Last Days to Ship? 7 Tips to Meet Holiday Deadlines

According to MarketWatch, Deloitte is forecasting a 1% to 1.5% year-over-year sales increase for the upcoming holiday season, during which time total retail sales will be about $1.15 billion (between November 2020 and January 2021). Meeting holiday shipping deadlines will be more important than ever.

“E-commerce sales, which have been strong throughout the coronavirus pandemic, are expected to climb 25% to 35%, reaching $182 billion and $196 billion,” Deloitte predicts. “Regardless of the scenario, however, consumers’ focus on health, financial concerns, and safety will result in a shift in the way they spend their holiday budget.”  

Here are seven tips for making sure your holiday packages get to their destinations on time.

7 Tips for Holiday Delivery Success 

The new realities of the current shipping environment have created ongoing service delays and disruptions, both of which have compounded into an overall capacity crunch for small parcel carriers. Working through this issue will require forward-thinking companies to adjust accordingly.

For example, shippers will need to be more creative and flexible to cope with the combination of COVID and the normal peak season. FedEx, UPS, and other carriers are hiring a lot more workers for the season, but we still expect to see some capacity issues. With the uncertainty, it will be more important than ever to inform customers when to expect shipments and be extremely transparent. 

Here are seven tips that will help you get your packages to their destinations on time: 

  1. Know the cutoff dates. FedEx’s last days to ship calendar is online here and UPS publishes its holiday deadlines here. The USPS plans to release its cutoff dates for holiday shipping sometime in October. Be sure to factor in these last days to ship dates when planning your holiday shipments. 
  2. Talk to your carriers. Proactively communicate with carriers regarding any expected increase in volume and any additional equipment requirements (e.g., feeders or bulk-type pickups). This will help your carriers plan ahead and provide some assurance that there will be capacity to accommodate your volume spikes (or, allow you to make alternative arrangements). 
  3. Next, talk to your customers. Companies should proactively communicate anticipated delays and properly set customer’s expectations on their websites and in any email communications. This could be as simple as featuring the holiday cutoff shipment dates prominently on the first page of your website. 
  4. Know the limits. Shippers should clearly understand any potential volume limits or caps that may be put in place by the carriers. Because these constraints can impact your ability to deliver on time, be sure to discuss them with your carrier. 
  5. Explore your options. Shippers should also understand their carrier options and negotiate favorable agreement terms to properly leverage all national, regional, and postal carriers. Having a “Plan B” in place is always a good idea during the busiest times of the year. 

  1. Start your product promos early. Don’t wait until the last minute to kick off your holiday promotions. Starting early will help you pull volume forward to avoid peak shipping periods and allow time for expected delays. 
  2. Factor in holiday business schedules. For example, USPS is closed for all of the major federal holidays. With delivery times varying between its services, knowing the cutoff dates and hours of operation are both important. 

Maintaining Transparency  

Reflecting on how parcel carriers performed for the 2019-20 holiday shipping season, UPS’ SurePost and FedEx’s SmartPost both assured 100% delivery for holiday orders that were shipped on or before December 14 or 9 (respectively). However, we also saw that as the cutoff date approached, those commitments slipped. This is something to keep in mind as you lay out your plans for the 2020-21 season. 

Using the tips outlined in this article, you can strike a nice balance between growing your company’s holiday sales while also letting customers know that there is a risk of passing the carrier’s “suggested date” for accepting pickup for a Christmas delivery. Through full transparency and good information, you can effectively manage customer expectations while also syncing with the carriers that will deliver the goods to their doorsteps.  

Peak Season Performance Requires Visibility

To make sure holiday shippers are aware of the latest trends affecting their transportation cost management, we convened a roundtable of our parcel experts. Watch or listen to our webinar “Peak Season: Are You Ready?” to hear Todd Benge, Robyn Meyer, Toni Caputo, Bernie Reeb and myself address the unprecedented challenges emerging his year.

This digital event shares strategies to help you protect profit and enhance customer experience. Watch it today to make sure you are getting charged correctly and manage the capacity risks that threaten to derail your performance.

6 Qualities to Look for in an E-Commerce Logistics Partner

With changing customer demands, new carrier surcharges, COVID, and other challenges taking a bite out of shippers’ bottom lines right now, those companies are best served by logistics partners that bring a high level of value to the table. Even better, they do this while helping shippers overcome their key pain points and achieve their organizational goals.

If your e-commerce logistics provider isn’t living up to expectations in these six areas, it may be time to find one that will.

  1. Technology Systems that Mirror the Carriers’ Own Systems
    This allows the provider to estimate cost impact and predictive modeling to the penny. Every time the carriers make a change, that change should also be made in your provider’s system.
  2. A Strong Team of Subject Matter Experts
    That team should include engineers and analysts that know how to leverage the carriers’ profitability areas to gain better advantages for you (versus what a traditional account rep can manage). Our experts regularly share their insight with the marketplace.

  1. Ongoing Analysis and Strategic “Thinkery”
    Look for a partner that thinks well beyond the “one and done” approach. Today’s business environment requires a partner that focuses on continued delivery optimization and cost mitigation.
  2. A Proactive Auditing Function
    Rather than relying on a reactive mindset (e.g., asking for the same refunds over and over again), your provider should be working with an “identify and repair” mindset to eliminate these potential issues and mitigate ongoing costs.
  3. Advanced Analytics and KPI Tracking
    As e-commerce continues to grow, you need a partner that is constantly innovating and adding functionalities like margin management, SKU-level profitability, KPI tracking, order performance management and high levels of supply chain visibility.   
  4. A Problem-solving Mindset
    When new accessorials or surcharges are released, your logistics provider should be measuring the impacts of those changes on your budget and helping you mitigate those impacts.

Master Your E-Commerce Supply Chain

Possessing these key qualities, we bring our client partners ongoing value as they race to meet demands for delivery speed, service and choice. Supporting your efforts to enhance customer experience, we also implement strategies to control costs so that you can maintain awareness of how each and every product and customer is performing. 

Our Parcel Experts created “You Shipped It, but … Did it Make Money?” to identify some of the emerging challenges that jeopardize your profit. It highlights our approach in the marketplace and gives you a glimpse into the level of analysis that we bring our customers. 

Let’s take a deeper look at the supply chain challenges you are experiencing. Reach out to our supply chain masters today to begin a conversation about your personalized solution.

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.

Margin Management: Why Are You Selling Money-Losing SKUs?

In July, Coca-Cola announced that it was cutting some “zombie brands” and focusing its resources on more profitable lines by introducing margin management. The company has about 400 master brands, half of which are brands of little or no scale and that account for about 2% of the firm’s total revenues. 

These brands (Odwalla juice and smoothie brand was among the first to get the axe) consume resources and divert money and time away from Coca-Cola’s more profitable businesses. 

Do you know the products that are consuming your resources without delivering the profitable benefits of sale?

Following Suit

Shippers of all sizes can borrow a page from Coca-Cola’s playbook which takes the examination of SKU viability to new levels by assessing (and in some cases, eliminating) entire brand portfolios in order to determine which products are making money, and which ones aren’t. 

When you understand SKU viability, you can refine your marketing messages, pricing, pass-through costs, and other elements that determine whether you make money on an order (or not). The key is to determine which products are “winners” and which are “losers,” and then focus on the former. Weed out the products that are not making money and focus on the ones that are profitable.

Use the 80/20 Rule

The Pareto Principle (80/20 Rule) comes into play here, and asserts that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Recognizing that 20% of your SKUs typically represent 80% of your sales volume, determine a baseline. Focus on what it costs to pick, pack and ship each of those different SKUs. 

There aren’t many companies that have a good handle on profitability at the individual SKU level, particularly when factoring in fulfillment costs, inbound costs and shipping costs. Combined, these drivers can make a major difference in an order’s profitability.

Consider the manufacturer of outdoor goods that typically sells to big box retailers. During COVID, this company began shipping directly to consumers when more people started placing orders online. Shipping a pallet of 25 outdoor umbrellas to a large retailer at no charge was a profitable venture. On the other hand, free shipping for those 9-foot, 75-pound umbrellas bound for 25 different households via Parcel takes a huge chunk out of the bottom line.

This is a situation where evaluating SKUs based on the price that customers pay doesn’t work. Offers like “Buy $50 in merchandise and get free shipping” can further complicate the circumstances. Complexity increases when orders must be shipped in multiple boxes—a reality that quickly consumes the profitability on any order. 

Find a Margin Management Partner to do the Heavy Lifting

Resource Guide called "You Shipped it, but Did it Make Money" offers strategies to support margin management.

Without good transportation analytics, SKU profitability becomes an expensive guessing game. And the more SKUs you’re selling, the more complex your margin management profile will be. 

Avoiding these problems requires a pick-and-axe approach similar to what Coca-Cola is using to whittle down its brand portfolio. If you don’t have the time, staff, or technology in-house to manage it on your own, Transportation Insight is here to do the heavy lifting for you.

To help you better understand all that’s required in determining SKU profitability, we created “You Shipped it, but … Did it Make Any Money?” Download it today for strategies that will help you protect profitability on every order.

You Ramped Up E-Commerce Shipping for COVID…Now What?

The effort didn’t go unnoticed. 

Comparing year-over-year e-commerce sales, DigitalCommerce360 says volume was up 76% in June. And while that increase leveled off at 55% for July 2020, e-commerce sales are still up 55% year-over-year for the first seven months of the year. 

Retailers are driving much of that growth as many completely changed their distribution models (either permanently or temporarily) away from brick-and-mortar and over to alternative online fulfillment strategies. Already underway pre-pandemic, the movement to sell more online accelerated rapidly once B2B and B2C customers started placing more orders from their laptops and mobile devices. 

Reacting quickly to an event that hit fast, hard and unexpectedly, companies made e-commerce shipping decisions based on a desperate need to stay in business. As a result, those decisions do not always include a complete analysis of the true cost of shipping those goods to customers. As added costs emerge, including peak parcel surcharges from UPS and FedEx, the true cost picture becomes blurry. 

It’s time for a thorough assessment of exactly what your COVID-related e-commerce strategy is costing your company.

Take a Step Back, Assess E-Commerce Costs

As you continue to hone your business model to accommodate e-commerce growth and changing customer demands, it is time to take a step back and truly assess the costs associated with these models. 

Many of these companies will continue handling more e-commerce volume than they did pre-COVID (even with their physical stores opening again). Managing both sides of the equation profitably requires a thorough investigation of the true cost of shipping and a strategy that factors in customers’ needs with organizational profitability. 

Companies should also weed out their “losing” SKUs, assess shipping costs right down to the package level, practice good margin management across the entire organization, utilize data for good decision-making, and work with a reputable logistics partner. 

Master E-Commerce Shipping, Master Order Profitability

Continue shipping products without closely examining the time, effort and money that goes into sending out each package and you will soon find yourself underwater. As pandemic pushed e-commerce sales and residential orders to new heights, was your organization among those that raced into reactive mode?

Do you know the true cost of your e-commerce shipping decisions? You can not afford to ignore this problem.

To help you master your response to online demand, our Supply Chain Masters created “You Shipped It, but … Did It Make Money?” Read today and access strategies to protect profitability for every order and every customer.

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.

Manage Surcharges: 4 Things to Know for Holiday Season

Less predictable, peak surcharges are creating additional complexity for parcel pricing, especially as UPS announces its holiday peak season surcharges. These new charges come in addition to similar costs in place the past few months. Combined, it is a difficult environment to manage surcharges.

For example, a parcel carrier may announce a general rate increase of 4.9%, but this is an average taken across all services, weight breaks, and zones. In reality, many rate increases are above 6% when applied to a shipper’s actual volume. 

Predictable by nature, these annual increases are usually baked into the “cost of doing business” for shippers, many of which understand that the GRI impact on their transportation rates is at least an increase of about 5% annually. 

Now, carriers are introducing accessorial surcharges at different times throughout the year in response to seasonal demand swings and business peaks. These unexpected peak season surcharges can be difficult to manage, especially during a global pandemic when dynamic shifts are occurring across the marketplace. 

Here are four things all shippers should know about peak season surcharges in 2020.

  1. Peak Season Surcharges Becoming Routine It pays to stay on top of these variations and respond accordingly. Companies that take proactive measures to offset pending surcharges are often best positioned to maintain profitability, protect their bottom lines, and keep their customers happy (and coming back for more).

    Alongside existing peak surcharges implemented earlier in 2020, UPS announced it will increase surcharges for the holiday season. Starting Nov. 15, surcharges on Ground, SurePost and domestic Air services will increase to between $1 and $4 per package, depending on the shippers’ parcel volume. At a minimum, that triples the increases implemented May 31.
  2. Parcel Carriers Felt the COVID-19 Impact During the traditional holiday season, UPS and FedEx often start hiring up to six months ahead of time. They also require larger shippers to provide volume estimates to support capacity planning. Staffed and trained, the carriers position everyone for success during the busiest time of the year. 

    These proactive moves weren’t possible during the global pandemic, and that’s precisely why the surcharges surfaced quickly in 2020.
  3. Residential Deliveries Bear the Brunt of COVID Surcharges Surcharges surfaced quickly in 2020, with higher costs on residential deliveries and large package shipments to homes and businesses quickly consuming the carriers’ margins. In response, UPS and FedEx implemented peak surcharges for U.S. domestic residential shipments and large/oversize packages due to the increased demand. UPS implemented the new charges on May 31, and FedEx quickly followed on June 8. 

    Not all shippers were caught in this particular surcharge web. Some charges solely affected large shippers with significant increases in residential deliveries compared to their average pre-pandemic weekly volume from Feb. 2 and Feb. 29, 2020.
  4. Advance Peak Season Surcharge Planning Isn’t Easy Budget planning to manage surcharges isn’t easy in an environment where these increases can arise unexpectedly. No one was prepared for the massive impacts of COVID-19, for example, so shippers had little (or no) time to prepare in advance for the surcharges. 

    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. 

Avoid Peak Season Surcharge Shock

As you plan your transportation spend for the remainder of 2020 and into 2021, be sure to factor in the reality of “unexpected” 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. At the same time, in the wake of COVID-19, expect significant changes in the last-mile delivery environment, especially in terms of pricing complexity.

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

Remember the proverb: forewarned is forearmed. Prior knowledge of a potential issue will always give you a tactical advantage.

To help you avoid surcharge surprises, 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.

Post-Pandemic Tactics for E-Commerce Logistics Advantage

Before COVID-19, businesses looking to build an e-commerce presence were hamstrung by the lack of speed in developing their current labor pool with the skills required for e-commerce, as well as fulfillment automation capability. Others dabbled in a web storefront strategy. These companies typically lacked the sophisticated technology, generally a good Warehouse Management System (WMS), needed to pick multiple orders to a cart and then have them quickly and accurately auto-sorted through a RF or mobile device. The result was unsustainable inefficiencies. We saw that e-fulfillment costs in some cases exceeded 25 percent of sales.

In the meantime, Amazon.com, which controlled about half of all U.S. e-commerce going into the crisis, kicked into high gear during it. At one point during the crisis Amazon customers spent as much as $11,000 a second on its products and services. By contrast, nearly 1 million traditional retail workers were furloughed in one week, and more than 250,000 stores had shut down. Many stores may never reopen, or may look very different going forward. The same goes for fulfillment centers. Many have and will continue to be physically modified to ensure worker safety. The flow of operations may need to be modified as well.

For many e-tailers, the “new normal” of e-commerce will be challenging and may seem insurmountable, but getting to the other side is doable. 

E-Commerce Logistics Strategy for the New Normal

Understand what current state looks like in the new normal − starting with your cost per-order. 

Are your costs segmented by freight, management and supervision, labor, facilities and shipping supplies?

Then understand what and how these costs can be managed, optimized and reduced. Typically, freight costs exceed the sum of the other components. Reducing freight dollars spent per revenue dollars created should be an immediate focus. 

The questions to ask from this point are critical to the next step. 

  • Is your network aligned to best serve the customer? 
  • Are your shipping lanes optimized? 
  • Are you using the best shipping partners to meet your strategic goals? 

Stay on top of your rates. Evaluate them frequently, and renegotiate them when appropriate. 

This is where collaborating with a seasoned logistics expert adds enormous value to you e-commerce platform. Our long and deep relationships with carriers, our data analytics and information mining expertise and our proprietary audit technology platform give you end-to-end visibility to answer those key questions.

Align Your Operations and Your Network

Once your network is optimized, it is time to consider how your operations play into that. What questions can quickly be addressed?

By asking these questions and making some quick, deployable solutions, you can improve your profitability profile in short order.  

Benchmark your service-level performance with best-in-class metrics. How does your fulfillment center operation compare with leaders in the field? 

Focus strongly on the efficiency of your picking and packing operations, which can account for more than half the cost of your order outside of outbound shipping. A thorough analysis of your fulfillment center process will yield changes to improve operations and reduce costs.

Apply technologies where it makes financial sense and where it fits your growth plans. Many legacy WMS applications were designed to manage fulfillment orders in pre-determined waves. They were not optimized to manage the unpredictable flows of e-commerce traffic. Today’s technology is built to allow orders to be picked for store and e-commerce simultaneously. This enables businesses to leverage inventory buys to achieve economies of scale.

Also, consider a multi-fulfillment center strategy, including BOPIS strategies. These can expedite orders to consumers quicker and reduce shipping costs. Facilities expansion can carry with it significant operating expense. An expert partner with a robust portfolio of data, expertise and carrier relationships can support your decision-making on this critical issue. 

Improvement Focus Drives Customer Experience

Above all, be consistent with ongoing process improvements. Don’t consider e-commerce logistics just a project, it is a process that has to be constantly improving. Companies that dedicate full-time employees to process improvements are those that make the biggest strides. 

Analyze your facility space requirements, and how labor is being utilized. Be open to suggestions on how to improve productivity and boost customer satisfaction. Make it a part of your corporate culture.

According to a recent study, millennial consumers who account for about $1.2 trillion in U.S. retail sales say they value the “experience” that accompanies an online order as much as the product itself. The “Generation Z” group coming up behind the Millennials shares those sentiments. 

At the core of that experience is fast, timely delivery supported by in-transit visibility across multiple digital platforms. Succeed in executing on that final step, and you will achieve favorable word of mouth that can help build a brand. Fail, and that brand may not get a second bite.

Those attitudes were in place well before Covid-19. And they are unlikely to diminish. It is both an enormous opportunity, and daunting challenge. Is your e-commerce strategy ready?

Master Logistics, Power Competitive Advantage

You invest a lot of money in your logistics network. But are you maximizing its value? Do you feel like your logistics operation is more of a cost center than a tool of competitive advantage?

It doesn’t have to be. In fact, with the right strategy and execution, logistics can drive the success of your enterprise. Companies like Amazon, Walmart, Target and Dell made logistics a priority, with spectacular results. There is no reason you can’t do the same!

To master your logistics strategy, read “Moving to the Front of the Line: Making Logistics a Competitive Advantage.”

How E-Commerce is Driving the Supply Web Evolution

Many aspects of our life may be changed forever. Air travel shut down virtually overnight, with no indication on when we can fly to see friends and loved ones across the country. It’s not uncommon to see retail store shelves barren of the cleaning items we take for granted, leaving some to seek these necessities through less-traditional channels. Additionally, when shoppers do visit mega-stores, their carts are usually filled with groceries instead of household items, appliances and clothing.

Will isolation and social distancing cause a permanent change in shopping behavior? Will e-commerce become the new way Americans get their vital needs? A shift in consumer trends could have serious implications for retailers, their entire supply network and the overarching logistics strategies applied around the planet.

Why do companies need to pay attention to the spike in e-commerce orders?

With federal and state guidelines suggesting that everyone stay at home, online shopping increased in popularity. The online demand is so significant that Amazon is conditioning customers to not shop excessively on its platform. Meanwhile, e-tailers are overwhelmed with requests. We’re also seeing this trend among our customers as well. One customer – a chain of home improvement stores – recently asked for our help managing a skyrocketing e-commerce business that required an adjustment in their freight and parcel strategy.

The end consumer may see nothing wrong with this change. Online shopping is more convenient, requires less effort, and happens either over the phone or online. But for retailers and distributors, a growing e-commerce demand creates many issues on the back end.

While the growth of e-commerce has been the big story over the past decade, it still represents less than 20 percent of all retail sales overall. If that volume doubles, could your business sustainably make money?

Our research tells us that the largest companies are spending more time focusing on e-commerce profitability. Direct order fulfillment costs can easily exceed 25 percent of sales, which creates a precarious balance for companies offering direct-to-consumer service. Slim profit margins in brick-and-mortar retail add complexity. In the best situations, in-store sales only yields a profit margin of three percent.

If your e-commerce channels aren’t optimized for success, growing the channel is expensive at best, and unsustainable at its worst.

An inconvenient truth: environmental concerns from e-commerce

Another issue to consider is the environmental impact of online shopping. Fulfilling digital orders requires additional resources, including packing materials, corrugated boxes, additional fulfillment centers and waste handling. On top of that are emissions from trucks making last-mile deliveries and returns to homes across the United States.

All of the packaging and air pollutants have to go somewhere. While corrugated boxes and most packaging can be recycled, there’s never a full recovery of those materials. Although emissions can be reduced, we’re a long way from net-zero emissions globally.

These two challenges illustrate why the supply chain needs to change. We are no longer in a world where the supply network is one straight line from source to consumer. Instead, retailers and distributors need to work together to discover new ways to manage commerce through a supply web.

E-commerce as a catalyst to the supply web

As our world looks to e-commerce as a potentially permanent shopping solution, now is the time to start the transformation from a supply chain to a supply web. There are many different reasons why the supply web provides better solutions for both your company, distribution points and end consumers.

A supply chain suggests freight moves in one direction: from the source to the distribution center and then out to the retailer or customer. However, this model may create several unnecessary steps. For instance: if a customer makes an online order, the supply chain implies the product goes from its source point to the consumer. Under a supply web model, the order can go from the retailer or manufacturer to the closest distributor for fulfillment. The customer gets their order faster from the closest point, without the need for excessive shipping or re-packaging.

One of our clients in the construction industry recently transformed their supply chain into a web model. Instead of taking everything in at one center and re-distributing through smaller fulfillment centers, freight began moving from overseas into two different distribution centers that fed other centers in their network. This gain in shipping efficiency ensured customers could get orders in days instead of weeks.

Measuring the efficiency of the supply web is critical to success. Transportation Insight has tools which enable your e-commerce team to understand key performance indicators and drive success. Our margin management tool enables shippers to determine profitability by both dimension and SKU. It quickly identifies cost-killing areas of your e-commerce offering such as SKUs that drive split-package orders, excessive freight expense, high cube, high service expense or long zones.

The second key tool available through Transportation Insight is our supply chain and value stream mapping expertise. We develop a graphical representation of where your items, information and finances are coming from and going to. By mapping out your flows in this manner, we identify gaps and risks that can be mitigated through actionable plans and network optimization.

The significant profitability and sustainability challenges of e-commerce fulfillment are here to stay. By transitioning to a supply web model, your company can not only find better routes to profitability online, but also drive long-term, sustainable results.

Serve Customers With a Personalized Supply Chain

Society’s sudden move to a shelter-in-place and work-from-home environment dramatically affected buying behaviors, and, in the process, expectations increased on companies responding to demand.

Organizations equipped with an agile, customer-centric supply chain network are capitalizing by evolving their service to the current environment. Distributors are re-locating inventory to meet emergent demand for products needed to support COVID-19 response in specific geographies. Retailers have kept Americans fed and working by adjusting online fulfillment strategies to utilize brick-and-mortar curbside pick-up or alternate home delivery methods. Manufacturers are drop-shipping products directly to homes to meet newfound interests in exercise.

As customer preferences carry even greater weight in modern supply network planning, the organizations with a holistic network view will deliver the most cost-effective shipping strategies that empower choice-conscious clients.

Customers Take Control

In 2016, parcel and express delivery volume bypassed railroads to become the second-largest transportation sector behind motor freight, according to the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals’ 28th Annual State of Logistics Report. With that leap, consumers seized control of logistics spending and “supply chain as we’ve known it” changed forever.

In the past, traditional retail strategies put the brand in control, using a push-based system with consumers at the end of the supply chain. Throughout the rest of the supply network, past experience drove inventory decisions, and product was pushed to stores based on what consumers “should” like and purchase.

Ongoing expansion of e-commerce has increasingly shifted decision-making for many organizations toward the customer experience. With the outbreak of COVID-19, historical buying behaviors are no longer valid and the consumer is in charge now more than ever. Companies that didn’t have a consumer-centric approach are adapting to survive.

Adopting a consumer-centric approach isn’t automatic, however. It requires thorough understanding of your customers’ preferences from point of purchase to final delivery.

Consumer Behaviors Changing Forever

While society has steadily shifted more buying to online platforms, COVID-19 sent more people online to buy a broader array of products than ever before.

In March, online grocery sales hit an all-time high. And in April, online grocery retailers topped that record by about 37%, according to survey data from grocery consultant Brick Meets Click (BMC) and research firm Symphony RetailAI.

Driving the sales growth was a 33.3% increase in the total number of orders: 62.5 million in April vs. 46.9 million in March. Spending per order grew more modestly, as did the number of online grocery shoppers.

Retailers like Wal-Mart and Target are reporting record online sales growth as well, giving further evidence that more buyers are turning to e-commerce sales channels for everyday needs. As the convenience of online buying appeals to a broader population, the need for diverse delivery options will increase, just as it has since parcel transportation took the No. 2 spot in logistics spend in 2016.

Effectively fulfilling those customer delivery demands requires a transportation strategy supported by multi-modal expertise and technology. Transportation management systems that integrate vital transportation information from freight and parcel service providers, along with historical shipping data, can offer a strong basis for decisions that improve customer service and protect bottom line profitability.

A Case for a Personalized Supply Chain

Organizations that can create a supply chain personalized to the expectations and behaviors of their customers can achieve greater brand loyalty. By allowing customers more control over their delivery experience, brands can create greater loyalty and improve customer retention.

At the same time, the shippers that establish a nimble network can rapidly respond to fluctuations in supply and demand and capitalize on opportunities for growth.

To learn more about creating a truly personalized supply chain that serves your customers’ needs, read Transportation Insight’s Guide to Mastering Your Supply Chain.

In it, we share more data about emerging customer trends as well as strategies and tactics to create a stronger supply chain that ultimately drives growth. Read it today to evolve your supply chain to meet your customers changing fulfillment and delivery needs.