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7 Cross Docking Best Practices When Hunting For A 3PL

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7 Cross Docking Best Practices When Hunting For A 3PL
When you’re looking for a 3PL to perform cross-docking, it’s important that they utilize cross-docking best practices.
By Jacob Lee
 | October 25, 2022
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Last Modified: December 12, 2023

Cross docking best practices will be imperative to get operations back to normal in a struggling warehouse. Without the right standards in place for your cross-docking services, your customers won’t be receiving their freight on time. Fortunately, we have some remedies that will prevent these issues.

With our 70 years of combined experience in logistics, the team at Transload Services USA recommends these seven cross-docking best practices:

  1. Use Reliable Warehouse Management Systems
  2. Formulate A Transport Schedule
  3. Have Enough Dock Doors
  4. Keep A Clean Warehouse
  5. Stays Close To Customers
  6. Reduce Product Touches
  7. Utilize Conveyor Systems

We’ll discuss each of these cross-docking best practices and cross-docking in general throughout this article. 

A warehouse worker pushing a pallet jack into a truck

How Does Cross-Docking Work?

The way cross-dock operations work is fairly simple. With a few exceptions, the same steps are followed for most types of cross docking.  

Cross docking works by following these steps:

  1. Inbound truck arrives at the facility
  2. Inbound truck is unloaded
  3. Unloaded goods from the inbound truck are briefly kept in the storage area
  4. Goods are loaded from the storage area into outbound truck 

During the cross-docking process, products don’t need to be re-palletized in the staging area. Instead, pallets can be unloaded and loaded fairly quickly. This ensures that there is a constant flow of outbound shipments leaving the cross-dock facility. 

Cross-docking is typically confused with transloading. While both services are fairly the same, each one has its distinct differences. For one, cross-docking involves unloading freight from one trailer and loading it onto another. Transloading, on the other hand, is unloading freight from one mode of transport and loading it into a different mode.

If cross docking isn’t what you need, then check out our article on transload services. This service might be the one that works better for you. 

A warehouse worker taking inventory of stacked palletized boxes of apples.

When Should Cross Docking Be Used?

Cross-docking is a service that many retailers find useful because of the time it can save them. Retailers need to get their goods to the final destination as quickly as possible to keep up with the demand of their customers. Cross docking should be used when you’re shipping perishable goods or when you need to get goods to a destination fast.

Speedily getting goods to the customers also helps retailers avoid having a surplus of products and instead have a surplus of inventory storage space. Retailers that deal with perishable goods find cross-docking especially useful due to the time constraints they’re held to. These types of goods have only so long before they eventually go bad. 

To show how common perishable goods are transported, the table below represents the latest data on perishable goods transported by reefer containers. The data shows that there is ample opportunity to use cross-docking for perishable goods. 

Types Of Reefer Shipments (2021)

CommodityPercentage Of Reefer Shipments
Fruit34%
Meat 18%
Fish10%
Vegetable7%
Preparation Vegetables5%

Provided by IHS Markit 

Our article on the benefits of cross docking will show you how this service can help you. 

Looking To Ship Goods Fast?
Let Transload Services USA Be Your Cross Docking Partner.
Get a quote
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A worker operating a forklift in a warehouse and unloading freight off a shelf

Cross Docking Best Practices To Look For In A 3PL

Looking for a 3PL can be hard when you don’t know what criteria to judge them on. Therefore, focus on whether or not they utilize cross-docking best practices. Below, we’ll discuss some of the most important cross-docking best practices. 

1. Appropriate Management Systems In Place

When searching for a 3PL that performs cross-docking services, find out whether or not they use inventory management systems. There’s a lot of freight that comes through a cross-docking facility, distribution center, or warehouse. Programs like these help 3PLs keep their operations organized. 

Some of the ways that logistics software and inventory management systems allow 3PLs to do that include:

  • Sending out automated shipping notices
  • Tracking freight in the warehouse
  • Tracking freight in the yard
  • Help manage workers better

If a 3PL providing cross docking service doesn’t have some type of technology in place to help run their operations, chances are they might not be organized enough to perform well enough for you. 

2. They Have A Successful Transport Schedule

This cross-docking best practice branches off of the last one. Transportation schedules are just another way for 3PLs to keep track of the inbound and outbound shipments coming into their facility. Keeping a tight and organized schedule is imperative to ensuring that your cross-docking services work at pique efficiency.

Without a transportation schedule, outbound trucks might arrive before an inbound truck does. The driver of the outbound truck will be inconvenienced by having to wait. If an outbound truck is late, then there will be overcrowding of freight on the dock and staging area. This makes material handling more difficult for warehouse workers. 

3. Warehouse Layout Is Efficient

The layout of a warehouse is extremely important when selecting a 3PL. As you’ve probably noticed, organization is key to the success of cross-docking services and warehouse operations as a whole. The shape and overall layout of a warehouse can tell you how well a 3PL can perform cross-docking for you. 

Small and medium-sized docks usually have a rectangular shape to them. As for larger cross-dock facilities, they tend to have an X-shape or a T-shape to them instead. These shapes are ideal for the respective size of the facility. They allow workers enough room to unload and load trucks as they arrive.

When searching for a 3PL to provide cross-docking services, consider the shape of the warehouse and whether or not it’s efficient for the services you’re requesting. 

4. They Keep A Clean Warehouse

When we say look for a clean warehouse, we mean one that doesn’t have freight all over the place. During cross-docking operations, it’s normal for warehouse workers to put receiving products in a designated area on the floor after unloading it from an outbound truck. 

That said, the areas should still look neat and freight should never sit there for too long. A clogged-up dock floor is never good for safety either. 3PLs typically keep their dock floors clean using the following methods:

  • Decluttering the area of freight
  • Keeping food and drinks (except water) off the floor
  • Putting loading dock equipment where they need to be
  • Drying the floor of any moisture

When searching for a 3PL to handle your cross-docking operations, ask for a tour of their facility so you can gauge factors like these. 

5. Ensure the Cross-Docking Facility Is Close 

Cross-docking is supposed to be a speedy process. However, if you send your goods to a facility that’s further away from your final destination, it won’t matter how fast cross-docking services are. 

You need to make sure that any prospective 3PLs you look into for cross-docking services are somewhere along the route to the final destination. If not, you’ll just be sending your goods out of the way and lengthening the shipping time rather than shortening it. 

6. They Keep Product Touches To A Minimum

Every time a worker touches freight, it’s considered a product touch. The goal is for there to be as few product touches as possible to boost cross-docking efficiency. A 3PL should instill in their workers a two-touch approach when performing cross-docking operations. 

The first touch should occur when unloading freight from the inbound truck and the second should occur when loading freight from the staging area into the outbound trailer. This two-touch approach eliminates any storage time, except for the short period freight sits in the staging area. 

7. Utilize Conveyor Systems

Conveyor systems shouldn’t be a make-or-break criterion when looking for a 3PL, but it’s a good sign. Conveyor systems can make it easier much easier to move heavy varieties of freight throughout the cross-docking facility. These systems can be anything from rollers to actual conveyor belts.

If you want to know how much cross docking costs, check out our article on cross docking rates. 

Contact Transload Services USA

At Transload Services USA, we utilize all of these cross-docking best practices that we’ve discussed. We also provide more than cross-docking services as you can tell by our name. We can also help you with transloading, freight consolidation and freight rework. 

With transloading, you’ll be able to take advantage of other forms of transportation to deliver your load besides using only a truck. Freight consolidation will let you combine multiple LTL shipments into one FTL. Lastly, freight rework will let you correct a rejected load.

When using our services, you don’t have to worry about getting behind schedule with other loads you need to pick up. Simply leave your trailer with us and when we’re done, we’ll make the trailer available for pickup by one of your other drivers.


If you need any of these four services then fill out your quote today or contact our team at (352) 282-4588

Looking To Ship Goods Fast?
Let Transload Services USA Be Your Cross Docking Partner.
Get a quote
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