Quick guide to warehousing - distribution services

Welcome to Part 4 of our ‘Quick Guide to Warehousing’ blog series, where we provide an overview of Distribution Services. The previous blogs in this series can be found in our Resources section.

Point to Point

Most Zupplychain warehouse providers can arrange deliveries for their customers, usually on their own vehicles, sometimes using a sub-contractor or a pallet network. For a single point-to-point delivery – whether a full load or a few pallets – the provider will usually have a tariff card based on the number of pallets (with maximum weights or cube size), the despatch postcode and the delivery postcode.

Such deliveries are usually booked at least a few days in advance, possibly up to a week giving the haulage company the opportunity to guarantee vehicle availability and optimise routes for non-full load deliveries.


A backload is the use of a vehicle for a delivery on its return from making a planned delivery (as above) where a haulage company has not managed to fill the vehicle in the normal course of business. In this situation, the haulage company usually offers a reduced price. However, visibility of backloads may only be available for a few days in advance and may not exist for the desired route. As such, they are best for occasions when the delivery is not time critical and can wait until an appropriate delivery is ready. Sometimes, regular back hauls may be available (because an operator has a regular outbound delivery).

Bespoke Distribution and Order Management

Where a regular and frequent pattern of deliveries is required to a significant number of delivery points– say to a retail chain’s stores – a transport company may provide a dedicated or semi-dedicated service with a bespoke quote/tariff. To do this, the transport company will need data on past and expected drop sizes by location.


Groupage is where several transport companies work together to provide a lower cost and/or more frequent service, essentially by doing the deliveries in the areas where they have the best distribution density. So a haulage company in the north would fill a single vehicle with all its south east deliveries, send it to its partner in the south east, who would then split the deliveries into its local routes. Groupage is a variant of pallet networks (see below), though more suitable for 3 or more pallets in a delivery.

Pallet Networks

A pallet network is a national group of distribution companies working together to offer nationwide distribution. There are several pallet networks in the UK, each with one member per area. Some pallet networks offer international connections also.

A member collects all the pallets in its area (i.e., from its customers) that are required for delivery outside its area and takes them to a central or regional hub operated by the pallet network who unloaded and sort the deliveries by areas. This usually happens over-night with the vehicles waiting to be re-loaded with the pallets for its area from other members, which it then delivers to the final destinations.

In most cases, a pallet network is the cheapest way to get a small number of pallets – particularly 1 or 2 pallets - delivered outside of a local area quickly. You will find information on whether a Zupplychain warehouse provider is a member of a pallet network in its profile.

Freight Forwarding

A freight forwarder (or a ‘forwarder’, or ‘forwarding agent’) is a person or company that organises transport for individuals or corporations. A freight forwarder will not own or run vehicles but will find the best sub-contractor for the job, or may combine jobs to create a full load to a destination or area. Generally, freight forwarders are used when distribution requirements are complex or irregular, such as exporting to or importing from the continent (freight forwarders also take responsibility for paperwork and satisfying regulations) and multimodal journeys.


Carrier companies are used for deliveries to consumers’ homes, usually small/medium sized parcels, often single items. A carrier parcel’s journey will not usually be on a carrier vehicle for its whole journey: it could start by being collected from the originator with a number of other parcels on a large vehicle, taken to a carrier’s national or reginal hub, sorted by geography, transported to local hubs and then onto a suitable vehicle for the last leg of delivery to the consumer’s home. This last leg is sometimes sub-contracted to owner drivers, often not in the livery of the carrier company or working for more than one carrier companies.

Home Delivery Network

A home delivery network is similar to carriers but tends to cater for larger deliveries with more value (which means the delivery can absorb a higher delivery cost). These deliveries are not usually suitable for transferring across vehicles or moving via hubs due to their complexity in terms of number of items; they are also likely to have a lower drop density than parcel deliveries. Some home delivery networks may use two man teams to cope with heavy weights or large items. Typical examples are in the home improvement sector, such as the home delivery of flat-pack kitchens, a delivery that could have 60-100 items from boxes to long pieces to handles and accessories.