A 3PL, or Third Party Logistics, is a term for an outsourced logistics provider that offers warehousing and fulfillment services.
Many businesses find that outsourcing fulfillment to a 3PL frees up time and capital to invest in their core competencies to expand their business. In fact a recent merchant survey revealed that 44% of merchants simplified their operations and management scope by outsourcing fulfillment. Outsourcing to a 3PL also cuts back on capital investments in warehouse management, labor, and equipment maintenance.
There are a number of services a 3PL or 4PL should offer as a comprehensive fulfillment and delivery solution. Those services include:
3PL partners will receive inbound shipments, reconcile the shipment to an Advance Shipment Notice (or ASN) to ensure accurate inventory reporting, and perform a basic quality control check before storing. Upon receiving, products will be scanned into the Warehouse Management System (WMS) and stored according to the merchant’s SOPs and product needs.
4PL, or Fourth Party Logistics, is essentially an interconnected network of 3PLs. A 4PL provider has relationships with multiple 3PLs across the country, providing a nationwide warehouse network of full-service 3PLs. 4PLs employ a cloud-based warehouse management system (WMS), that gives merchants visibility into operations, inventory levels, and service levels across their various facilities. These fulfillment softwares also integrate with e-commerce platforms like Shopify or BigCommerce and ERPs like Oracle or SAP for automated reporting on inventory levels and order and delivery statuses.
Many businesses looking to outsource will start with a regional 3PL close to their headquarters or manufacturer, but these regional 3PLs are limited in their geographic reach and often in their bandwidth and expertise to strategize with SMBs for long-term growth. When merchants begin to expand into new geographic markets, they often contract additional 3PLs to better serve customers in their new markets. This can result in a patchwork fulfillment process, difficult to manage, with multiple lines of communication and inconsistent service levels.
A 4PL acts as a strategic partner, negotiating the best rates and SLAs across the 3PL network and helping merchants decide where to forward stock inventory in order to best serve their customers. 4PLs aggregate the inventory and shipping volumes of multiple merchants to negotiate the best SLAs and eliminate peak season surcharges.
Learn more about 3PL vs 4PL partnerships here.
Ultimately, the very nature of a 4PL is flexible and scalable, which simplifies moving into new geographic markets. Access to 3PL locations across the country with varying storage capacity and capability enables SMBs to easily test into new markets and product categories, rather than being limited by the location and capabilities of a single 3PL partner. A qualified 4PL will have warehouses in their network that can handle product needs from big and bulky to temperature and humidity controls located in strategic zones closest to demand centers.
While the terms 3PL and 4PL may sometimes be used interchangeably, there are some key differences in service levels, technology, and network capabilities to note when looking for the right outsourced fulfillment solution. The main differentiators can be grouped into 4 categories: Storage Capacity, Geographic Footprint, Scalability, Technology, and Professional Support. Read our full 3PL vs 4PL analysis here.
Ware2Go is changing the traditional 3PL model to make 1 to 2-day delivery affordable for all merchants. A nationwide network of certified warehouses supported by technology to streamline fulfillment across all sales channels enables merchants to correctly position inventory to best serve ecommerce customers in key regions. Reaching all of your best customers with 2-day ground eliminates long-zone shipments and overnight air — ultimately lowering your overall cost to serve.
Our 3PL network is fully customizable and scalable to fit your business goals and customer profile. Our team of fulfillment experts use your historical sales and shipping data to build a 3PL network to increase service levels to your best customers and lower your overall cost to serve.
For a custom network analysis reach out to one of our in-house experts.
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