How 3PL Cross Docking Can Support Retail Distribution

Third-party logistics (3PL) providers perform a wide variety of big-ticket services, from warehousing and eCommerce fulfillment to transportation and drayage. Sometimes, however, it’s our lower-key offerings that can pay big dividends for our customers. One of these offerings is cross dock services. In this article, we’ll take a look at 3PL cross docking and the ways it can benefit shippers, retailers, and transportation professionals.

What is 3PL cross docking?


Cross docking is a service in which products are unloaded from a truck (or railcar if intermodal) for temporary storage in a 3PL warehouse. After a short stay, the products are loaded onto another truck for final delivery. Cross docking is a natural cost saver as products can be safely stored in a warehouse – and additional 3PL services can be performed – without a long-term storage commitment. And, by skipping long-term storage, companies can speed distribution by keeping products on the move.

When is cross docking performed?

Kanban’s cross docking services in North Carolina help shippers optimize deliveries in a variety of ways:

The driver is early to his or her retailer appointment. Most retailers will not accept early deliveries. So, when a driver with a trailer-full of product arrives well before a scheduled appointment, he or she has two options: wait it out or find a cross docking provider. With the cross-docking option, the driver will unload the product at a nearby 3PL facility. The 3PL will then make the final delivery to the retailer, while the original driver moves on to his next load.

The driver misses a retailer appointment. Just as drivers can be too early, they can also be too late, whether it’s due to traffic or equipment malfunctions. A new appointment must be then scheduled – often several days out. When this happens, the driver can unload product with a 3PL for cross docking and go on his or her way. The 3PL then performs final delivery at the new appointment time. Kanban, for instance, works directly with QVC’s nearby warehouse to arrange the re-delivery appointment on behalf of QVC vendors.

The carrier is not a preferred logistics partner. Some retailers have ‘preferred’ logistics partners that enjoy privileges like the ability to drop trailers off at a DC without an appointment. To take advantage of this privilege, some carriers without preferred status will cross dock their products with a preferred 3PL. This enables the non-preferred carrier to skip the appointment process as the preferred 3PL simply drops the trailer at the retailer DC.

The trailer is loaded in reverse. Sometimes a trailer will be loaded in a way that conflicts with the driver’s schedule. For instance, the items at the nose of the trailer will need to come out first but are unable to be reached. With a visit to a cross docking facility, the 3PL can unload, organize, reload, and/or palletize product as the driver wishes.

The load is not acceptable to the retailer. A driver may deliver a load to a retailer DC only to be turned away because the delivery is not up to retailer’s standards. There are many possible reasons for this, including product that is leaning or turned over in the trailer, or product that is not segregated in accordance with retailer specifications. In these instances, the driver can take the trailer to a 3PL cross docking facility for product rework services. The driver or the 3PL can then make the final delivery.

Lean on Kanban Logistics for 3PL cross docking

Whether it’s helping shippers and their drivers out of a bind, or simply helping them keep products on the move, Kanban Logistics specializes in cross dock services in Eastern North Carolina. We routinely provide these services for shipments heading to QVC (for whom we are a preferred provider) or other retailers in the region. To learn more about our North Carolina cross docking capabilities, contact Kanban today.