What Is 3PL? A Complete Reference to Third-Party Logistics

If you’re running an e-commerce business, you’ve likely heard the term 3PL bandied around. But what is 3PL, exactly? Third-party logistics (3PL) refers to outsourcing the storage, fulfillment, and shipment of your products to a third-party provider. This allows firms to focus on their core skills while leaving the logistics to the professionals. In this article, we’ll cover what 3PL is, how it works, and the benefits of employing a 3PL provider.

How Does 3PL Work?

When a firm partners with a 3PL provider, they entrust the provider to handle the logistics of storing, fulfilling, and delivering their products. The procedure normally begins with the firm sending its products to the 3PL provider’s warehouse. From there, the provider will take over the administration of the inventory, order fulfillment, and delivery. After an order is placed, the 3PL provider will pick, pack, and ship the products on the business’s behalf. This means the firm doesn’t have to worry about the logistical issues of warehousing and shipping their products, giving them time to focus on building their business.

Varieties of 3PL Providers

There are various types of 3PL suppliers, each with its own distinct services and offerings. Some common types of 3PL providers include:

Transportation-based 3PL

This type of 3PL provider concentrates on transportation management and includes services including freight forwarding, carrier management, and customs brokerage.

Warehouse-based 3PL

This type of 3PL supplier focuses on warehousing and distribution and includes services like inventory management, order fulfillment, and shipping.

Forwarder-based 3PL

This type of 3PL supplier combines transportation and warehouse services to give end-to-end logistics solutions.

Financial-based 3PL

This type of 3PL supplier offers financial services related to logistics, including freight payment and auditing, insurance, and trade financing.

Advantages of Employing a 3PL Provider

There are various benefits to outsourcing your logistics to a 3PL supplier, including:

Reduce costs

Working with a 3PL provider can help firms save money by minimizing the need for capital investments in warehousing and transportation.


3PL providers have the ability and experience to handle logistics efficiently and effectively, which can help businesses streamline their operations and improve customer satisfaction.


3PL providers can readily scale their services to match the demands of organizations as they grow, delivering flexibility and agility that is difficult to do in-house.

Concentrate on core competencies

By outsourcing logistics to a 3PL provider, organizations can focus on their core capabilities and strategic ambitions without becoming bogged down by the operational issues of logistics.

Access to technology

Many 3PL providers spend extensively in technology and logistics systems, offering businesses access to the latest tools and innovations to optimize their logistical operations.

Hiring a third-party logistics (3PL) supplier can offer various benefits for organizations of all sizes. This comprehensive guide from Launch Fulfillment (/the-ultimate-guide-to-third-party-logistics-3pls-and-how-they-handle-order-fulfillment/) outlines the advantages of working with a 3PL provider, including cost savings, improved efficiency, access to advanced technology, and more.

When to Employ a 3PL Provider

There are various scenarios where hiring a 3PL supplier might be useful for firms, including:

Restricted warehousing space

If a business is running out of warehouse space or doesn’t have the resources to extend their existing space, collaborating with a 3PL provider can assist them avoid the costs and trouble of developing or renting extra warehouse space.

Seasonal surges in demand

Whenever a firm encounters seasonal surges in demand, collaborating with a 3PL provider can help them swiftly scale up their logistics operations to meet the increased demand without having to invest in extra people.

International shipping

If a firm is trying to grow into international markets, collaborating with a 3PL provider with experience in international shipping can help them handle the intricacies of customs and regulations in foreign nations.

Selecting a 3PL Provider

Selecting the correct 3PL supplier is critical for organizations wishing to outsource their logistical operations. Some significant considerations to consider while choosing a 3PL provider include:

Industrial experience

Seek a 3PL provider with experience in your sector or niche. They will be more qualified to comprehend your specific logistical demands and give personalized solutions that fit your expectations.

Technology and systems

Seek a 3PL provider that invests in technology and logistical systems. They should be able to provide real-time visibility into inventory levels, order status, and shipment information.

Service offerings

Consider the specific services offered by the 3PL provider and make sure they align with your needs. For example, if you need help with international shipping, make sure the provider has experience in that area.

Consumer service

Seek a 3PL provider with a great track record of customer service. They should be responsive and proactive in addressing any issues or concerns that arise.

How to Work with a 3PL Provider

Working with a 3PL provider requires effective communication and collaboration. Some tips for working with a 3PL provider include:

Set clear expectations

Make sure to set clear expectations around service levels, communication, and reporting. This will help ensure that both parties are aligned on goals and objectives.

Maintain open communication

Establish regular communication channels with your 3PL provider and be transparent about your needs and expectations. This will help prevent any misunderstandings or miscommunications.

Monitor performance

Regularly monitor the performance of your 3PL provider to ensure they are meeting your expectations. This includes tracking order accuracy, shipping times, and inventory levels.

3PL vs. 4PL: What’s the Difference?

While 3PL providers focus on managing logistics operations, 4PL providers take a more strategic approach to logistics. They act as a central point of contact between businesses and multiple 3PL providers, coordinating and managing the overall logistics strategy.

Challenges of Using a 3PL Provider

While there are many benefits to using a 3PL provider, there are also some challenges to consider, including:

Loss of control

Outsourcing logistics to a 3PL provider means relinquishing some control over the logistics process. This can be challenging for some businesses, particularly those with complex logistics requirements.

Communication issues

Effective communication is crucial when working with a 3PL provider. However, communication breakdowns can occur, particularly if there are multiple parties involved in the logistics process.

Quality control

Maintaining quality control over the logistics process can be challenging when outsourcing to a 3PL provider. Businesses must rely on the provider to ensure that products are handled and shipped appropriately, which can be a risk.


While outsourcing logistics to a 3PL provider can be cost-effective in some situations, it can also be expensive, particularly for businesses with complex logistics needs.


In conclusion, a 3PL provider can be a valuable partner for businesses looking to outsource their logistics operations. With their expertise and resources, 3PL providers can help businesses streamline their logistics operations, reduce costs, and improve efficiency. When choosing a 3PL provider, businesses should consider factors such as industry experience, technology and systems, service offerings, and customer service. However, it’s important to recognize that outsourcing logistics to a 3PL provider comes with some challenges, such as loss of control, communication issues, and quality control concerns.



What is a 3PL provider?

A 3PL provider is a third-party logistics provider that offers logistics services to businesses, such as warehousing, transportation, and order fulfillment.

What are the benefits of using a 3PL provider?

The benefits of using a 3PL provider include reduced costs, improved efficiency, access to expertise and resources, and scalability.

When should a business consider using a 3PL provider?

A business should consider using a 3PL provider when they have limited warehouse space, experience seasonal spikes in demand, or are looking to expand into international markets.