June 23, 2023

The Ultimate Guide to 3PL

In this guide, we will explore the core principles, service types, and strategic advantages of 3PL services. Whether you're a business owner or a logistics professional, this guide will provide you with the essential knowledge to make informed decisions and optimize your logistics operations. Discover how 3PL can transform your supply chain management today, tomorrow and in the future.


What is 3PL (Third-Party Logistics)?

You have probably heard the term “3PL” when working in or reading about logistics. But what is actually the meaning of 3PL?

In simple terms, 3PL, or “Third-Party Logistics”, refers to the outsourcing of logistics and supply chain management functions to a third-party provider. This can include transportation, warehousing, order fulfillment, and other related services in the supply chain.

In addition, 3PL providers can offer value-added solutions such as inventory management, supply chain optimization, and customized logistics solutions. The true value is that they bring industry knowledge, technology, and operational expertise to efficiently handle the complexities of logistics, ensuring seamless end-to-end coordination within your business.

By leveraging 3PL services, businesses can benefit from cost savings, improved operational efficiency, enhanced customer service, and a strategic advantage in the ever-evolving logistics landscape.

Let’s take a deep dive into the benefits of 3PL, and the values it can bring to your business’ bottom line.

Grow your business ROI and efficiency by utilizing 3PL 

In today's fast-paced business environment, companies seek to optimize supply chain management and streamline logistics operations. Therefore, many businesses turn to Third-Party Logistics (3PL) providers as a solution. We understand why, as utilizing a 3PL provider offers several benefits:

Increased Flexibility, Scalability, and Technology Access

First and foremost, your business can gain significant flexibility and scalability by partnering with a 3PL provider, as you can adapt quickly to changing logistics needs without investing in your own infrastructure. In addition, access to advanced technology and tools provided by the 3PL provider enhances efficiency and improves overall supply chain management.

Resource Allocation

Outsourcing logistics functions to a 3PL provider allows your company to free up internal resources, enabling them to focus on core business activities. This shift in focus contributes to overall productivity and strategic goals.

Expertise and Infrastructure

By partnering with a 3PL provider, your business can leverage the provider's expertise and established infrastructure. This collaboration streamlines supply chain management and enhances logistics operations, leading to improved efficiency and customer satisfaction.

Rapid and Cost-Effective Scaling

As companies grow, logistics needs become more complex. With a 3PL provider, your business can easily scale operations to accommodate growth without the burden of investing in additional logistics infrastructure. The provider's existing infrastructure and expertise enable efficient adaptation to changing demands. 

Cost Reduction

Finally, outsourcing logistics activities to a 3PL provider often leads to cost savings. Leveraging the provider's scale and expertise allows your business to negotiate favorable carrier rates, optimize transportation routes, and reduce inventory carrying costs.

In summary, partnering with a 3PL provider empowers your business to optimize your supply chain management, benefit from flexibility and scalability, access advanced technology, and reduce costs, ultimately enhancing your overall logistics operations.

How does 3PL services work?

The specific services provided by a 3PL provider will ultimately depend on the needs of your business. For example, one company may choose to outsource its transportation needs to a 3PL provider, who will then manage the company's transportation network, including carrier selection, route optimization, and tracking.

Similarly, another company may choose to outsource its warehousing needs to a 3PL provider, who will then manage that company's inventory storage and order fulfillment processes. This can include receiving, storing, and shipping products, as well as managing inventory levels and order tracking.

While the specific services offered by a 3PL vary on a case-by-case basis, contingent upon the needs of the business, there are certain customary steps usually involved in the collaboration. 

Typical steps in a 3PL collaboration

The collaboration between businesses and Third-Party Logistics providers is essential for efficient logistics operations. Typically, the collaboration would follow the process listed below:

  1. Assessment and Selection: Businesses assess their logistics needs and select a suitable 3PL provider based on expertise and capabilities
  2. Collaborative Partnership: Businesses and 3PL providers form a partnership to manage logistics operations together.
  3. Integration and Data Sharing: Systems and processes are integrated to facilitate seamless communication and information sharing.
  4. Planning and Execution: Logistics strategies and operational plans are developed and implemented by the 3PL provider.

  5. Day-to-Day Operations: The 3PL provider manages transportation, warehousing, order fulfillment, and related services (dependent on the agreement and specific needs).

  6. Monitoring and Reporting: Performance updates and reports are provided to the business to track key metrics and identify areas for improvement.

  7. Continuous Improvement: Ongoing collaboration and feedback loops ensuring optimized logistics operations and driving efficiency gains.

  8. Focus on Core Activities: The partnership allows businesses to concentrate on their core competencies while leveraging the specialized knowledge and resources of the 3PL provider.

6 Types of 3PL Services

Third-Party Logistics services encompass a range of activities that help businesses optimize their supply chains. Some of the most common types include:

  • Transportation and Freight: Managing goods transportation, carrier selection, and route optimization
  • Warehousing and Distribution: Handling inventory, storage, order fulfillment, and distribution.
  • Inventory Management: Forecasting, order replenishment, and monitoring stock levels.
  • Value-Added Services: Kitting, assembly, labeling, reverse logistics, quality control, and packaging.
  • Customs and Compliance: Facilitating international trade by handling customs documentation and ensuring compliance.
  • Technology and IT Solutions: Providing logistics technology systems like TMS, WMS, OMS, and supply chain visibility platforms.

In conclusion, Third-Party Logistics services offer a wide range of benefits for businesses looking to enhance their supply chain operations. From transportation and freight management to warehousing and distribution, and more, 3PL providers offer a comprehensive suite of services to optimize efficiency and streamline logistics processes.

The exterior view of a warehouse seen from above with trucks and one little car parked outside

Factors to consider when choosing a 3PL provider

Making the right choice in selecting a 3PL partner is vital for optimizing supply chain operations. Below we’ve listed some key considerations to be aware of when selecting a 3PL partner.

Expertise and experience in your industry: First and foremost, look for a 3PL provider with specific knowledge and experience in your industry or the type of logistics services you require. This ensures their understanding of your unique requirements and their ability to provide effective solutions. 

Range of services offered: Assess whether the 3PL provider offers a comprehensive range of services that align with your logistics needs. This includes transportation, warehousing, inventory management, order fulfillment, and any other specific services you require.

Technology and systems for efficient operations: Evaluate the technology infrastructure and systems used by the 3PL provider. They should have robust software and hardware solutions for tasks such as inventory tracking, order management, and real-time visibility. Integration capabilities with your own systems are also important. 

Reliability and track record: Research the reputation and reliability of the 3PL provider. Look for customer testimonials, case studies, and references from their existing clients to assess their track record and customer satisfaction. A reliable provider ensures consistent service quality.

Cost and pricing structure: Though this might be self-determined, considering the cost and pricing structure offered by the 3PL provider is a crucial element. While not the sole determining factor, it's nevertheless important to ensure their pricing aligns with your budget and provides value for the services rendered. A good idea is to request detailed pricing information and clarify any potential additional costs beforehand to avoid unpleasant surprises.

3PL providers and AutoStore

Most 3PL providers already have or are planning to install advanced warehouse automation to cater to the ever-increasing demand. Learn how Zeek Logistics, a US based 3PL provider achieved significant faster order-fulfillment, decrease in downtime and saved 60% of the space in their warehouse.

A 3PL site with a large warehouse and trucks parked seen from above

Real-World Example of a 3PL Company

Understanding the concept of a Third-Party Logistics provider can be easier when examining real-world examples, as it allows us to gain a clearer understanding of how businesses leverage the expertise and capabilities of 3PL providers to optimize their supply chain operations.

DHL: A Global 3PL provider

DHL is a global logistics and supply chain management company that provides Third-Party Logistics services to businesses across the world. As a 3PL provider, DHL offers a range of logistics services, including transportation, warehousing, inventory management, and distribution.

DHL's logistics solutions are designed to help businesses manage their supply chain more efficiently and effectively, by leveraging advanced technology and expertise in logistics management. With a global network of warehouses, distribution centers, and transportation hubs, DHL is able to provide fast and reliable logistics services to businesses of all sizes and across various industries.

DHL utilizes the AutoStore cubic storage solution to optimize warehousing operations.

How DHL benefits from AutoStore

As a customer of AutoStore, DHL utilizes our cubic storage solution to optimize their warehousing operations and improve their order fulfillment processes. By leveraging innovative technologies like warehouse robotics, DHL can automate repetitive tasks, reduce errors, and improve overall efficiency in their logistics operations. Read more about the AutoStore system at DHL.



In an increasingly competitive business landscape, companies must prioritize efficient and streamlined logistics operations to meet customer demands and stay ahead of the curve. 3PL services provide a comprehensive solution, offering expertise, technology, scalability, and cost savings. 

By partnering with a reliable 3PL provider, your business can optimize the supply chain, enhance customer satisfaction, and focus on overall strategic growth. Get ready to embrace the power of 3PL services and unlock the potential of your logistics operations. 

Do you want to learn more about how to automate your warehouse operations to improve efficiency and overall ROI? Let's get in touch today.



What does 3PL mean?

3PL stands for "Third-Party Logistics." It refers to outsourcing logistics functions to a specialized third-party provider. 

What does 3PL and 4PL mean?

3PL stands for "Third-Party Logistics," while 4PL stands for "Fourth-Party Logistics." 4PL takes the concept of 3PL further by providing strategic oversight and coordination of multiple logistics providers.

What is the meaning of 3PL Logistics?

3PL Logistics refers to the outsourcing of logistics functions, such as transportation, warehousing, and inventory management, to a third-party provider. The 3PL provider manages these activities on behalf of the company. 

What is an example of a 3PL?

DHL is a global logistics and supply chain management company that provides Third-Party logistics (3PL) services to businesses across the world. As a 3PL provider, DHL offers a range of logistics services, including transportation, warehousing, inventory management, and distribution.

"With this exhibit, AutoStore as a pioneer of Cube Storage and DHL as a visionary leader in the logistics industry are showcasing a smart and holistic solution for retailers, which combines shopping and logistics processes in perfect interaction”

Peter Bimmermann
Managing Director, AutoStore, Germany
General Inquiries

Want to learn more about this topic?

Talk to your local expert.
Let's talk
Let's talk

Want to learn more about this topic?

Talk to your local expert.
Let's talk
Let's talk


Get your complimentary copy

No items found.