4 Tips: Improve Profitability Despite Rising Transportation Costs

Profitable shipping is a very attainable goal, even in today’s uncertain environment, where FedEx and UPS peak carrier surcharges have become a moving target for all parcel shippers. Despite these rising costs, there are ways all companies can improve shipping profitability in 2020. 

Try using these four tried-and-true tactics for improving shipping profitability in any market conditions. 

  1. Think at a Package Level
    If you’re handling multiple pick-and-pack orders, you need to know what you’re putting into different sized packages. Align that information with the actual transportation costs, and then figure out the profitability level on each. 

    This can be a complex process, but ultimately it is important to understand that the dollar amount on your transportation invoice does not tie into your product profitability. Once you determine what it costs to ship each SKU, it becomes clear that offering free shipping at a $50 order threshold, for instance, may not yield a profitable order for your company. 
  2. Use Good Margin Management
    When your marketing department launches a promotion – “Buy $50 worth of stuff and get free shipping” – make sure the “losers” do not fill-up e-commerce shopping cart and drive your cost above profit. To avoid these problems, share relevant information across your organization to keep everyone marching in the same direction. 

  1. Leverage Data 
    Look not only at carrier data, but also sales data, product costs, fulfillment costs, and other metrics that go into a single order. Transportation Insight helps shippers accumulate all of that information and consolidate it into a unified dashboard that is used to track trends, pinpoint winning/losing SKUs, and single out other areas where the company may be losing money.

  1. Partner with a Transportation Expert
    Work with a reliable logistics provider that has built out the necessary systems and that spreads the value of those systems across numerous different users. The latter allows providers to leverage economies of scale and offer their services at an affordable cost. This translates into high value for shippers in any business or economic condition. 

Protect Profit for Every Customer and Every Order

Our latest strategy guide “You Shipped It, But … Did it Make Money?” raises a question that is on the minds of many business leaders. 

Your business has responded to significant shifts in consumer buying behaviors and your customers expectations are being met. But did the transaction yield profit for the business? Or did transportation cost complexity eclipse your margin in the rush to serve?

Open our guide on margin management for more strategies that will help you master your supply chain to protect profit for every order.

Don’t Let Peak Surcharges Kill Your E-Commerce Profit

Shippers often don’t expect accessorial changes and peak season surcharges that carriers introduce at different times throughout the year. In most cases, seasonal demand swings and business peaks drive these cost changes. 

This year a global pandemic prompted peak season surcharges. Because these new costs coincided with skyrocketing demand for online shopping, many shippers lacked the visibility required to protect e-commerce profit on every shipment.

An Aug. 7 communication from UPS confirmed that more peak surcharges are coming for the holiday season. 

Here are three ways to keep these surcharges from killing your company’s profitability. They’ll become increasingly important as peak season surcharges could become a new year-round norm.

  1. Carefully Audit Every Carrier Invoice
    Go beyond examining the invoice number and dollar amount. Taking the position, “Okay, last week I shipped $75,000 worth of merchandise. That sounds about right,” isn’t a deep enough dive into your parcel invoices. 

    This high-level analysis doesn’t give you the insights you need to pivot effectively when surcharges are imposed. Get down to the actual package and charge level. This is one of the most important practices in managing peak season surcharges and protecting e-commerce profit.
  2. Share the Cost – Pass It or Promote It
    Don’t assume that these surcharges have to get tacked onto your “costs of doing business.”

    As long as it doesn’t affect your competitive position, pass the surcharge costs along to your customers. By strategically aligning products with marketing promotions, you can also increase order value, optimize shipment density and, ultimately, mitigate bottom-line impact of peak-season costs.

    If you do have to absorb the additional cost, be sure to factor that into the sale, versus waiting for your parcel carrier’s invoice to arrive and taking it right out of your profit for a specific order.   

  1. Team-up with E-Commerce Partners 
    Burdened by carrier surcharges and operating in a challenging business environment, shippers may be tempted to only deal with carriers when they have a gripe, a fee that needs to be refunded, or a surcharge that doesn’t apply (but was charged anyway). 

    These situations generally reach a positive resolution when shippers have win-win relationships with their carriers. This has been a practice for years in the truckload/less-than-truckload sector, where being a “shipper of choice” has become a popular stance for companies that are assessing their total costs of transportation.   

    The same applies in the parcel space, where we rely on accurate, up-to-date, supporting data when working with carriers on behalf of our customers (versus just managing issues in a one-off manner). 

    By serving as a link between shippers and carriers (who would otherwise be forced to work with thousands of different customers on an individual level), we are an extension of your parcel team. 

Master Your Parcel Program

To help you control costs in an ongoing peak season surcharge environment, we created “Manage the Surge: Avoid Surcharge Shocks, Power Performance.” It explores the how and why behind parcel carriers’ cost-recovery tactics. Read it today for the strategies you need to power a parcel program response that offsets these costs and protects your e-commerce profit.

Carrier Surcharges: What’s the Real Impact?

Now we know more peak carrier surcharges are on the way for the traditional holiday season. Between the major carriers, the UPS plan is quite a bit different than the FedEx strategy for applying new costs.

FedEx has set peak surcharges to begin as they plan to pull back the COVID surcharges, in essence, keeping the charges in place through the Christmas season. The biggest difference between the FedEx and the UPS charges is the SmartPost charge. It appears all SmartPost customers will have the charge, while the UPS and Home Delivery surcharges will be used for larger customers.

In particular, it appears the FedEx SmartPost charge looks to jump 100% for one week in December and then drop back to $1 the remainder of the season. This type of complexity between carriers and service impacts makes it difficult to manage cost.

Unlike global changes that impact all shippers (i.e., the modification in dimensional weight definitions introduced in 2015 and again in 2018), surcharges affect companies differently.

For example: 

  • An e-commerce apparel company sending most of its orders to residential addresses likely felt the brunt of COVID-related surcharges. 
  • A large B2B company delivering primarily to commercial addresses, on the other hand, was likely shielded from the brunt of these impacts, unless they were moving larger packages. 

The good news is that even though individual companies can’t control parcel carriers’ surcharges, they can minimize the budgetary impact with accurate shipping data, experienced logistics partners, and quick responses to carrier announcements.

What are Carrier Surcharges Costing You?

One 30-cent surcharge on a residential parcel shipment may seem innocuous. Multiply that fee across thousands of parcel shipments, and it’s clear just how burdensome this unexpected fee can be to a company’s bottom line. 

Furthermore, spend management becomes more complicated when carrier surcharges are based on average volume benchmarks, especially when they become retroactive to all shipments once thresholds are crossed.

Consider this: 

If a retailer averages 200,000 weekly packages shipped through UPS Ground Residential or SurePost in February, what’s the cost impact of a 30-cent surcharge when that volume increases to 250,000 weekly packages?

*After average threshold is exceeded, surcharge applies to all packages shipped.

  • If a distributor averages 50,000 weekly packages shipped residential through FedEx Ground, what’s the cost impact of a 30-cent surcharge when that weekly volume increases by 75,000 packages?

*FedEx surcharge volume threshold was higher at 40,000, and included the stipulation that weekly volume had to be 120% higher than the February weekly average.

Factor in any additional fees for oversized packages, and a shipper operating on tight margins can quickly find itself losing money on every order. And without a plan for dealing with unexpected surcharges, SKU profitability moves out of reach quickly. 

Adding to the complexity, carriers can make changes in how or when surcharges are applied – at any time. We saw this with the reduction in dimensions and weight for when carriers applied additional handling surcharges.

Although not a specifically a surcharge, shippers saw a significant change with the migration of the DIM factor from 194 to 139, which increases the billable weight for many packages.

Manage Carrier Surcharges to Avoid Budget Shock

Both the predictable and unexpected carrier surcharges are likely here to stay.

As you plan your transportation spend for the remainder of 2020 and into 2021, be sure to factor in the reality of carrier surcharges. It doesn’t take a global pandemic to create peak season pressure on carriers’ profitability and spur added fees on your parcel shipments. 

While none of us has a crystal ball — nor can we control the steps carriers take to shore up their own operations during peaks and difficult periods — preparing in advance, understanding the impetus behind the charges, and taking the proactive steps can improve your ability to control costs in the current and future parcel freight environments.

To help you improve your ability to plan for and respond to carrier surcharges, we created “Manage the Surge: Avoid Surcharge Shocks, Power Performance.” It explores the how and why behind parcel carriers’ cost-recovery tactics. Read it today for the strategies you need to power a parcel program response that offsets these costs and protects your profit.