Choosing Between 3PL and Freight Forwarders for Business Success

3PL and Freight Forwarders

When you’re knee-deep in the logistics and supply chain industry, terms like 3PL and freight forwarder are tossed around quite a bit. But what do they actually mean, and more importantly, how do they differ? For businesses big and small, understanding these differences is not just academic; it’s crucial for making informed decisions that streamline operations, cut costs, and improve efficiency.

This article aims to demystify these terms, focusing on “3PL vs freight forwarder”, and will dive into how fulfillment solutions play into the mix. We promise to keep the jargon to a minimum and explain everything in a way that’s easy for anyone to understand.

What is a 3PL?

Advantages of the Best Ecommerce 3PL Providers

Let’s start with 3PL, which stands for Third-Party Logistics. Think of a 3PL as your all-in-one logistics partner. They’re the experts you turn to when you need to outsource your business’s logistics and supply chain management. This can include a variety of services, such as warehousing, transportation, picking and packing, inventory forecasting, order fulfillment, and even shipping and returns management.

Essentially, a 3PL takes the logistics load off your shoulders, allowing you to focus more on other critical aspects of your business.

What is a Freight Forwarder?

Freight Forwarder

Now, onto freight forwarders. A freight forwarder is like a travel agent for cargo. They specialize in moving goods from one point to another, particularly across international borders. Freight forwarders arrange the entire process for their shippers, from storing the goods to booking cargo space, managing shipping documentation, and ensuring compliance with different countries’ regulations. However, unlike 3PLs, freight forwarders don’t typically own the transportation means; they act as intermediaries who negotiate and arrange the best routes and modes of transport for your goods.

The Key Differences

When we pit 3PL vs freight forwarder, the lines might seem blurred, but there are distinct differences:

Scope of Services: 3PLs provide a broader range of services that cover various aspects of the logistics process, including storage, fulfillment, and after-sales services. Freight forwarders, on the other hand, focus primarily on the transportation of goods from point A to B, especially internationally.

Ownership and Operation: While 3PLs often have their own warehousing facilities and sometimes their own transport assets, freight forwarders usually do not. Freight forwarders rely on their network of carriers and partners to move goods.

Expertise and Focus: Freight forwarders are the masters of navigating the complexities of international shipping, including customs, tariffs, and international shipping laws. 3PLs excel in streamlining a company’s overall logistics process for efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

When to Use Which?

Use a 3PL if: You’re looking for an end-to-end solution for your logistics needs. If you want someone to handle everything from storing your products to delivering them to your customers’ doorsteps (and dealing with returns, should they arise), a 3PL is your go-to.

Use a freight forwarder if: Your main challenge lies in getting your products across borders smoothly and efficiently. If you’re shipping large quantities of goods internationally and need an expert to navigate the complex landscape of international logistics, a freight forwarder is what you need.

The Role of Fulfillment Solutions

Now, where do fulfillment solutions fit into all this? Fulfillment solutions are often a part of what a 3PL offers. They specifically refer to the services related to getting orders to your customers — storing goods, picking and packing orders, shipping, and managing returns. Fulfillment solutions are the backbone of e-commerce logistics, ensuring that your products reach your customers promptly and in good condition.

Whether you choose a 3PL or a freight forwarder might depend on how much of the logistics chain you want to manage in-house and the complexity of your shipping needs, especially internationally.

Making the Right Choice for Your Business

Making the Right Choice for Your Business

Deciding between a 3PL and a freight forwarder — or determining if you need both — depends on your specific business needs. Evaluate your current logistics challenges, your future growth plans, and the complexity of your shipping requirements. Remember, the goal is not just to move goods but to do so in a way that aligns with your overall business strategy, enhances customer satisfaction, and supports growth.

Read More: The Complete Guide to Understanding Scheduled Delivery


  1. Can I use a 3PL and freight forwarder together?

Ans: Yes, combining a 3PL for domestic logistics and a freight forwarder for international shipping can optimize your supply chain.

  1. How to choose between a 3PL and a freight forwarder?

Ans: Choose a 3PL for comprehensive logistics services and a freight forwarder for specialized international shipping needs. Your decision should align with your business’s specific logistics challenges.


In conclusion, whether you lean towards a 3PL or a freight forwarder, the choice should be about finding a partner that adds value to your business and helps you navigate the complexities of logistics and supply chain management. With the right partner, you can ensure that your products are always in the right place at the right time, leaving you free to focus on building your business. Hopefully, this breakdown has made the decision a little easier and the logistics world a bit less daunting.

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