The 2021 Annual Third-Party Logistics Study marked the study's 25th anniversary. As a result, the research team examined how the industry has progressed since the study launched in 1996. Over the past 25 years, there have been significant improvements and an increase in overall satisfaction in shipper and 3PL relationships.

There has also been a greater focus on strategic issues. Those within the logistics industry have recognized they can better manage operations, measure results and make better decisions when drawing on relevant data and information. Organizations are also more aware of the value a strong supply chain provides.

Throughout the past 25 years, 3PLs have invested more in technology and have become leaders in the tech space and were increasingly viewed as logistics technology experts. What's more, users continually expected 3PL providers to leverage their solutions, including the technology behind them, across customers. In turn, 3PLs have provided innovative and advanced services, such as consulting, manufacturing, reverse logistics, shared networks, and sequencing and mixing centers.

Providers continued to struggle with standardizing offerings to lower their total cost of ownership, especially for basic services, such as transportation and warehousing. Although the need for successful functional execution was a given, a strategic shift had occurred. There was a stated need for advanced supply chain services and for organizations that could serve as integrators, which validated the strategic service model in meeting the needs of and servicing 3PL users.

During the latter half of the study, shippers were increasingly reliant on an integrated, global supply chain, and the industry's approach to emerging markets exposure evolved. The most persistent trend in the latter years of the study was the need for increasingly strategic, collaborative relationships between providers and shippers. Over the years, the collaboration between companies and even competitors increased to get product to stores faster and reduce inventory.