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No one saw e-commerce at this scale coming this quickly. Even with vaccines and eventual “herd immunity,” many workers won’t be returning to offices in previous numbers. Many brick-and-mortar businesses won’t, apart from essential safety stocks, be ordering full truckloads of palletized inventory shipped to centralized facilities as they did pre-COVID-19.

Many more supply chains will move goods in a continuous flow, pulled by demand rather than pushed out the door for storage and distribution over time. Orders will originate with many more customers, in smaller sizes and quantities, for time-definite delivery. Now third-party (3PL) and fourth-party logistics (4PL) providers find themselves thrashing in the deep end of the pool, with sophisticated big-box and brick-and-mortar retailers that are heavily invested in online fulfillment. At the same time, major parcel carriers, local and regional less-than-truckload (LTL) providers and last-mile delivery services are engaging directly with innovative e-retailers through carrier or customer portals.

3PLs and 4PLs know LTL consolidation and last-mile, but aren’t all set up to manage wave-picking, DIM pricing, and same-day drop-shipping associated with omnichannel B2C fulfillment. To compete they’ll need a multi-layered strategy — backed by the right technology. Where’s the sweet spot for third[1]and fourth-party logistics providers, in either traditional freight or omnichannel parcel? How do they gain and hold market share in this kind of environment? The key may be a new set of mainly technology-based capabilities for managing multi-shipper, multi-carrier and multi-region supply chains, whether across U.S. states or in the fast-growing cross-border e-commerce segment.


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