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Asset-Based Carrier vs. 3PL PRO Number Assignment

How PRO Number assignments for LTL freight shipments differ when shipping through an asset-based carrier versus a 3PL.

What is the difference between an "asset-based" carrier and a "3PL"?

Asset-based carriers operate their own vehicles. These are the companies that typically have their logos prominently displayed on their trailers.  Some of the largest examples of these are FedEx Freight, Yellow Corp (YRC), XPO Logistics, Old Dominion Freight Line (ODFL), and Estes Express.  If you have an account with an asset-based LTL freight provider, you receive invoices for your shipments directly from it.

"3PL" is an abbreviation for "Third-party Logistics Provider". There is more than one variation of a 3PL, but in this case, the term is used in reference to the variety that can coordinate the transportation of an LTL freight shipment. 3PLs don't operate their own vehicles.  Instead, they have contracts with asset-based carriers. If your account relationship is with a 3PL, an asset-based carrier will pick up the shipment at your place of business, but the invoice you receive will come from the 3PL.

What is a PRO Number?

A "PRO Number" is a shipment tracking number that is assigned to a shipment by the asset-based carrier that is responsible for picking up and delivering the shipment. Don't confuse a "Pro Number" with a "Bill Of Lading Number", also known as a "BOL Number".  BOL Numbers are unique internal control numbers assigned to a shipment by the shipper, or in the case of a 3PL, by the 3PL.  Some asset-based carriers will try to allow for shipment tracking using a shipment's BOL Number, but this method is not reliable.  For proper shipment tracking and identification, your preference should always be for the shipment's PRO Number.

How asset-based carriers assign PRO Numbers.

Asset-based carriers usually assign a PRO Number to a shipment when the "Bill Of Lading" (a.k.a. "BOL") is printed. The PRO Number will be printed on the BOL and the number often also appears as a barcode on the BOL to facilitate the pickup, tracking, and delivery processes. 

If the shipper is using the carrier's website to prepare the BOL, the PRO Number is assigned incrementally from that process.  If the shipper is using a third-party shipping platform, like Eniture Technology's FreightDesk Online (https://freightdesk.online) the carrier will issue a block of PRO Numbers to the shipper's FreightDesk Online account so a PRO Number can be assigned immediately when a BOL is printed. The PRO Number and its barcode will appear on the BOL just as it would have if the carrier's website had been used.

The benefit of the immediate assignment of a PRO Number is that the shipment can be tracked immediately. If the shipper has its eCommerce store, ERP, or another system connected to FreightDesk Online, shipment notifications, tracking updates, and delivery notifications can all be sent via email without delay.

How 3PLs assign PRO Numbers.

When a BOL is printed using the 3PL's website, or a third-party shipping platform connected to the 3PL, the PRO Number isn't known immediately. The BOL document will contain the 3PL's Bill Of Lading Number (BOL Number), but not the asset-based carrier's PRO Number.

The shipment's PRO Number is assigned after the shipment is picked up by the asset-based carrier that will be responsible for the transit. The PRO Number may be assigned by the truck driver by applying a sticker to the BOL document. The sticker will contain the PRO Number and its barcode. Alternatively, the PRO Number may not be assigned until the shipment is received by the asset-based carrier's origin terminal.

Regardless of when the PRO Number is assigned, the asset-based carrier cross-references the 3PL's BOL Number with the assigned PRO Number and provides the information to the 3PL the next business morning.

The delay between when a shipment is prepared or picked up, and when the PRO Number becomes known to the 3PL (and subsequently its customers) can be inconvenient to shippers -- eCommerce merchants for instance -- who wish to provide shipment notifications and tracking information to their customers. Particularly when the shipment transit time is one day.

FreightDesk Online Settings For Delayed PRO Number Assignments

If you have a 3PL connected to FreightDesk Online, you have options on how PRO Numbers are updated on your orders. These vary depending on the eCommerce platform.  To view the options available to you, navigate to Settings > Connections and select the Edit/Update link for the connection to your eCommerce store. The options available to you may include all or some of the following:

  • Change the order status in the eCommerce platform to a temporary status until the PRO Number is known.
  • Don't update the order tracking number until the PRO Number is known.
  • Write the Bill Of Lading Number to the order, but then overwrite it once the PRO Number is known.
  • Don't update the order tracking number.

You may also find that the email notification capability available in FreightDesk Online is suitable for your purposes.  The options will continue to evolve over time, so be sure to check the connection settings and the email notification options in FreightDesk Online to stay abreast of what is available.