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What Is Fourth Party Logistics (4PL) & How It Differs From 3PL

April 30, 2024

What Is Fourth Party Logistics (4PL) & How It Differs From 3PL

Discover the evolving landscape of logistics: 3PLs vs. 4PLs. Uncover which model suits your business needs.

Discover the evolving landscape of logistics: 3PLs vs. 4PLs. Uncover which model suits your business needs.

In today's digital age, supply chains are evolving into intricate networks. At the same time, the advent of intelligent technology, including artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing, is fueling innovation, and driving change.

To stay ahead in this dynamic landscape, a growing number of enterprise-level businesses are choosing to delegate their logistics operations to a Fourth Party Logistics provider, or 4PL.

The global 4PL industry is on a path of steady growth. Projections indicate that the 4PL market, valued at $66.55 billion in 2023, isset to reach an impressive $86.26 billion by 2027.

Both Third Party Logistics providers, and 4PLs can be the ideal solution for your logistics needs, but the nature of the services and partnerships they offer differs.

The choice between the two will depend on several factors, including the complexity of your supply chain, the level of control and involvement you desire, your budget, and the return on investment from your logistics operations.

What Is A 4PL?

A 4PL, or a Fourth-Party Logistics provider takes full responsibility for managing your supply chain. By forging a partnership with a 4PL, you effectively outsource your supply chain management and logistics, transforming your 4PL into the single point of contact for all stakeholders.

4PL providers offer a comprehensive range of services, spanning supply chain planning, optimization, and execution, among others. They manage everything, from overseeing procurement procedures to coordinating with 3PLs.

It's worth noting that North America, thanks to its burgeoning logistics industry, currently leads the 4PL logistics market.

What Is A 3PL?

A 3PL, or Third-Party Logistics provider, specializes in a diverse array of logistics services, such as transportation, distribution center management, and fulfillment. While some 3PLs may not own assets, many, like Covenant, have their own infrastructure.

Depending on the unique needs of your business, 3PLs can strategize and execute your entire logistics process or only certain aspects of it, like transportation, fleet management, and warehousing.

Today, leading 3PLs are expanding their supply chain services beyond traditional third-party logistics to offer their customers a complete logistics solution.

As one of the nation's most prominent 3PLs, Covenant is committed to engineering value-driven supply chains and optimizing processes to ensure businesses can deliver their products swiftly and efficiently.

4PL Vs. 3PL

The main distinction between 4PLs and 3PLs lies in their approach. A Third-Party Logistics provider typically manages the logistics of physical goods, working closely with a business.

In contrast, a 4PL provider handles all matters related to the supply chain in an outsourced business model.

Area Of Focus

3PLs concentrate on specialized logistics services and manage processes tied to the physical movement of goods. 4PLs oversee the complete supply chain management, particularly in international trading. They handle all supply chain processes, including exports, clearance, 3PL warehousing, finance, and the coordination of 3PLs.


3PLs may own their own fleet of trucks and have a robust carrier network, providing a wide array of parcel or freight transportation services, from LTL shipping to managed transportation schemes. 4PLs typically do not have their own resources. Instead, they enhance their clients’ supply chain by coordinating freight shipping, order fulfillment, supplier management, and more.

At Covenant, we understand the intricacies of logistics and supply chain management. Our expertise as a 3PL provider enables us to efficiently manage warehousing, distribution, and sorting facilities. We optimize processes such as warehouse management and port and drayage operations, ensuring your goods move seamlessly through the supply chain.

Our robust fleet and extensive carrier network empower us to offer a wide range of parcel or freight transportation services, from Less Than Truckload (LTL) shipping to managed transportation. Unlike 4PL providers, which typically do not own resources, we harness our assets to benefit your business directly.

Supply Chain Optimization

In terms of supply chain optimization, we leverage advanced technology to maximize efficiency and sustainability in transportation, warehousing, and reverse logistics. Like 4PL providers, we utilize state-of-the-art technology to coordinate processes and analyze data, optimizing your supply chain from end-to-end.


As a 3PL, we work directly with you, understanding your unique challenges, devising strategic plans to swiftly address unforeseen issues, streamline operations, and deliver long-term improvements. We appoint a dedicated account manager for each client, providing personalized guidance and rapid resolution of issues.

While a 4PL acts as a Single Point of Contact (SPOC), filtering all communication between stakeholders, this model may lack the personal touch and quick issue resolution found in a 3PL partnership.

At Covenant, superior service is paramount. We continuously assess your logistics operations to identify improvement opportunities and act as a true strategic partner, committed to your success.

What Type Of Logistics Model Is Best For Your Business?

Supply Chain Complexity and Business Size: Small to medium-sized businesses without in-house logistics can greatly benefit from 3PL services. Large enterprises, especially those involved in international trade, often prefer the comprehensive control offered by 4PLs.

Scalability: 4PLs provide comprehensive management across your entire global supply chain and coordination across numerous 3PLs. However,rapidly growing businesses may find a more adaptable and flexible solution with a 3PL.

Involvement and Control: If you prefer an active role in your supply chain operations, a 3PL's direct customer involvement and country-specific solutions for international businesses can be beneficial. Alternatively, if you wish to delegate all logistics and supply chain management, a 4PL could be your ideal solution.

Cost: 4PLs, given their larger scale of services and responsibilities, tend to be more expensive. Depending on your logistics needs, a 3PL might be a more cost-effective solution.

How We Can Help

Your budget and logistics return on investment should be among your top considerations when deciding which logistics model is most efficient for your business.

At Covenant, we are dedicated to innovation and efficiency. We are your one-stop-shop for all your supply chain needs within the U.S. From order processing to supplier management, we craft cost-effective logistics solutions that fuel your business growth.

Ready to discover what Covenant can do for you? Schedule a call with our logistics experts today!