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Shippers think a little less of 3PLs’ value, supply chain report finds

Most shippers still feel 3PLs contribute to solid service, study says

Study shows widening chasm between shippers, 3PLs (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The traditional perception chasm between how shippers and third-party logistics providers view their relationship has widened amid supply chain volatility and ongoing service disruptions, according to a long-running annual study released Monday.

About 83% of shipper respondents said their 3PL relationships are successful, according to the 27th Third-Party Logistics Study. Historically, the percentage of satisfied shipper customers reported by the survey has been at 90% or higher. 

The report canvassed 341 users and nonusers of 3PL services, along with 3PLs. It was released at the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals’ annual meeting

3PLs typically possess a more sanguine attitude toward their shipper relationships, and the findings from this year’s study continued that trend. According to the study, 99% of 3PLs perceived their shipper relationships to be successful.

About 71% of shippers said using 3PLs has led to improved customer service. That’s slightly down from 73% in last year’s study. About 71% of shippers and 92% of 3PLs said that 3PLs provided innovative solutions to boost logistics performance.

Domestic transportation is the most frequently outsourced activity, with 69% of shippers outsourcing those services. Outsourcing of freight-forwarding and international transportation services increased significantly over the last report. This could reflect shippers’ desire to rely more heavily on logistics specialists during a period of international capacity shortages and soaring freight rates.


Shippers continued to have high expectations for IT solutions from their 3PL partners, according to the study. Of the 19 IT capabilities listed in the study, shipper respondents said 14 of those were considered “must-have” technology.

Both sides agreed that labor shortages impacted their supply chains, though shippers felt more of a sense of urgency about the issue. About 56% of 3PLs and 78% of shippers, respectively, said labor availability was a problem.

Both sides said hourly workers are difficult to hire and retain. 3PLs have been able to fill their hourly openings faster than shippers, with 49% of 3PLs and 32% of shippers saying it generally takes less than a month. 

The labor shortage has created an opportunity for 3PLs, according to the report. About 73% of 3PLs and 46% of shippers said companies are seeking out 3PL partners to help offset labor shortages.

The supply chain dislocations of the past two years have elevated the importance of rebalancing inventory levels and finding new supply sources, according to the report. About 80% of shippers said they have taken or are planning to to reposition their inventories to mitigate supply chain disruptions. This is a far cry from two years ago, when only 42% said they had planned or were planning to reposition their inventories.

About 69% of shippers said they had implemented, or were planning to develop, strategies to find new source supply. About 80% of shippers said they were moving toward more regionalized or domestic production networks.

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Mark Solomon

Formerly the Executive Editor at DC Velocity, Mark Solomon joined FreightWaves as Managing Editor of Freight Markets. Solomon began his journalistic career in 1982 at Traffic World magazine, ran his own public relations firm (Media Based Solutions) from 1994 to 2008, and has been at DC Velocity since then. Over the course of his career, Solomon has covered nearly the whole gamut of the transportation and logistics industry, including trucking, railroads, maritime, 3PLs, and regulatory issues. Solomon witnessed and narrated the rise of Amazon and XPO Logistics and the shift of the U.S. Postal Service from a mail-focused service to parcel, as well as the exponential, e-commerce-driven growth of warehouse square footage and omnichannel fulfillment.