Transportation Costs in 2021: Less-Than-Truckload

Carriers are reacting to market changes in other ways beyond transportation costs, as well. One example: early in 2020, one national carrier indicated it would match any volume LTL quote from another carrier. Six weeks later, that carrier wasn’t accepting any volume shipments due to the dramatic shift in the market.

Carriers also have grown more comfortable implementing LTL surcharges that further drive up transportation costs. Some are turning away freight that is more difficult to handle.

The LTL transactional market is seeing tight capacity and generally widespread delays, including with premium carriers. Driving this is a 10-12 percent growth in demand, several times the typical range. 

Capacity constraints in the LTL markets may seem out of step with some of the economic news, which continues to reflect the pandemic toll on many businesses. The September 2020 unemployment rate (7.9 percent) was more than double the rate a year earlier. And while the gross domestic product jumped by $1.64 trillion in the third quarter of 2020, that followed a drop of $2.04 trillion in the second quarter.

One reason for the disconnect is the drop in the consumption of services, which dwarfs the drop in the consumption of goods. Between the first and second quarters, consumption of services dropped 13.3 percent, according to the American Trucking Association. The consumption of goods dropped by a more modest 2.8 percent, also according to the ATA. 

Looking at LTL Transportation in 2021

Even as the economy slowly recovers, demand for goods likely will outpace demand for services, the ATA predicts. Until a vaccine has been broadly distributed and COVID cases drop drastically, consumers appear comfortable continuing to spend more time at home. As they do, newly formed online shopping habits probably will continue. Online purchases of furniture and appliances, apparel, and groceries, among other items, are likely to remain at least 10 percent higher post-pandemic, consulting firm McKinsey found. 

This shift is contributing to expected ongoing capacity tightness. In turn, that likely will contribute to a favorable carrier’s market next year. The rate increases some carriers are imposing in high-capacity lanes likely will continue into 2021, until capacity corrects itself.

The level of those rate increase can vary. LTL carriers develop market-specific rate bases so the impact of increases passed along in 2021 can be influenced by carriers’ operating needs and your shipping characteristics. 

Carrier mergers also appear poised to continue. Most take one of several approaches. Some companies join forces to pool resources and become more efficient. Others bring together companies in different sectors, allowing all to expand their range of services.

Shippers of bulky, low-density, non-dock-to-dock freight, along with shippers of over-dimensional freight that parcel carriers are trying to price out of the parcel network, may face additional obstacles. Some LTL carriers are trying to push these freight types to the truckload market and are raising rates accordingly. 

Surcharges appear likely to remain and even increase. If some states, as predicted, add taxes, other LTL surcharges may appear. 

Prior to the pandemic, some LTL carriers began investing in box trucks so they could more easily handle residential e-commerce deliveries. These efforts have slowed during the pandemic and capacity crunch. However, once demand and capacity rebalance, expect to see LTL carriers make another move into this market. 

Managing Transportation Costs Through Capacity Constraints

While shifting from one carrier to another might seem like a way to improve service and transportation cost, jumping may not help. In fact, it’s possible service will further decline. 

Several other steps tend to be more effective. One is to take a longer-term perspective, work with a carrier, and establish a partnership that benefits all involved. Another is to build lead time into processes and set realistic expectations with end customers. 

For more insight on the motor freight environment we expect to emerge in 2021, watch our webinar focused on Brokerage and Capacity Planning 2021. We take a deeper dive into the outlook for LTL, Truckload and International transportation in our Freight Rate Outlook 2021. Read it today for multi-modal rate forecasts and analysis from our Supply Chain Masters.

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.

Insource or Outsource Supply Chain? 4 Questions to Ask Yourself

If you are a growing company and are not already asking that question, you will soon – especially considering all the changes we’ve experienced in our economy recently. 

When weighing pros and cons of this important operational decision, start with a look in the mirror. Who are you as an organization?

You examine closely potential partners for any outsourcing relationship. You should pursue the same due diligence within your own organization. Knowing where your business stands in key areas can help you decide if the time is right to insource or outsource.

Here are four things you need to know about your organization – and any of your partners – to drive your insource/outsource decision. 

  1. Do We Have the Supply Chain Talent?People are the driver behind success. This is incredibly important in today’s supply chain environment. There’s so much change happening in the marketplace you have to stay on the cutting edge

    How do you stay on the cutting edge? Experienced people with tons of drive, in terms of learning and bringing innovative ideas to your organization.

    The supply chain talent gap is already big, and it is only going to get bigger. Companies are fighting for the top talent, and it is difficult competing against companies with unlimited budgets – Amazon, Apple, DHL or Transportation Insight.

    Are you confident that your company has the ability and the resources to attract and retain top-tier supply chain experts? As a mid-market or small market company, it is not going to be easy to get.

    And it’s not just the talent. What is your bench strength? Is your supply chain resource depth going to be able to rise to challenges and power your company’s disruption-filled environment? 

    The intelligence, and the experience that these people have is critical, but it also comes down to raw numbers. If you are a growing organization, maybe at one point, one person with the experience and intelligence necessary to do the job can effectively handle every step of your supply chain. 

    As you scale your business, you may need more than one person. In our webinar we talk about how possessing the agility to scale up your organization rapidly can make a big difference in the responsiveness you need to deliver on sales. 

    Other organizations experiencing their own growth face those same needs for people. That exacerbates the talent gap.
  2. Do We Innovate Processes by Nature?As you continue to scale your business to meet demand, are you confident that you have the processes in place to not only support that, but also innovate within those processes over time? Is that driven through KPIs? Or through the talent that you have?

    Many organizations are not set up to consistently advance innovation and measure that evolution. Companies like Amazon have process innovation inherent in their DNA, but not everyone has it at their core.

    The first half of 2020 has been a stark reminder: processes that were sufficient yesterday may not position you to compete tomorrow. To respond rapidly during a global economic disruption, a dynamic shift to e-commerce, or even a simple hiccup, it is necessary to evolve.

    As you do, collecting and monitoring data around process change determines whether you are heading in the right direction or toward more required adjustments.

  1. Do We Have the In-House Technology?The speed of change in technology is nearly impossible to keep up with unless that is your primary focus. Does your current technology platform support your supply chain management now? Will it continuously evolve with you as your customers’ demands change?

    You can build your technology stack, maintain it in-house, and join the race with the Joneses of the Technology World – SalesForce, Microsoft and Amazon. This generates a need for ongoing capital investment. 

    Unless you are a technology company, this might not be your area of expertise. One of those technology companies will sell you a base solution and customize it at added cost.

    Alternately, you can realize cost effective value working with a partner built on technology to suit your specific business needs. Be mindful of the cultural effects a new partnership might create. 

    Change management is a huge piece of the insource versus outsource conversation, but it can also allow you to redeploy current resources toward supporting your core competency. 
  2. Does this Fit Our Culture?Culturally, what does your organization look like? How do you make decisions? Is it a top-down, “You’re going to do what I tell you to do,” or a bottom-up, “Hey, I want ideas, bring the ideas.” 

    Are you seeking internal innovation or are you more focused on your core competency? Do you build or buy to solve challenges? What will our culture tolerate? What will it support? What does it really need?

    You have to be honest with yourself, and your company, and your partners. Having this perspective is imperative to the success of any relationship. 

    You could be the best company in certain spaces, but outsource certain things that you are not good at, culturally. To do that, you have to understand your organization. Even though Amazon is extremely good at what it does, it also recognizes the areas where it is not good. That drives focused Amazon investment into supply chain improvement opportunities.

    Understanding your culture will also help determine how you work with your partners, and whether your organization is in a position to realize success from an outside relationship. 

Master the Logistics Dilemma: Insource vs Outsource

People, process innovation, technology and culture. Before deciding whether to insource or outsource supply chain management, develop a clear understanding of these four aspects of your own organization. Keep them in mind when considering potential partners.

For more insight that can help you determine whether your company is better suited to insource or outsource logistics activities, watch our webinar in Transportation Insight’s Supply Chain Masters Digital Event Series. 

Open the webinar today for real world examples of companies evolving their supply chain strategy for growth. You will also get insight on the three types of strategic outsourcing approaches and four things that your logistics partner must be able to deliver.