04 March, 2022


As the name suggests, the supply chain isn’t a singular concept. It consists of a vast array of components chained together to create a system that can fulfill a wide range of functions for your business. Depending on the size and scope of your company, it may be a good idea to turn to a partner to provide one or more of these elements to supplement your own capabilities. These logistical partners are becoming more crucial to the success of every type of business. This is because of the extreme importance the supply chain has in today’s commercial environment. Managing inventory, fulfillment, distribution, and other aspects of your logistics could make the difference between success and failure.

When seeking a provider to outsource any of these elements, you’re likely to hear them described as “3PL,” meaning “third-party logistics.” However, this is not the only form these types of services can take. You may also hear the terms “2PL” and “4PL” being used to describe vendors, as well as rare companies who can boast of their “1PL” capabilities. What exactly do people mean when they talk about 1PL, 2PL, 3PL, and 4PL? What do these abbreviations mean for your business, and why should you be able to make the distinction between them? Read on to learn more about the difference between 1PL, 2PL, 3PL, and 4PL.


When a company is described as having 1PL or first-party logistics, it means that absolutely every element of its supply chain is handled in-house. Everything from picking and packing to transportation to handling returns is performed by the company’s own employees using its own resources. Although this might seem like the most advantageous type of setup, there’s a reason it’s exceedingly rare. After all, not even Amazon has the capability to do everything by itself.

You might assume that 1PL companies are multinational behemoths with the resources to rely on only themselves. In reality, they are more likely to be extremely small, local operations. Without the need to manage a huge amount of inventory or provide coast-to-coast deliveries, it’s much easier for these outfits to take care of everything on their own. If you’re one of the few who can do this, you should have much tighter control over all aspects of your supply chain. In short, the buck stops with you.


When your company takes advantage of 2PL, it means you’re only looking for an outside partner to be in charge of transportation. Your in-house team can likely do all the work for producing, storing, distributing, and fulfilling goods, but you might need a carrier to physically transport raw materials or finished products. Whether the trip is across town or across the country, 2PL providers can fulfill this crucial function in your supply chain. In fact, if you’ve ever sent a package through UPS or FedEx, you’re already familiar with 2PL.

Utilizing 2PL can give you a lot of flexibility to choose the mode of transportation that best fits your needs at a given moment. You shouldn’t have to worry about maintaining your own fleet of delivery vehicles or tracking shipments yourself. Many companies also prefer 2PL because it gives them more control over all other aspects of their supply chains.


This is the type of logistics partner most businesses are familiar with, because of the comprehensive approach that these providers take to supply chain management. These companies are usually more involved with helping a business get its goods out to customers, often handling multiple points between the manufacturer and consumer. Among the many value-added services these partners can deliver include:

  • Warehousing
  • Fulfillment
  • Tracking
  • Import/export services
  • Inventory management

Practically any type of business can benefit from the addition of 3PL to their existing setup. That’s because being able to outsource multiple areas of their logistics enables them to free up resources that they could put to better use elsewhere. This arrangement can be especially helpful for growing companies that need to be able to scale up almost immediately in response to spikes in demand.

Working with a 3PL partner also means you shouldn’t have to invest in your own facilities, fleets, or other necessary components to serve your customer base. Because these providers usually have extensive experience providing these services, you can also be sure that you’ll be receiving the best capabilities available.


A fourth-party logistics provider takes things a step further than 3PL. Also known as a lead logistics partner, these vendors assume a greater degree of control over your supply chain, overseeing all related activities and devising a plan to best fit your needs. They achieve this by integrating a wide array of resources, including the capabilities of 3PL companies. With total oversight of all areas of your logistical infrastructure, a 4PL company can analyze the data and take care of any adjustments that need to be made for maximum efficiency and efficacy.

Unlike working with 3PL providers, partnering with a 4PL company means you should have a single point of contact for everything. This can make it easier for you to keep a watchful eye over your supply chain and prevent mistakes and miscommunication. As long as you’re comfortable with surrendering control of your logistics to this partner, there are a lot of benefits that can be gained through this type of arrangement.

Now that you understand a bit more about how 1PL, 2PL, 3PL, and 4PL logistics work, it might be time to think about how a partner in one of these categories may be able to help you. As a national leader in the 3PL arena, WSI offers reliable, integrated services that can be fully customized to meet your specific needs. With extensive expertise covering a wide range of value-added capabilities, we know what it takes to reduce your costs, improve your performance, and become more efficient overall. If you would like to learn more about what we have to offer, get in touch with us today.

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