Third- and even fourth-party logistics providers are operating in changing macro and microenvironments, and their future success will be driven by the extent to which they understand, anticipate, and get out in front of trends and innovations in shippers' supply chains. The 2021 Annual Third-Party Logistics Study identified trends and future directions of those within the logistics industry.

Researchers found that when looking to the future, it will be critical for logistics providers to develop meaningful and productive relationships with their shipper customers so they will be regarded as key sources of information to identify and solve supply chain problems and challenges that lie ahead.

Among respondents, 71% of shippers and 83% of 3PLs participating in the 2021 study agreed that their supply chains have been able to identify changes in macro-environments and to modify and enhance supply chain capabilities appropriately. Additionally, 92% of 3PL users and 96% of 3PL providers agreed that supply chains are evolving from linear chains or processes to complex networks or ecosystems of organizations, resources and capabilities.

It was encouraging that 76% of shippers and 80% of 3PLs agreed that the focus of shippers' supply chains is mostly on the shipper organization itself and also on the most proximate supplier and customer organizations; 71% of shippers and 70% of 3PLs felt that the focus of supply chains is more “end-to-end” and extends more deeply into supplier and customer networks.

Shippers and 3PLs will continue to move toward preferred and strategic partner relationships and away from transactional relationships. Successful 3PL-customer relationships in the future will be dependent on several factors, including data and analytics and technology and digital solutions.