Many shippers who manage their own fleets struggle to keep costs down and maintain an efficient logistics process. When surveyed, shippers claim to struggle most with transportation costs, customer service, and their overall business process.

30 Second Summary:

Q: What is a 3PL?

A: 3PL (third-party logistics) is a shipper’s use of third-party businesses for the outsourcing of logistics, distribution or fulfillment services. This often includes warehousing and transportation services that can be scaled to fit the needs of a given customer.

Q: What are the main ways that 3PL helps shippers save money?

A: There are numerous cost and efficiency benefits that should incentivize shippers to use 3PL. Here’s a list we will break down further in the post below:

  • 3PLs have large resource networks which help them cut costs and boost efficiency
  • 3PLs use advanced technology to oversee their operations. They also use insights from this technology to provide shippers with actionable opportunities for improvement.
  • 3PLs often engage in freight consolidation and shared warehousing, which saves money for shippers
  • 3PLs have flexible capacity and can easily adapt to high and low order volume without losing efficiency
  • Using 3PLs decreases employee and security-based risk factors. No need for shippers to incur the costs of insuring a private fleet.
  • 3PLs are always informed and up-to-date on laws, regulations, taxes, customs information, and other factors that can be a nuisance to shippers.
  • Transportation and logistics are the core competencies of 3PLs, so they tend to offer better service and do so more efficiency than a shipper operating a private fleet.

Let’s dive in!

3PL: An Ideal Solution For Many Shippers

The Third Party Logistics (3PL) industry has been on the rise for years and is projected to grow by about $500 Billion over the course of the next 7 years.

If you’re wondering why, look no further than the needs of shippers transitioning from dedicated fleets, who are ill-equipped when it comes to managing their transportation and warehousing needs.

Third party logistics providers produce staggering cost savings and increased efficiency for shippers across the board.

We’ve created an infographic containing all the data you need to know to become an expert on the benefits of third party logistics.

Skip straight to the Infographic!

What is a 3PL

As we mentioned above, a 3PL is a company that shippers outsource to for transportation and warehousing services.

While it’s possible for shippers to outsource all facets of their logistics operations to a 3PL, it doesn’t need to be that way:

3PLs can also take over certain parts of shipping operations to aid shippers in areas outside their core competency.

3PLs are also useful because of their flexible capacity, and their ability to scale based on the needs of a particular customer. For example, if a customer typically uses twice as much outsourced warehouse space in the winter as it does in the Summer, a 3PL can adjust to the client’s fluctuating needs.

If a shipper chooses to use a 3PL as a comprehensive fleet outsourcing and warehousing solution, the 3PL will provide a variety of services that span multiple areas of the customer’s supply chain. The best 3PLs are able to leverage their technology, expertise and relationships to provide supply chain efficiencies and cut costs for their customers.

3PL vs. 4PL

4PL (fourth party logistics) providers are companies used to oversee and integrate every element of a shipper’s supply chain.

4PLs often require complete control over this process, overseeing all 3PL providers and ensuring that everything is going smoothly. Using a 4PL provides a shipper with a supply chain integrator that adds a consultative layer to the pursuit of greater efficiency and cost savings.

Why should I use a 4PL?

If a shipper needs additional oversight, or employs multiple 3PLs to perform different functions of their logistics operations, they can benefit from the comprehensive management offered by a 4PL.

Examples of 3PL

3PL can be any of the following (or a combination):

  • Courier Companies
  • Freight Forwarders
  • Transportation and/or logistics subcontractors

Here are a few examples of why a business would use a 3PL:

When fulfilling orders gets in the way of growing a business

Let’s say a Wisconsin-based cheese producer works with a few regional grocery chains across the Midwest.

The cheese producer finally closes its first major national chain, and the influx of orders is so large that an inordinate share of the company’s resources are being devoted to order fulfillment or processing and delivering orders to end customers.

Now let’s say another major national grocery chain decides to start carrying the product.

Great, right?

Well there’s an issue:

Production has slowed down because of the massive effort going toward fulfillment, and there’s not enough product to satisfy both new and existing accounts.

The flexibility just isn’t there.

This is the perfect situation for a 3PL, which could offer the flexibility necessary to fulfill all orders while allowing the business to focus on its own core competency: making cheese.

When the investment and learning curve for necessary logistics technology become too high

Prior to its emergence on a national scale, our Wisconsin cheese company has realized that in order to effectively oversee its supply chain and its overall logistics operations, it needs to invest in new logistics technology.

However, this financial investment would be considerable, and the successful learning and operation of the technology would rely on hiring more people to the operations team.

This would be a great time to bring in a 3PL that is already equipped with the appropriate technology and can immediately address the issue.

When small quantities of orders need to go long distances

Because our cheese company is just getting off the ground regionally, the grocery chains carrying the product are only purchasing small quantities.

This means that the company may only fill up one tenth of a refrigerated truck with orders that need to go to 6 grocery stores in 3 different cities in Iowa.

Sending one truck from a private fleet would be incredibly inefficient.

A 3PL’s LTL consolidation capabilities would allow our cheese company’s product to be consolidated with other shipments going to similar locations, significantly reducing costs.

When shipping goes global

Let’s fast forward a few years when our Wisconsin cheese company has gained significant market share and is now in high-demand internationally.

Instead of embarking on the international shipping journey blindly, our company should rely on the expertise of a 3PL, which will be well equipped to manage all trade compliance requirements, tariffs and customs regulations.

7 Reasons Shippers Should Work With 3PL Companies

There are many massive benefits inherent in outsourcing to a third party logistics provider.

Many of these benefits are centered around a 3PL’s ability to provide shippers with cost savings and greater levels of efficiency throughout the logistics process.

Let’s explore some of the reasons why third party logistics providers are able to drive significant improvements in these areas:

1. Leveraging A 3PL Provider’s Vast Resource Network

Because third party logistics providers specialize in transportation, warehousing and logistics, many are equipped with vast distribution networks which allow them to provide even better service to their clients.

A shipper with a private fleet that needs to get one single item from point A to point B has no choice but to use one of its vehicles to get the item to its final destination. This can be cripplingly inefficient from a cost and labor standpoint.

3PLs are able to leverage relationships to generate volume discounts and consolidate freight through methods like cross-docking to lower overall costs and improve delivery on-time percentage.

In fact, in the US, 3PL providers control about 25% of the less-than-truckload (LTL) market.

2. How 3PLs Drive Cost Savings

The most obvious reason for the cost savings behind hiring a 3PL provider lies in the fact that shippers don’t have to create and manage their own fleets, warehouses or tracking technology.

But the cost savings of working with a 3PL don’t stop there.

Here are a the major sources of cost savings:

Shared Warehouse Space

Third party logistics providers operate warehouses that cater to multiple shippers.

Outsourcing warehousing cuts supply chain costs considerably, but it’s also beneficial because it supports changes in the amount of goods in need of storage.

For example:

Let’s say a company operating its own warehouse has fluctuating seasonal sales, needing to store much more merchandise during particular seasons than others.

The extra warehouse space on slow seasons can incur a massive and unnecessary cost.

3PL providers solve this problem with flexible, shared warehouses, designed to fulfill the scaling needs of multiple clients.

Advanced Technology

Outsourcing logistics allows shippers to avoid the costs associated with purchasing and implementing advanced delivery and tracking technology.

Transportation Management

Third party logistics providers have professional experience and insights that promote increased efficiency and cost savings throughout the warehousing and delivery process.

By taking advantage of vast resource networks, consolidating LTL shipments and implementing processes like cross-docking, 3PLs are able to create savings for shippers.

3. 3PL Flexibility And Scale

On average, 3PLs should be able to handle a capacity for up to 30 times the order volume of a particular shipper.

This makes 3PLs extremely flexible, as they are able to adapt to high and low order volumes without suffering from decreases in efficiency.

4. Performance Monitoring And Consistent Improvement

3PLs typically have more resources to allocate to technology that measures their delivery and warehouse performance.

They also possess the industry experience to draw valuable insights from the reports the technology helps them generate—and can use these insights to help shippers grow and improve their companies.

By using performance monitoring and analytics to build a knowledge base on factors like inventory levels, product popularity and shipping speeds, 3PL providers can ensure that their clients are getting the most out of their fulfillment strategy.

5. 3PLs Help Shippers Decrease Risk

By hiring third party logistics providers, shippers are able to alleviate the risks that go hand in hand with fluctuations in order volume or a need for warehouse space.

They also reduce employee or security-related risk factors.

Outsourcing to a third party logistics provider—instead of having to hire drivers and insure the vehicles of a dedicated fleet—produces obvious cost benefits while decreasing a shipper’s liability.

6. Education And Compliance

As experts in the supply chain and logistics industry, 3PL providers are required to be knowledgeable about certain aspects of compliance and regulation that shippers may not be accustomed to (or may not have the time to deal with).

Outsourcing to a 3PL provider makes it far more likely that facets of logistics such as international shipping, taxes, customs and documentation will be handled correctly, saving shippers the headache of learning how to be compliant in an area far outside their core competence.

7. Better Customer Service And More Time To Focus On Core Competencies

83% of 3PL users agree that the use of 3PLs has improved service to their customers.

The benefits of working with a 3PL provider create a ripple effect that ultimately improves the experience of the end user.

When a shipper chooses to outsource to a 3PL, there’s no longer a need to manage a facet of the business that lies outside of the company’s core competency.

In addition, the vast industry networks, experience and flexibility of 3PLs drive efficiency, getting products to consumers quickly.

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The Biggest Challenges Faced by Shippers

Many shippers who manage their own fleets struggle to keep costs down and maintain an efficient logistics process. When surveyed, shippers claim to struggle most with transportation costs, customer service, and their overall business process.

These are all challenges that can be met with technologies and expertise offered by third party logistics providers.

The Biggest Challenges Faced by Shippers

Cutting transportation costs

Cutting transportation costs

Business process improvement

Business process improvement

Improving customer service

Improving customer service

Top Services Shippers Need to Purchase

Motor freight (75 percent), and warehousing and distribution (66 percent), are the top two services shippers say they purchase.

Top Services Shippers Need to Purchase

Motor Freight

Motor Freight

Warehousing and Distribution

Warehousing and Distribution

Primary Services Outsourced to Third Party Logistics Providers

It’s no surprise that the services outsourced by shippers align with their needs. Domestic Transportation is #1, followed by Warehousing.

Primary Services Outsourced to Third Party Logistics Providers

Domestic Transportation

Domestic Transportation



Why Outsource?

Third Party Logistics providers can solve most of the problems experienced by shippers with self-managed fleets. They help shippers cut costs, save time, and improve customer service as well as general business processes. Third Party Logistics providers have more experience, established relationships, and better software.

Save Time + Money

Save Time + Money
75% of shippers say the use of 3PL services has contributed to overall logistics cost reductions

Higher Efficiency

Higher Efficiency
75% of 3PL users agree that 3PLs provide new and innovative ways to improve logistics effectiveness

Better Customer Service

Better Customer Service
83% of 3PL users agree that the use of 3PLs has improved service to their customers.

Constructive Communication

Constructive Communication
73% of shippers interact with their 3PL on a daily or hourly basis

Reduce Costs

Reduce Costs
A 3PL can reduce costs by as much as 25 percent for manufacturers who run their own shipping departments

Build a Resource Network

Build a Resource Network
3PLs leverage industry relationships and shipment volumes to get lower prices. They can also negotiate lower fuel prices

Signs that Third Party Logistics Users are Happy

73% of shippers indicate they are increasing their use of outsourced logistics services this year, which compares to a figure of 68% reported last year.

shippers indicate they are increasing their use of outsourced logistics in 2017

of shippers indicate they are increasing their use of outsourced logistics in 2017

State of the Third Party Logistics Industry

3PL Market size was over $750 billion in 2016 and is predicted to grow at an estimated CAGR of 4.6% from 2017 to 2024.

3PL Market is estimated to grow 4.6% from 2017 to 2024

3PL Market is estimated to grow 4.6% from 2017 to 2024

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What to Consider When Choosing a 3PL

Here is a list of questions you should ask yourself before choosing a 3PL provider:

1. What does my business need need help with?

This is the most simple one but it is vital. There are various types of 3PLs, ranging from all-in-one solutions to companies that just focus on one or two facets of logistics operations, such as fleet outsourcing or warehousing.

Make sure you identify your needs and find the right provider.

2. What could my future 3PL needs be?

As we saw in the Wisconsin cheese company example above, it’s tough to know how your business needs will evolve, but you should have a general vision of what the future may hold based on your business goals.

If you want to expand regionally, maybe regional fleet outsourcing is something to pursue. The earlier you begin building relationships with 3PLs that could help you down the road, the more prepared you will be when the time comes.

3. What type of product do I manufacture and ship?

Different 3PLs have different specialties, just like manufacturers. For example, if you manufacture food products that are in need of cold storage and refrigerated transportation, look into refrigerated fleet outsourcing with a company that specializes in refrigerated transportation and warehousing.

4. Are my orders steady or do they fluctuate significantly?

While 3PLs often offer increased capacity and flexibility than what you would get from a private or dedicated fleet, some are better equipped than other to handle fluctuating demand.

It’s also important to ask a 3PL about their maximum capacity, to make sure you don’t outgrow them.

Asking these questions will help you identify the right 3PL for your needs. Once you understand your company’s needs, you will be better equipped to evaluate different 3PLs.

3PL in the Age of “On-Demand”

Consumer expectations for expedited or same-day delivery are becoming more widespread, and many shippers need to adapt to rising standards in the world of logistics.

It’s far from a guarantee that all shippers with dedicated fleets will be able to fulfill the needs of consumers in our increasingly “on demand” economy.

Even without more complex consumer demands, outsourcing to a 3PL provider creates inherent benefits for shippers across the industry spectrum.

3PL companies offer a proven solution for increasing overall efficiency and customer satisfaction while cutting logistics costs.