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A Comprehensive Look at 3PL Logistics | Benefits and Services

3PL Logistics

Outsourcing order fulfillment to a third-party logistics (3PL) provider offers numerous benefits for e-commerce brands. 3PL fulfillment services manage the entire order process after customers purchase, leveraging expertise and technology to deliver efficient, scalable solutions. When partnering with a 3PL providers, brands gain access to capabilities like:

  • Inbound shipping and receiving
  • Inventory storage and management
  • Picking, packing, and shipping orders
  • Returns processing and management
  • Kitting and assembly
  • Value-added services like gift wrapping

By leveraging a 3PL for fulfillment, brands can reduce overhead costs, focus on core competencies, and swiftly expand operations quickly to meet demand. The right partner serves as an extension of your team, managing the critical post-purchase customer experience while you drive growth.

Difference Between 3PL Providers And Fulfillment

The terms “3PL provider” and “fulfillment service” are sometimes used interchangeably, but there are important distinctions between the two when it comes to outsourced logistics. Understanding the difference between them is crucial for businesses navigating the complexities of supply chain management. 

At its core, a fulfillment service handles basic warehousing and order processing – receiving inventory, picking and packing orders, and shipping them out to customers. This is a great starting point for e-commerce brands looking to scale operations and reduce overhead.

Delve into the intricacies of order fulfillment by understanding what pending remote fulfillment means and its implications for your business. Explore a comprehensive overview of 3PL logistics benefits and services to gain insights into optimizing your supply chain processes and maximizing efficiency.

A full-service 3PL provider offers more supply chain solutions beyond just fulfillment. This includes services like:

– Transportation management (inbound shipping, freight, parcel)

– Inventory forecasting and supply planning

– Reverse logistics and returns processing

– Customs brokerage and compliance

– Reporting and analytics

– Technology integrations

– Consulting and strategy

The depth of services from a 3PL provider positions them as an end-to-end logistics partner, managing complex supply chain operations so brands can focus on core business initiatives. While 3PL providers offer a broader scope of services and may integrate with various aspects of supply chain management, fulfillment services specialize in the seamless execution of order fulfillment tasks. Ultimately, businesses must carefully evaluate their needs, considering factors such as business size, growth projections, and logistical requirements, to determine whether partnering with a 3PL provider or utilizing fulfillment services is the most suitable solution for their operations.

Discover the nuances between carriers and couriers to comprehend their roles in the fulfillment process and how they contribute to shipping operations. Learn about pending remote fulfillment and grasp its significance in streamlining order processing and delivery logistics.

What Services Does A Third-Party Logistics Provider Offer?

Third-party logistics (3PL) providers offer a wide range of services to help companies manage their supply chain operations. By partnering with a 3PL, brands can outsource key logistics capabilities to dedicated experts to optimize efficiency. 

Fulfillment Services

A core service offered by 3PLs is fulfillment, which includes warehousing, inventory management, and order distribution. 3PLs operate large warehouse networks that can store products and process orders as they come in. Their infrastructure and technology allow high-volume order processing, picking, and shipping. 3PLs also handle inventory tracking and reporting, providing clients with real-time visibility into stock levels. With an optimized distribution network, 3PLs can deliver customer orders quickly and cost-effectively.


Many 3PLs offer cross-docking services to expedite order fulfillment. With cross-docking, items are prepared for delivery as soon as they are received at the warehouse, without waiting for prolonged storage. Products are unloaded from inbound trucks and immediately readied for outbound shipping, skipping the putaway and storage steps traditional warehousing requires. This allows for faster order turnaround times.

Supply Chain Management

In addition to warehousing and distribution, 3PLs provide broader supply chain management solutions. This includes production planning, inventory management, transportation management, and reverse logistics. 3PLs analyze supply chain data and processes to identify inefficiencies and optimize solutions tailored to a client’s business. Their supply chain expertise provides clients with enhanced visibility, flexibility, and scalability.

Freight Management

To facilitate the movement of products between locations, 3PLs offer freight brokerage and transportation services. They negotiate rates with carriers, generate routing solutions to minimize transit time and cost, track shipments, audit freight bills, and handle claims for loss or damage. With their transportation networks and volume discounts, 3PLs can reduce freight expenses for clients.

Gain actionable insights into enhancing inventory management practices to minimize delays and optimize order fulfillment efficiency. Understand the concept of pending remote fulfillment and its implications for inventory control and order processing.

How Do 3PL Fulfillment Services Operate?

Third-party logistics (3PL) providers offer outsourced e-commerce fulfillment solutions that provide efficient order processing and delivery. By partnering with a 3PL for fulfillment, brands can leverage sophisticated warehousing infrastructure, technology, and expertise to streamline order operations. 

The 3PL Fulfillment Process

When an order is placed, the 3PL’s fulfillment process kicks off to progress the order from receipt to delivery. Key steps include:

Receiving: As inventory arrives at the 3PL’s warehouse, they efficiently receive and inspect it. Inbound products are counted, recorded in the warehouse management system (WMS), and quickly put into storage locations. Efficient receiving prevents backlogs and provides real-time inventory visibility.

Storage: 3PL warehouses safely and intelligently store inventory. They determine optimal storage locations based on frequency of access and turnover to enhance picking efficiency. The WMS tracks products by lot, expiration date, and other attributes. Regular cycle counts ensure inventory accuracy.

Picking: When an order arrives, the WMS directs efficient batch picking based on storage location. Pickers follow optimized routes to collect all items for orders. Barcode scanning validates accuracy. Batching orders improves speed and productivity. 

Packing: In packing stations, orders are assembled, quality checked, and packed into shipping containers. 3PLs have expertise in right-sizing packaging to avoid waste and damage while maintaining presentation. Automation like auto-boxing and auto-taping improves consistency and speed.

Shipping: Packaged orders are conveyed to shipping sortation where they are weighed, labeled, and routed to the appropriate carrier. Preferred rates with major carriers help minimize delivery costs. Tracking numbers are captured to provide shipment visibility. Scheduling optimizes drop-offs and pickups.  

Returns: 3PLs make returns seamless through customized workflows to inspect, restock, refund, or dispose of items. This prevents returned inventory from impacting operations. Proper return processing enhances the customer experience.

Explore contract logistics and its role in facilitating efficient order fulfillment processes. Understand pending remote fulfillment and its implications for managing contract logistics agreements effectively.

3PL Value Added Services

In addition to core fulfillment services like warehousing, distribution, and freight management, many third-party logistics (3PL) providers offer an array of value-added solutions to enhance supply chain performance. These services augment fulfillment with specialized capabilities to meet unique business needs.

Kitting And Assembly

Some 3PLs provide kitting and light assembly of components to create finished products or bundles. This streamlines operations by collecting all needed parts and building configurations to order specs before shipment. Kitting and assembly services are ideal for companies with products requiring some configuration before delivery.


Bundling combines multiple products into a single kit or package for customer convenience. 3PLs can bundle items together as an upsell or simplify ordering components frequently purchased together. Bundling provides customers with a ready-made solution while optimizing shipping costs.


For brands wanting to provide custom or personalized orders, 3PLs can perform custom labeling, packaging, kitting, and other modifications to individualize orders per customer specs. Personalization requires order-level handling but elevates the unboxing experience.

Postponement Packaging

Postponement packaging delays final packaging and labeling until an order is received. This creates flexibility to configure finished products on demand based on custom specs. Postponement allows brands to reduce SKUs while still offering personalization. 

Product Destruction 

Some 3PLs provide product destruction services when disposal of expired, damaged, or unwanted inventory is required. Secure destruction ensures products do not re-enter commerce channels or harm the environment.

Technology Expertise  

3PLs make significant investments in supply chain technology like WMS, TMS, robotics, and inventory optimization software. This provides clients with sophisticated logistics tools and integration capabilities to enhance visibility, reporting, and process efficiency.

Specialized GC1-128 Labeling

3PLs can provide specialized labeling like barcode labels, content labels, graphic labeling, and brand compliance labeling based on product and shipping requirements. Proper labeling facilitates tracking and compliance.

Expedited Shipping

For time-sensitive orders, 3PLs can facilitate premium shipping like overnight or same-day delivery. Expedited shipping services get urgent orders to customers fast when needed.

Distributed Inventory

Some 3PLs offer distributed order management, allowing inventory to be positioned across multiple warehouses for faster fulfillment and reduced transportation costs. Omnichannel distribution capabilities provide inventory optimization.  

Reverse Logistics  

3PLs efficiently handle product returns including inspection, processing refunds or replacements, restocking usable inventory, and properly disposing of defective items. Superior returns management improves the customer experience.

Leveraging 3PL value-added services allows companies to customize their supply chain operations to support business objectives and differentiate customer experiences. The right 3PL partner provides flexible, scalable solutions to elevate logistics performance.

Learn about different types of warehouses and their suitability for various fulfillment needs. Understand pending remote fulfillment and its impact on warehouse operations and management strategies.

Types Of 3PLs

Several types of third-party logistics providers (3PLs) offer different services:

  1. Standard 3PLs handle basic warehousing and fulfillment services.
  2. Service developers offer more customized services like packaging, kitting, and product testing. 
  3. Customer adapters manage a supply chain function like fulfillment or returns.
  4. Customer developers create and manage comprehensive solutions across the supply chain.

How Can A 3PL Benefit My Business Beyond Order Fulfillment?

By leveraging a 3PL for outsourced fulfillment operations, companies can focus on their core business while gaining logistics expertise, technology capabilities, and cost efficiencies beyond order fulfillment alone. The right 3PL partner provides strategic, scalable solutions to support a seller’s growth. 


A 3PL partner can provide access to advanced technology and automation to streamline fulfillment operations. This includes warehouse management systems, rate-shopping tools, API integrations, and automation solutions. The right technology enables greater efficiency, lower costs, and improved visibility across the supply chain.

Warehouse Management System (WMS) 

A WMS provides inventory and order management, optimizes picking and packing processes, and ensures accuracy. This real-time visibility into inventory levels and order status improves fulfillment performance.


Rate-shopping tools allow 3PLs to quickly compare shipping rates across multiple carriers and identify the most cost-effective option. This reduces shipping spend for sellers.

API Integrations

3PLs can integrate with e-commerce platforms, ERPs, and other systems through APIs. This synchronizes order, inventory, and fulfillment data across systems for seamless operations.


Automation solutions like robotic pickers improve throughput and accuracy while reducing labor costs. 3PLs invest in these technologies to drive greater efficiency.

Customer Service 

A 3PL can provide customer service capabilities like phone, email, and chat support. This provides a branded customer experience for your business without handling it in-house.

Cost Savings For Sellers

By leveraging scale, infrastructure, and technology, a 3PL achieves significant cost savings that get passed onto its clients. Outsourcing to a 3PL reduces facility, labor, and other logistics expenses.

Inventory Management

3PLs can handle raw materials, components, and finished goods inventory management. This includes storage, picking/packing, and inventory controls, providing flexibility and reducing on-hand inventory.

Business-To-Business/Retailer Fulfillment (B2B or B2R)

B2B and retailer fulfillment involves unique requirements like customized packaging, compliance labels, retailer-specific processing, etc. An experienced 3PL can seamlessly handle B2B/B2R order fulfillment.

Business-To-Consumer Fulfillment (B2C) 

B2C fulfillment requires fast processing times, branded packaging, and high order accuracy. A 3PL optimizes its operations to meet the demanding requirements of direct-to-consumer fulfillment.

Professional Services And Expertise

A 3PL provides added services like distribution network design, transportation management, supply chain analysis, and more. Clients benefit from tapping into the 3PL’s expertise. A 3PL specializes in logistics and has experienced experts in warehousing, shipping, systems, optimization, and more. Sellers gain access to proven best practices.

How To Select The Best 3PL Partner For Your Business?

When choosing a 3PL partner, you’ll want to thoroughly assess their capabilities to ensure they fit your business needs. Key factors to evaluate include their experience and expertise in your specific industry vertical, the technology and automation solutions they offer such as warehouse management systems, visibility tools, and automation, their analytics and reporting functionality, the flexibility and scalability of their fulfillment network to support your future growth, quality and compliance certifications, customer service capabilities, account management model, pricing transparency and cost competitiveness, and finally checking client references within your vertical. Taking the time to carefully evaluate various 3PLs on these factors will help you select the provider that best matches to your logistics requirements, resources, and business goals.

When Should Your Business Partner With 3PL Companies For E-Commerce?

Partnering with a scalable, experienced 3PL optimizes fulfillment and provides strategic value beyond basic order processing. Timing is important, so consider hiring a 3PL if your business is in any of the following stages:

Your business is expanding: Rapid growth often strains fulfillment operations. A 3PL has the space, staffing, and systems to scale fulfillment as sales grow.

Your business is sensitive to seasonal fluctuations: 3PLs can flex staff and inventory to meet peak seasonal order volumes without needing to over-invest in year-round infrastructure.

Insufficient storage space and high expenses: A 3PL’s large warehouse network provides flexible, low-cost storage and fulfillment capacity.

You need reverse logistics to be more efficient: Returns processing, quality inspections, and refurbishing can bog down your staff. Leverage a 3PL’s dedicated reverse logistics.

You have complex shipping requirements: Let a 3PL handle compliance, rated packaging, customized B2B shipments, retailer-specific rules, etc.

You want to save costs: A 3PL provides an economy of scale, infrastructure, and labor to reduce fulfillment costs by 15-25%.

Advantages Of Using 3PL E-Commerce Fulfillment

Outsourcing order fulfillment to a third-party logistics (3PL) provider offers numerous benefits that enable e-commerce businesses to optimize their supply chain operations.

Better service quality through greater expertise: 3PLs specialize in logistics allowing them to offer best-in-class fulfillment services. Their expertise improves quality and customer satisfaction.

Infrastructure and fulfillment cost savings: By leveraging their facilities, labor force, and technology, 3PLs can significantly reduce fulfillment costs for businesses. Outsourcing cuts overhead expenses.

Optimized inventories: 3PLs provide access to shared pool inventory management, reducing the safety stock businesses need to carry.

Increased capabilities when expanding to new markets: 3PLs provide established infrastructure and expertise in new geographies when expanding internationally.

Downsides Of Using 3PL For E-Commerce Fulfillment

While utilizing a 3PL for outsourced fulfillment provides advantages, there are also some potential drawbacks that e-commerce businesses should be aware of. 

Finding the Right Partner: It is a time-consuming process to find a 3PL provider that comprehends your industry. Evaluate whether the chosen 3PL can effectively manage both current operations and potential future growth in volume and complexity. To ensure reliability examine the provider’s track record in terms of performance and client retention. Ensure the 3PL has the necessary technological capabilities to support your business needs.

Lack of Direct Control: Outsourcing fulfillment to a 3PL entails relinquishing some degree of control over inventory management, order processing, and fulfillment operations. Businesses must rely on the 3PL to fulfill service expectations as agreed upon. Subpar performance by the 3PL can adversely affect the business’s reputation and overall customer satisfaction.

Communication Breakdowns: Businesses depend on the 3PL to provide timely updates on inventory status, order processing, shipping, and other essential aspects. Any breakdowns in communication between the business and the 3PL can result in fulfillment delays and customer dissatisfaction. Maintaining clear visibility and effective communication channels is imperative to prevent potential issues.

Integration Challenges: Integrating e-commerce platforms with the systems of a 3PL provider can pose significant challenges. This process demands technical expertise and sufficient resources to manage effectively. It’s essential to ensure compatibility between systems and seamless data transfer to minimize disruptions.

How Payless Prep Center Can Help You?

Selecting a strategic and reliable 3PL partner that aligns with the unique needs and goals of the business is critical for long-term success. As a full-service 3PL, Payless Prep Center offers customized solutions including warehousing, order fulfillment, packaging, freight brokerage, and more to e-commerce sellers. Contact us today to learn more!

Final Thoughts

The prospect of outsourcing to a 3PL may initially seem daunting and costly, but selecting the right partner can significantly contribute to the growth and efficiency of a business. Often, business owners find themselves stretched thin, focusing on product development, marketing, and overall operations. However, logistics, order fulfillment, and rapid shipping are crucial for maintaining customer satisfaction and ensuring business success. There are challenges associated with using a 3PL for e-commerce fulfillment, the benefits often outweigh the drawbacks when partnering with the right provider. Potential risks can be mitigated through thorough vendor due diligence, establishing comprehensive service agreements, and maintaining open lines of communication. Ultimately, by leveraging the expertise and resources of a trusted 3PL partner, businesses can optimize their operations, enhance customer satisfaction, and drive long-term success. The key is finding the right partner that matches your needs.


Why do companies choose to partner with a 3PL provider?

The main reasons are to reduce fulfillment costs, improve capabilities, leverage expertise, gain the flexibility to meet growth and seasonal peaks and focus internal resources on core business priorities.

What industries use 3PL the most?

Retail/e-commerce, manufacturing, distributors, and publishers rely heavily on 3PLs. However many industries leverage 3PLs to optimize their supply chain.

How much does it cost to use 3PL services?

Pricing varies by provider and services used, but businesses can expect to save 15-25% over insourcing fulfillment.

What are the main benefits of using a 3PL for e-commerce order fulfillment?

Key benefits include cost savings, improved fulfillment performance and scalability, accessing advanced technology and automation, leveraging logistics experts, reducing overhead expenses, and gaining the flexibility to meet peaks in demand.

How do I know if my business is ready to use a 3PL provider?

Signs include rapid growth straining current operations, seasonal order spikes, lack of warehouse space, complex shipping needs, expanding internationally, and a desire to reduce fulfillment costs. A 3PL can optimize operations in these scenarios.

What risks should I look out for when partnering with a 3PL?

Potential risks include lack of direct control, communication breakdowns, integration issues, and not thoroughly vetting providers. Mitigate these by selecting a strategic partner, maintaining transparency, properly onboarding, and overseeing operations.

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