3PL vs 4PL vs 5PL Services: What Are the Differences

KHALIL LADAK May 30, 2024 • 6 Min read
3PL vs 4PL vs 5PL Services What Are the Differences Hero
3PL vs 4PL vs 5PL Services What Are the Differences

If you depend on logistics services when running your business, chances are you’ve come across the terms 3PL, 4PL, and 5PL. While these terms are often used interchangeably, each actually represents a different level of logistics outsourcing and supply chain management.  

To help you become well-versed in the nuances of these service levels, we’ve put together this guide to 3PL vs 4PL vs 5PL, so you can determine which is the right choice to enhance your supply chain efficiency. 

Let’s dive in. 

What is 3PL (Third-Party Logistics)? 

A 3PL or Third-Party Logistics provider offers services such as transportation, warehousing, picking and packing, and freight forwarding.  

The key features of 3PL include: 

  1. Specialized Services:

3PL providers offer specialized logistics services tailored to meet the unique needs of their clients. 

  1. Scalability:

Companies can scale their logistics operations up or down based on their needs, without the need to invest in additional infrastructure. 

  1. Cost-Effectiveness:

Outsourcing logistics functions to a 3PL provider can often be more cost-effective than managing these functions in-house. 

Many 3PLs focus on just one core element of logistics services. For your business, this means that you may end up having to partner with several 3PLs to ensure that all your logistics needs are met.  

What is 4PL (Fourth-Party Logistics)? 

A 4PL or Fourth-Party Logistics provider takes logistics outsourcing further by adding a layer of management and coordination to the supply chain. In this arrangement, your 4PL partner may offer some of the same services as a 3PL while also taking on the role of managing multiple 3PL providers and becoming the single point of contact for your business.  

The key features of 4PL logistics services are: 

  1. Supply Chain Integration:

4PL providers integrate and manage the entire supply chain, including multiple 3PL providers, to improve efficiency and reduce costs. 

  1. Technology Integration:

4PL providers often use advanced technology, such as cloud-based platforms and analytics, to optimize the supply chain. 

  1. Strategic Planning:

4PL providers work closely with clients to develop and implement strategic supply chain solutions. 


So what is the difference between 3PL and 4PL? 

What is the difference 3PL vs 4PL

While 3PL providers offer valuable logistics services to support your business’s supply chain needs, they typically act as intermediaries between your business and the transportation or warehouse providers you’re outsourcing your logistics to. 

4PL providers, on the other hand, manage your entire logistics process, often overseeing multiple 3PLs. The main difference of 4PL logistics services is that they integrate the resources, capabilities, and technology of their own organization and other organizations (including 3PLs) to design, build, and run comprehensive supply chain solutions for their clients. This can include strategic planning, consulting, and optimization services to improve supply chain efficiency. 

What is 5PL (Fifth-Party Logistics)? 

5PL, or Fifth-Party Logistics, is a relatively new concept that goes beyond the management of physical goods to include the management of information and financial flows. 5PL providers offer end-to-end supply chain solutions, integrating all aspects of the supply chain, including logistics, procurement, and inventory management.  

The key features of 5PL include: 

  1. End-to-End Solutions:  

5PL providers offer comprehensive end-to-end supply chain solutions, including logistics, procurement, and inventory management.

  1. Advanced Technology:

5PL providers use advanced technology, such as artificial intelligence and blockchain, to optimize the supply chain and improve visibility. 

  1. Risk Management:

5PL providers help clients manage risks associated with supply chain disruptions, such as natural disasters or geopolitical events. 


There are several differences between 4PL and 5PL services. 

A 4PL provider often works with multiple 3PLs to coordinate and optimize supply chain operations, essentially acting as a higher-level supply chain integrator that manages and oversees your entire logistics network. In doing so, your 4PL partner provides you with strategic direction, designs your supply chain solutions, and manages relationships with various logistics service providers carrying out your supply chain operations. 

A 5PL provider, on the other hand, goes beyond the role of a 4PL by not only managing your logistics network but also leveraging advanced technologies like AI, IoT, and blockchain to further optimize your supply chain operations.They do this by using data-driven insights and technologies to drive efficiency, visibility, and collaboration across the entire supply chain ecosystem. 

Takeaway: 3PL vs 4PL vs 5 PL 

While 3PL focuses on specialized logistics services, 4PL adds a layer of management and coordination, and 5PL provides comprehensive end-to-end supply chain solutions. So how can you make an informed decision when outsourcing your logistics operations? Your choice will depend on where you are on your business journey and on your logistics needs at any given stage.  

3PL vs 4PL vs 5 PL

If you’re a smaller business experiencing rapid growth, working with a 3PL can help you scale more efficiently by handling your order fulfillment process, from eCommerce warehousing to inventory management, picking and packing, and shipping. 

But if your business is reaching enterprise level, you may be ready for a 4PL logistics service provider that can manage your supply chain for you. 

And while both 4PL and 5PL providers focus on managing and optimizing supply chain operations, if you run an enterprise business operating in a complex, global supply chain and require advanced logistics solutions, a 5PL service provider might be the solution you need. That’s because 5PLs leverage advanced technologies to drive even greater efficiency, visibility, and collaboration across your supply chain. 

Wherever you are on your journey, eShipper is here to help. Contact us to discuss your logistics requirements and find the right solution for your business. 

eShipper Solutions for Your Business 

  1. Sourcing and Freight:

Streamline your operations with a customized, holistic transportation solution to effectively manage every aspect of movement for your business.  

  1. Warehousing and Fulfillment:

Optimize your storage and fulfillment with seamless handling of your inventory from start to finish, including tech-enabled, scalable solutions to achieve your marketplace and eCommerce goals. 

  1. Last Mile Services:

Wherever you ship, find the right mix of services with support from your Account Manager, so you can meet your customers’ expectations, enhance their satisfaction, and win their loyalty. 

  1. Tailored Solutions:

Receive tailored supply chain solutions from our logistics experts to fast-track success.  

  1. Powerful technology:

Optimize your operations on our powerful platform with seamless automation, exclusive shipping options, and business and data analytics to fuel your growth. 

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