The Different Types of 3PLs

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The Different Types of 3PLs

Today's post's goal is to hopefully take off that shroud of confusion for our readers and if you are a shipper, make it easier for you to not only pick the right third party logistics services company for your needs, but more importantly, if you choose one (or several as the rise of several niche logistics providers are on the rise) you can be successful at 3PL implementation.

First, What are Third Party Logistics Services and the Definition of 3PL?

To many, the definition of third party logistics services or the definition of 3PL, is rather fuzzy and can be ambiguous as there are many definitions, depending on who you ask. Some say “all or a significant part”, while others say “at least one part."

However, in our opinion, the best explanation of third party logistics services is probably a combination of those two notions, as third party logistics providers are businesses that provide one or many of the following third party logistics services:

Further down in this post, we will then break out the various types of services in a more categorical approach.

Now for a more academic definition. According to the CSCMP Glossary, they define third party logistics services and 3PLs as:

Outsourcing all or much of a company’s logistics operations to a specialized company. The term "3PL" was first used in the early 1970s to identify intermodal marketing companies (IMCs) in transportation contracts. Up to that point, contracts for transportation had featured only two parties, the shipper and the carrier. When IMCs entered the picture—as intermediaries that accepted shipments from the shippers and tendered them to the rail carriers—they became the third party to the contract, the 3PL. Definition has broadened to the point where these days, every company that offers some kind of logistics service for hire calls itself a 3PL.

Preferably, these services are integrated, or “bundled,” together by the provider. Services they provide are transportation, warehousing, cross-docking, inventory management, packaging, and freight forwarding. In 2008 legislation passed declaring that the legal definition of a 3PL is “A person who solely receives, holds, or otherwise transports a consumer product in the ordinary course of business but who does not take title to the product.”

Now That You Know the Definition, What are the Different Types of 3PLs – Third Party Logistics Services

Again, depending on who you ask, you will get several different answer on what types of third party logistics services that are out there. To make it even more confusing, different 3PLs can be in only one of these types, or bleed into others. As stated previously, the goal for you as a shipper is to understand your needs and perhaps gather from this handy checklist what your requirements are in order to best assess what type of third party logistics services company you should start looking at hiring.

The following are the characteristics of the different types of third party logistics services:

Transportation Based Third Party Logistics Services

  • Services extend beyond transportation to offer a comprehensive set of logistics offerings.
  • Leveraged 3PLs use assets of other firms.
  • Non-leveraged 3PLs use assets belonging solely to the parent firm.

Warehouse/Distribution Based Third Party Logistics Services

  • Many have former warehouse and/or distribution experience.

Forwarder Based Third Party Logistics Services

  • Very independent middlemen with forwarder roles.
  • Non-asset owners that provide a wide range of logistics services.

Shipper/Management Based Third Party Logistics Services

  • Focused on the management of the shipping process from beginning to end.
  • Provides technology, such as a transportation management system, and integrated freight management services to eliminate heavy process and cumbersome features such as claims and accounting (freight payment and accounting)
  • Provides management of carrier relations for ongoing rate maintenance and negotiation
  • Gives information, such as freight data and matrix reports for better visibility and control on future logistics outcomes
  • Examples: Cerasis, AFS Logistics, GlobalTranz, Worldwide Express

Financial Based Third Party Logistics Services

  • Provide freight payment and auditing, cost accounting and control, and tools for monitoring, booking, tracking, tracing, and managing inventory.

Information-based firms Third Party Logistics Services

  • Significant growth and development in this category of Internet-based, business-to-business, electronic markets for transportation and logistics services.