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Ask a 3PL Expert: To Count or Not to Count

Posted By Administration, Thursday, January 19, 2017
Updated: Tuesday, January 17, 2017

by Scott Weiss, Port Logistics Group

Advice on routing guide compliance, 3PL relationships, and domestic logistics topics creating supply chain challenges for your organization. If you have a question or challenge please send your questions to

We've instructed our 3PL not to allow carriers to sign bills of lading as "Shipper's Load and Count" (SLC); however, they disregard our instruction because the drivers refuse to count the freight. Do we have any recourse when the 3PL won't abide by our instruction?
-Debra, Newark

The answer to the question is tricky and not as straightforward as one might think. It is clear why you are frustrated and wondering why the 3PL is not following your instructions. However, there are a number of variable factors at play that need to be considered.

In most instances, the drivers do not want to count because they are on a tight schedule and need to keep moving. Counting the outbound cartons slows them down. If and when the 3PL draws a line in the sand and tells them they must count the outbound freight, there are three possible outcomes from this approach:

  1. The driver will count with the warehouse
  2. The driver will write down what the bill of lading says
  3. The driver will refuse to count

Even if the driver agrees to count the freight, at some point a member of the driver's dispatch will call the driver or the warehouse shipping and receiving desk if the count is taking too much time. The dispatch will want to know what is taking so long and why the driver is still there. They will then either threaten to pull the driver or actually make the driver leave.

By far, the biggest variable that determines the three outcomes is your product profile. Here are some examples of easy customers where outcome 1 (count with the warehouse) is more likely – occurrences where the driver would be able to count the outbound freight in minutes, not hours:

  • Low SKU count
  • Big cartons
  • Palletized product
  • Low number of cartons per order
  • Mostly less-than-truckload (LTL) moves

Customer profiles where the driver would have to spend hours to count the outbound freight lend to likelihood of outcome 3 (refusing to count) occurring:

  • High SKU count
  • Small cartons
  • High number of cartons per outbound order
  • Floor loaded cartons
  • Full truckload (FTL) moves

As the desire is for the driver to count the freight, anything that can be done to encourage that result should be addressed. Some possible action items:

  1. Set up a meeting between you, your retailer's traffic department and/or the carrier, and the 3PL. This could be at the 3PL's DC, the retailer's consolidation point or DC, or the carrier's office. What can be done to simplify your freight so the driver can count it? More palletized freight? Load consolidation? More frequent pick-ups? Is counting the freight even an option?
  2. Accuracy of outbound freight is the primary driver of you wanting to count the freight before it leaves the 3PL dock. What SOP's can be put in place to ensure or confirm accuracy of outbound orders at the 3PL so counting of outbound orders is not such a concern? RF Scanning? Digital photos? Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for outbound order accuracy?

From a liability standpoint, it is in the 3PL's best interest to not allow SLC because generally the 3PL is ultimately responsible if there is a discrepancy. However, if the 3PL takes a hard stance with the driver as a result of your insistence, then it is entirely possible that drivers could may start getting pulled – meaning you're now dealing with your product not shipping out on time and possibly missing the ship window altogether. In this situation, the 3PL is truly stuck between serving you, their customer, and the driver that is picking up on behalf of your customer. As such, anything that you, the supplier, can do to alleviate the hindrances that keep the driver from counting is in everyone's best interest.

Scott is a 20 year veteran of the 3PL industry and 14 year member of RVCF. Port Logistics Group is the nation's leading provider of gateway logistics services, including value-added warehousing and omni-channel distribution, transloading and cross-docking, eCommerce fulfillment, and national transportation. With 14 Distribution Centers and 5.5 million square feet of warehouse space strategically located by the Ports of LA/LB, NY/NJ, Seattle/Tacoma, and Savannah, Port Logistics Group provides the critical link between international transportation and the last-mile supply chain. He can be reached at or (562) 977-7620.

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Tags:  3PL  shipper-load-and-count  SLC 

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