Freight Rates: 2021 Truckload Outlook

Even within the past six months, many rates have spiked. For instance, in May, national dry van rates averaged $1.60. By October, they had shot up to $2.42 – a jump of more than 50 percent in five months. Similarly, flatbed rates rose from an average of $1.90 in May to $2.46 by October. So, while many rates appear to be holding steady, they’re doing so at high levels. 

In addition, aside from a potential increase in demand for vans leading into the holidays, the typical seasonality in demand and rates appears to have taken a hiatus. Instead, pockets of higher demand are driving rates even higher in some areas, such as the Pacific Northwest and southern California. 

Demand for flatbed trucks remains strong across the country. Demand for refrigerated truckloads is loosening but remains high in the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest. 

Driving the Market

One reason for the rate increases is a drop in capacity. While overall shipping tonnage is down, the number of available drivers is as well. Many smaller trucking shops may have left the market, driven out by a challenging mix of COVID-19 and rising insurance premiums, some resulting from high jury verdicts awarded in the aftermath of accidents. And mid-sized carriers have been reluctant to add equipment and drivers in this turbulent time.

In some cases, drivers face prohibitions stemming from violations logged in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. While the shipping and carrier community support safety in trucking, this does represent a significant decrease in available drivers. According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA) as of Oct. 1, As of Oct. 1, more than 34,000 drivers were prohibited from getting back on the road because they had registered a violation. Of those, close to 27,000 had not started the process required before returning to their jobs. 

In total, about 74,000 transportation industry jobs have been lost or furloughed, or about 5 percent of the base, between late 2019 and late 2020.

Moving Into 2021

It might appear that the rise in Class 8 truck sales would offset the drop in drivers. According to J.D. Power’s October 2020 Commercial Truck Guidelines Industry Review, sales of the three most common sleeper tractors – those three to seven years old – has been generally rising throughout 2020, and then spiked in July. However, new truck sales equipment may not be available until mid- to late-2021. Moreover, many of these sales are for replacement equipment, rather than expansion. As a result, they are unlikely to add significantly to capacity. 

The conclusion of the presidential and other elections, assuming they occur in a relatively straightforward manner, may spark consumer confidence. In turn, that might drive shipping volumes – a generally positive outcome, but one that may further constrain capacity.

The disruption in the small package market may mean some of those shipments move to the LTL market, and a percentage of those then head to the truckload market. Similarly, ongoing challenges and chaos in the international and intermodal market may lead to more shipments moving to truckload. All of these will, of course, further constrain capacity.

In light of the factors affecting the truckload market, Transportation Insight (TI) forecasts rate increases of 3-5 percent for our clients that contract with carriers. Rate increases in the spot market likely will be 5-7 percent. 

In working on behalf of our clients to negotiate rates, we take a lane-by-lane and market-by-market approach. This targets those carriers whose rates appear out of alignment with the market, focused on our goal of leveraging relationships to help bring them into alignment. Shippers gain some protection from the overall increases that might not be available without those relationships.

More Truckload Change Coming

A couple of changes in the truckload sector may have a positive impact on shipments. One is the shift from some national carriers growing their regional presence to rejuvenating their long-haul network. Regional focus is an attempt to entice drivers with more time at home, but with specific market disruptions caused by COVID-19, some carriers are looking to diversify their lane mix. The flipside: this could pull additional congestion off the rail to feed these long haul fleets and add pressure to over-the-road capacity.

Another shift is the increasing use of data, such as score-carding and monitoring, by both carriers and shippers. Early in this shift to monitoring and managing, some carriers worried that data would replace the relationships they cultivated with their customers. 

The opposite appears to be occurring. The data tends to allow for more dialogue and planning, helping to strengthen relationships. In addition, it allows quality carriers to quantitatively demonstrate they can provide the reliability and service shippers require. 

Navigating a Changed Market

In the current truckload market, shippers that have taken steps to become shippers of choice tend to benefit with greater commitment by the carriers with whom they partner. This can mean, for instance, shippers provide longer lead-times and some flexibility on pickup times. Both enable carriers to schedule their routes more efficiently.

It also helps to keep in mind that the rate increases happening now will not last forever. The truckload market tends to self-correct; as rates increase, more drivers enter the field and supply and demand start to balance out. In the meantime, however, it helps to expect some volatility to continue. 

To help you navigate that volatility across all transportation modes in your supply chain, we created the Rate Outlook 2021. It provides a forecast for transportation rates in Parcel, LTL and International, as well as truckload. Read it today for information that will help you mitigate risk and control cost across your network. Watch the webinar with our freight rate experts for more guidance on brokerage and carrier capacity planning in 2021.

Why Audit Parcel Service Now? Here’s 4 Reasons

If you don’t think the delivery experience is directly related to customer retention, think again. According to Dimensional Research, of customers who report a bad experience, almost all of them (97 percent) changed their future buying decisions. Further, 58 percent stopped buying from the company, more than half went to a different company for the product or service, and 52 percent told others not to buy the product or service. 

Maybe the shipment was late, perhaps it was damaged, maybe it was delivered to the wrong house, or perhaps the shipping label was wrong in the first place. In the small package shipping environment, it is hard to have awareness of the problem without parcel audit validating the service received.

Whatever caused the problem, the bottom line is that this and other issues could be making you lose customers right at a time when no company can afford to have this happen. Between the global pandemic, the economic recession, and the business volatility occurring in most industries, organizations need to be at the top of their games when it comes to customer service. 

$1.50 Per Package Adds Up Fast

No matter how much customers love your product, many won’t come back if the experience is not good. This should be reason enough to conduct frequent service audits. 

There are also other reasons, some of which do not relate to the customer experience. For example, Transportation Insight recently worked with a shipper that noticed a significant change in its per-package shipping costs. After a service audit, it realized that its cost-per-package had increased by about $1.50 due to a billing adjustment error made by the carrier (for early-morning deliveries). 

Had the shipper not conducted that analysis, there’s no telling when it would have recognized that it was being overcharged by $1.50 per package. Multiply that number times thousands of shipments per year and the value of frequent service audits becomes crystal clear.  

Why Bother Auditing?

With service guarantees being waived right now, many companies are wondering if they still need to audit their invoices and charges. The answer is “yes,” and here’s why: even with these waivers, there are still a high number of errors and ways to ferret out savings on pretty much any transportation bill. 

For example, shippers are still being hit with duplicate charges and other billing errors on top of late, incorrect and damaged shipments — problems that can directly impact customer service and retention. With fewer drivers on the road and higher demand for parcel capacity — largely due to the massive uptick in e-commerce shopping — both loss and damage incidences have increased. 

By auditing every package to make sure it’s successfully delivered, companies can manage the loss and damage process from start to finish. Audits can also uncover data regarding insufficient packaging and ensure that payments are accurate and on time. In fact, auditing is a great risk management tool that companies can use during both peak and regular seasons.    

Here are four more reasons why you need to continue service audits:

  • Good visibility into what you’re actually paying. The audit platform you use should break down carrier invoice details to the charge level to analyze all peak season surcharges, rates, and discounts. This year, we’ve seen a number of rate errors and worked on our clients’ behalf to recover over $1.4 million in savings. We’re also identifying duplicate charges and billing errors at the charge level, which is impossible to do without an invoice audit in place.
  • Make sure it gets there on time and in one piece. Sure, some service guarantees are waived right now, but shippers should still want to audit every package to ensure it is delivered and not lost in transit or damaged. This year, we’ve seen the perfect storm of greater-than-usual demand, fewer drivers, and more retailers shipping items that normally would be purchased and picked up in store. Without a doubt, that’s caused an increase in lost and damaged packages. 
  • Tracking losses and damages. The best approach is to manage the entire loss and damage process from identification to resolution and recovery. So far this year, Transportation Insight has secured over $1.7 million in loss and damage savings, and all while providing data regarding insufficient packaging details down to the SKU level. This is particularly helpful for companies that are introducing new products and/or shipping with new vendors.  
  • Pay accurate bills on time. The data collected during a service audit provides insights into how new surcharges or new carrier rules will impact transportation and the related costs. For example, FedEx recently announced a new late-payment fee effective January 2021. Using a compliance audit, companies can keep close tabs on these types of fees and either avoid them completely (by paying on time) or correcting errors (by flagging erroneous late fees). With so many staffing changes and work-from-home scenarios taking place in 2020, shippers need to be especially careful about paying their carrier invoices correctly and on time.

Helping You Rest Easier

Transportation Insight is the only parcel audit and logistics solution provider that undergoes an annual SOC 1 Type II third-party compliance audit. We check every parcel package within your supply chain to make sure you’re getting the service you selected at your contracted price. For example, if your company is paying for guaranteed service, Saturday pickup or delivery, or other services, we’ll make sure you get them. We also check for invalid pickup, as well as identify and follow up on lost or damaged packages.

Possessing deep industry expertise, our parcel team also monitors ongoing changes in the small package environment to help keep shippers apprised of the emerging cost-drivers that affect their profitable performance. 

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.

Carrier Surcharges: What’s the Real Impact?

Now we know more peak 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.