E-Commerce Logistics Demands, COVID-19 Empower Ocean Alliances

Although there is still a slim chance that the fourth quarter produces some rate compression – or a downturn in the need for e-commerce logistics. When freight levels are at an all-time high, there is little motivation for the three major shipping alliances to drop rates significantly during the remaining calendar year.

Shippers looking to 2021 would be wise to consider contingency budgeting – especially if you are a major importer competing in a supply chain environment that continues to be affected by ongoing growth in online sales and e-commerce logistics.

Likewise, there has never been a more important time to reassess your entire import supply chain to validate compliance with evolving trade regulations. Emerging pinch points in the international supply chain are elevating risk for shippers who must be prepared to address traditional risk areas that carry a financial impact.

As we have stated since early 2019, contingency planning must be the part of your monthly and sometimes weekly business plans. Diversification in foreign sourcing has never been more critical, particularly in an election season that has pushed global trade forward as individual candidates differentiating issue.  

Close review of the international transportation landscape can lay the groundwork for developing strategies that mitigate that risk heading into 2021.

Alliances Take Control Amid E-Commerce Boom

Consumer behaviors are shifting the traditional retail models, and the unchecked growth of e-commerce is keeping the global supply chain packed with product. 

Credit some of that international freight volume to the rapid production and movement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in response to a global health crisis. At the same time, retail supply chains have been irreversibly impacted by the functional success of e-commerce. Until some of the demand cycles in both realms stabilize, predicting ocean shipping rates will be a challenge.

More importantly, the three major shipping alliances response to COVID-19 demands the attention of organizations that rely on global commerce and e-commerce logistics. Vessel operators have shown remarkable discipline by matching supply to demand volatility.

During the first half of the year, the three alliances (2M, Ocean Alliance and THE Alliance) constricted supply by canceling dozens of scheduled voyages with the intent to remove excess capacity. However the net effect was scarcity of space, i.e. rates were increased monthly or bi-weekly and started to build. Representing 21 ocean vessel operators and roughly 10 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEU), these alliances have maintained rate discipline as the retail supply chain began to open in July in August. 

In the past, increased demand for service and the prospect of rate increase motivated operators to add sailings. With a strategic approach that ensures vessels are filled before others are added, ocean carriers keep upward pressure on rates that are roughly 80 percent higher in a year-over-year comparison to 2019.

This strategy supports a more dependable service for international shippers as it creates more reliability for in-country logistics operators, but if the alliances maintain this discipline, plan for rates to stay elevated. Solid bookings will continue through October and contingency budgeting should be a focus for major importers.

Persisting Pinch Points Create Risk

As we approach what has traditionally been a calm period at the end of the e-commerce logistics peak season, the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are at capacity. Historically higher volume for this time of year will undoubtedly spur downstream challenges deep into Q4 and into 2021. 

Finding available chasses to support container movements will continue to be a problem into December. As these containers and chasses (to a lesser degree) move in country and on the rail, it is hard to balance the need for equipment during a disruption-filled year like we’ve had. Vessels hoping to expedite movement for the last wave of peak season freight to North America are now waiting for containers to come back to port so that have something to load and ship. 

We know there will be an end to this kind of imbalance, but we have not gotten there yet.

The timing has never been greater for organizations to assess their entire import and export supply chain. Look for places to increase efficiency. Identify pinch points that elevate risk that emerges in times of global volatility. At this point, organizations should have complete awareness of the supply chain challenges arising during COVID-19 and address their preparedness for the next global disruption, both economically and around traditional risk areas. 

Trade Regulations and Tariff Battles Require Eye on Compliance

Plaintiffs representing a diverse set of industries are suing the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) for relief from China 301 tariffs. The argument: tariffs implemented without sufficient advanced notice caused unfair and improper financial harm to their organizations. Many shippers have been negatively impacted, some to a crippling point, and they are looking for any dollars they can get.

These organizations – including some of the world’s largest brands – will not likely get complete relief, but their actions demonstrate that businesses will not sit idle when trade laws are put in place, as they argue, without warning.

Meanwhile, implementation of the trade regulations intended to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement continues to carry some unexpected consequences.

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is having the largest effect on businesses close to the automotive supply chain, but many companies were lulled into thinking there would be limited changes in the new agreement. Updated documentation is required to execute cross border entries. Make sure to review your international trade compliance processes to avoid this type of needless risk caused by what seems like a simple change in regulations. 

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.

Budget Planning 2021: 9 Supply Chain Things to Know

The booming e-commerce marketplace opens access to new segments of consumers seeking direct delivery on a growing list of staples previously procured through brick-and-mortar channels. Meanwhile, end users seeking personal protective equipment, sanitizers, cleaning supplies and other products required for contagion response will create new revenue streams for organizations nimble enough to shift supply chains and adjust processes to meet fluctuating demand.

Responding in this environment, executives who prioritize supply chain strategy will be best positioned to not only meet and exceed customer expectations, but also control costs that jeopardize bottom line profit.

Looking ahead to the remainder of 2020 here are some looming trends I expect to emerge, as well as recommendations for how a supply chain master can continue to control business performance, even through the disruptions that are bound to happen in 2021.

4 Supply Chain Predictions Influencing 2021 Planning

Looking ahead to the remainder of 2020, ongoing marketplace awareness informs a few predictions that will determine priorities for 2021.

  • The recovery will be a saw tooth, with an upward trend. There will be ups and downs as economic activity re-emerges, particularly in regions that experience fluctuating levels of COVID-19 outbreak and control. Companies have to really protect themselves for that and plan alternative ways to serve their customers and compensate for workforce disruption. As Gartner points out, the path to recovery will be unique for every organization as they respond, recover and renew.

  • Companies that deal in non-essential goods will struggle, and they need to be the most agile. Consumer spending will continue to shift, largely toward e-commerce channels. There’s going to be fluctuating demand for hand sanitizers, cleaning products and personal protective equipment. A lot of companies can maintain workforce in the manufacturing realm by pivoting to secondary products that support pandemic response and recovery. Expect demand spikes, particularly related to the back-to-school and Christmas shopping seasons. Organizations impeded by shipping limitations, will depend on a nimble supply chain to access available shipping channels.
  • Boards and executives will expect robust contingency planning to deal with disruptions. Contingency planning is one of the most critical pieces that informs everything else about how you respond to another likely disruption, whether it be a COVID relapse, an unexpected stop in production or depletion of raw materials.
  • Companies that invest in process and technology during this time will see the best long-term growth. These companies will be in the best position to take advantage of consolidation in their respective industries.

Five Recommendations for 2021 Planning

Organizations creating budget plans for 2021 should consider these recommendations to maintain customer service levels while controlling costs.

  • Treat the 2021 budget as a range and be prepared to adjust as conditions on the ground evolve. In many ways budgeting will be a guessing game, and companies need to put together a plan based on contingencies. When revenue doesn’t meet expectations, have a plan for cost-cutting measures to implement. If earnings swing the other way, identify investments to make. Executive leaders must commit to evolving cost management so that scarce resources and funds consistently flow to the most valuable business outcomes.

  • Leverage supply chain resources to determine corporate impact (cost, service, risk) of plans produced by the other departments (sales, procurement etc.). Experts working in supply chain possess analytical capabilities and a global picture of an organization’s total business. This supports acute awareness of the control levers that affect cost and service. When you put supply chain masters in the role of trusted advisor, they are in the best position to help those executives and leadership boards navigate tumultuous waters.
  • Take a partnership approach with all relationships. The supply chain is dependent on everyone succeeding. Often, by working with an expert supply chain partner you can access end-to-end transparency that facilitates more opportunities across your network. That visibility allows you to be a better partner to your domestic and foreign vendors. With good clear communication around sales information, time-in-shipping data and other key performance indicators, you can help predict when you will need to reorder supplies and track trends that can help drive production guidelines. This supports a workflow that keeps your shelves stocked with the right items, and customers happy with the efficiencies of their orders.
  • Aggressively evaluate the entire supply chain and take an open-minded approach to the long-term structure. Ensure the supply chain strategy aligns with corporate strategy – and leverage analysis and expertise to inform that strategy. This is especially important as e-commerce demands continue to drive increased expectations for flexibility in customers’ end delivery options. You may be getting product shipped out the door – but are you making any money on it?
  • Low water exposes a lot of rocks. Take the opportunity to evaluate internal processes and systems. Balancing resiliency and efficiency, supply chain leaders can secure their networks. A recent Gartner survey revealed that only 21 percent of respondents believe their supply chain is resilient enough to provide “good visibility and the agility to shift sourcing, manufacturing and distribution activities around fairly rapidly.”

A global pandemic changed priorities for many supply chain leaders, elevating the agility of their network alongside the balance of service and cost. As Gartner points out, more than half of its survey respondents expect their supply networks to be “highly resilient” within two to three years. 

Master your 2021 Budget Planning

The first half of 2020 provided painful lessons for many organizations, some of which still face jeopardy. The businesses that quickly adapted to dramatic marketplace changes have often done so through an effective strategy for risk management. 

Future success relies on your ability to assess potential risks that exist in your network and create alternative ways to plan demand response. Contingency planning today, especially in light of network weaknesses revealed in the past six months, will position your business to not only weather the storm but also seize growth opportunities.

While you are in the midst of managing your business, a supply chain master can provide the risk assessment and strategic planning required to establish a flexible responsive network. With that, you will always satisfy customers in the most cost-effective way.

3 Alternative Ways to Reduce Parcel Shipping Costs

In practice, organizations have developed tried-and-true solutions to help control parcel shipping costs. For example, one common tactic is to eliminate late deliveries, which limits the need to rush-ship as many items and reduces the total cost of parcel shipping. This low-hanging fruit does not have to be where the savings stop. Here are three alternative parcel management strategies you can employ to reduce expenses and get more value from your carrier relationships.

1. Deal With Address Corrections

Any lost or delayed shipment represents sunk cost. You will either have to send another product to the customer or deal with customer support calls from a frustrated client seeking answers about why their parcel did not arrive on time. Sometimes losses and delays are unavoidable. They also happen for some surprisingly simple reasons. One of the more common issues that affects delivery is an improper address. You could run into a situation in which:

  • An address is listed in an unconventional format, causing an automated scanner to flag it as incorrect and send a correction request back to you. This leads to delays in getting the package out for delivery.
  • A listing does not comply with the carrier’s regulations for address listing and coding, causing the carrier to hold the package until you correct the situation.
  • A consistently incorrect address sends packages to the wrong units within a business park or multi-unit dwelling, creating confusion for customers, potential for theft and delays in delivery.
  • A failure to update addresses for customers who move or request an alternative shipment destination leads to packages being sent to the wrong location.

In any of these cases, you could be required to recover and/or resend packages. You may need to replace a shipment entirely. Setting address compliance standards and analyzing your database for data quality and policy compliance is vital to eliminating unnecessary costs.

2. Prevent Shipper Error

Vendor compliance is not always cut and dry. You may encounter situations of improper account number usage, leading to costs for something you did not ship. For example, a retailer may use a distributor for one of its jacket brands. When the distributor gets an order, it knows to use the account number for that retailer. However, if one of the distributor’s dock workers or order entry employees applies the account number to the wrong shipment, the retailer could be left paying to deliver somebody else’s product.

On an isolated basis, these errors may not be particularly expensive. Over time, the costs can add up quickly, leaving you paying a hefty bill to ship another company’s goods. If you attach a P.O. number or order number to each shipment, you can analyze each shipment in your account, verify that rules have been followed and prevent errors.

3. Protect Against Fraud

Imagine an employee knows your account number and is authorized to make shipments. How can you prevent that employee from using those details to send gifts to friends or using your company’s assets for personal purchases? If you cannot track every shipment easily, this small fraud can go undetected. When you track order numbers or P.O. numbers, you can eliminate this type of fraud entirely.

Internal compliance rules can also let you attach account numbers to locations. If an account number is designed for goods that will ship from a specific location, any item under that account number shipping from an alternative location would raise a red flag. There may not be a problem in some cases, such as a vendor shipping from a backup warehouse due to unexpected supply limitations. But it can also be a sign that vendors are creating additional expense because they are not complying with service level agreements.

Maximizing Value Potential

Taken in isolation, these errors or fraud instances may not cause significant damage. Over time, at volume, the costs add up quickly. If you do not have strong rules in place and software to monitor compliance in real time, the unexpected expenses can be significant. A typical 3PL may be able to help you tackle low-hanging fruit to reduce parcel shipping costs. An enterprise logistics partner like Transportation Insight can work closely with you to create the best rules for your business and implement technology to monitor compliance. Identifying errors and fraud efficiently creates significant value as you are able to reduce parcel shipping expense to protect profitability.

To learn more about the Transportation Insight’s expertise can help your business, contact us today.