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What is a 4PL?: The Difference Between a 4PL and 3PL

In the world of business, acronyms are a way of life. Sometimes, that makes it difficult to keep up. If you’ve been working with logistics companies, you are probably familiar with the term “third-party logistics”. Also known as 3PL, these are companies that offer third-party order picking, packing, shipping, and returns services, and more. Essentially, they take care of everything after the purchase on your website and take the work off your hands. 

What is a 4PL?

So, then, what is a 4PL provider? This new type of logistics partner is taking it one step further than 3PLs, who handle the logistics of an order. A 4PL, or fourth-party logistics provider, is someone who handles the entire supply chain from start to finish. For example, if you have self-published and printed a book, you would use a 3PL provider.

If, however, you want to publish and print a book but don’t have a printing solution, you could consider a 4PL provider like Print Bind Ship that can handle everything from printing and inventory management to picking, packing, and shipping orders. 

A Higher Level of Supply Chain Solutions

Deciding on how to handle logistics is a big step for any company. There are so many different options out there and so many various factors to consider within each. Some people have even started taking 4PL to a more broken down definition and creating a 5PL category, but that’s just a more detailed explanation of fourth-party logistics when the company manages the entire supply chain and not just one specific product or part of the process. 

When using 4PL, you’re essentially taking all of the logistics off your plate. Not only that, but you’re giving them to the professionals, which means that you can trust that things will be taken care of. In the world of supply chain and order fulfillment, finding someone who can do it all can save a small fortune and it will always save a ton of time. 

It’s all about strategic insight and finding people who can deliver the services and support that you need. You will also need to be thinking about how much of that support you need, whether you need it all the time, and if you have the most cost-effective sourcing solution. 4PL will give you everything that you need without any concerns, but there are more costs involved initially for the added services that you get. 

3PL vs. 4PL: Which Is Right For You?

No one can tell you exactly what shipping and logistics solutions are going to be right for your business. However, there are some factors that you can look at to ensure that you find the right people for the job. Here are some things to think about. 

Who’s manufacturing your product or product line? If you already have the sourcing down or you are doing something like dropshipping, you’ll have this covered. If not, you might want to consider 4PL because it also addresses the issue of supply chain sourcing. 

Do you have the means to create or source your own products? If you are capable of doing your own sourcing, you might be okay with a 3PL provider. However, if you need to find someone who can also source your products or even print them for you, such as in the case of books, it could be handy to have someone well-versed in 4PL instead. 

What services do you want your logistics partner to handle? This kind of covers the gamut, but it’s an important question to ask yourself. Think about what you want your logistics provider to do for your business because that will impact your decision. 

The Difference Between a 3PL vs. 4PL?

To help everyone better understand the difference between 3PL and 4PL, here’s an example of what each looks like in practice. 

3PL: A fulfillment company ships products from a supplier to the customer, acting as the go-between to handle the shipping and logistics. 

Fulfillment > Delivery > Returns

4PL: A logistics company procures goods and a means to deliver those goods to the customer, and then completes the entire process. 

A 4PL partner can provide services like:

  • Freight sourcing
  • Shipment tracking
  • Expense and performance analysis
  • Planning and management 
  • Total logistics streamlining
  • Inventory management
  • Product sourcing

The Perks of 4PL

So, now that you know a little more about why this is the better service, here are some advantages that it offers over 3PL and other shipping solutions. 

4PL services give you wider management of your operations so that you can spend your time and effort elsewhere. They can handle all of the details so that you just get to sell products and satisfy customers. This process also includes a fair amount of modern technology and automation tools, allowing you to streamline things easier than you might on your own or with other shipping solutions. 

Of course, the biggest perk of companies like this is that logistics are all about finding solutions and helping people find help. The provider will usually design a solution first and then work backward to see how many problems it will solve when it comes to end-to-end management. This can also help them better understand and relate to their customers, which helps these developers and providers thrive. 

You may have a little less control over the logistics process by handing it over to a 3PL or 4PL, and it does cost a little more to get started than some people expect. However, you have to remember that this is an investment. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and see how much you’d appreciate a service like this. Then, make the call. 


Logistics doesn’t have to be a nightmare. So many people get overwhelmed or assume it’s going to be difficult so they just avoid it. However, a quick look will show you that there are several different options to choose from, 4PL being among the most comprehensive option available today.

Get to know the difference and weigh the benefits of having someone handling the entire process and not just the logistics of shipping and delivery. Contact Print Bind Ship to talk to an expert today!