing to work with you to design a personalized solution that matches your business.

  1. Communication

Good communication is vital to a successful partnership with a 3PL provider. Make sure they are responsive and able to communicate properly and consistently.

  1. Cost 

While cost shouldn’t be the main element in your decision, it’s crucial to choose a 3PL provider that offers affordable pricing for their services.

How 3PLs Manage Order Fulfillment

One of the key services provided by 3PL companies is order fulfillment. Here’s how the process normally works:

  1. Receiving and Storing Inventory

The 3PL provider gets the merchandise from the client and stores it in their warehouse.

  1. Processing Orders

When an order is placed, the 3PL provider receives the order information and processes the order, collecting the items from the warehouse and preparing them for distribution.

  1. Packing and Shipping

The 3PL provider packages the order and organizes transportation, using their network of carriers to determine the most cost-effective and efficient shipping option.

  1. Tracking and Reporting

Throughout the fulfillment process, the 3PL provider tracks the shipment and gives regular information to the client. They also provide reporting on inventory levels and order status.

Third-party logistics providers (3PLs) can assist organizations manage their order fulfillment procedures efficiently and effectively. This guide from Launch Fulfillment ( offers valuable insights into how 3PLs handle order fulfillment, including receiving inventory, managing storage, picking and packing orders, and shipping products to customers. The guide also examines the role of technology in 3PL operations, and how modern tools like order management systems (OMS) and warehouse management systems (WMS) may speed fulfillment processes and improve customer satisfaction. Whether you’re wanting to outsource your entire fulfillment operation or just a portion of it, this article can help you understand the benefits of working with a 3PL provider and how they can help your business develop.

Typical Problems with 3PL Providers

While there are many benefits to working with a 3PL provider, there are also some frequent issues to be aware of. Here are a few:

  1. Lack of Control

By outsourcing logistics and fulfillment operations to a 3PL supplier, businesses may feel like they are losing control over these crucial services.

  1. Communication Problems

Good communication is crucial to a successful partnership with a 3PL provider. If communication is not clear and consistent, it can lead to errors and delays.

  1. Cost

While partnering with a 3PL provider can be cost-effective, there are always charges associated with outsourcing logistics and fulfillment operations. Companies need to carefully evaluate these fees when determining whether to cooperate with a 3PL supplier.


Third-party logistics firms can be a helpful partner for businesses wishing to outsource their logistics and fulfillment operations. By cooperating with a 3PL provider, businesses can reduce expenses, scale their operations, and leverage the experience of logistics specialists. While picking a 3PL provider, firms should evaluate elements such as experience, technology, customization, communication, and cost.



What is the difference between a 3PL and a 4PL?

A 3PL provides logistics and fulfillment services, while a 4PL provides more strategic logistics consulting and management services.

How can I determine if I need a 3PL provider?

If you are struggling to keep up with the logistics and fulfillment demands of your business, it may be time to explore partnering with a 3PL supplier.

Can a 3PL provider handle foreign shipments?

Certainly, many 3PL providers specialize in managing overseas shipments, including customs clearance and documentation.