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.

From Micro to Macro: The Effect of Social Distancing on the Supply Chain

In restaurants, they are moving tables and putting a hard maximum on the number of people allowed inside. Although the return of patrons generates badly needed revenue, moving tables apart means less diners, resulting in less money coming in the door. In order to maintain a peak level of performance, those restaurants need to turn tables and customers faster to achieve the same amount of revenue.

A similar concept will be introduced into the supply chain, as factories, warehouses and distribution centers come back online. Employees will need to consistently stay six feet apart, forcing managers to figure out how to keep up productivity while adhering to guidelines. Are you prepared for the change?

The Newest Constraint in the Supply Chain: Social Distancing

There are several supply chain constraints that most companies can plan around. These include capacity, throughput, and on occasion, emissions.

Using an Extended LEAN approach, managers and facilities are encouraged to reduce the amount of time and distance per process. This reduces waste throughout the production line, improving efficiency and ultimately providing more output with the resources already in place.

But due to social distancing, there’s a new constraint supply chain managers must deal with: the maximum amount of physical distance you can remove from production. Some of these situations are easier to plan for: Truck drivers can stay in their cabs, while using e-signatures for receipts.

Other conditions are going to be much more difficult to apply: In the interest of keeping employees healthy, they must consistently stay six feet apart. Companies now have to determine what that means for receiving, production and shipping. If employees have to maintain a safe distance, how does that affect their critical daily operations? Some companies say they are experiencing a 40 percent decrease in capacity due to the social distancing protocols.

Social Distancing Extends From the Facility and into the Network

The physical plant isn’t the only stakeholder affected by social distancing. The impact of lost production and capacity also extends to your logistics network.

If your output is slower due to social distancing, it can have a ripple effect on everything from loading trucks and time-in-transit to service guarantees. Capacity decreases mean it takes more time to load trucks and impedes trucks from moving freight from point-to-point. That cuts into your bottom line.

From there, the issues fall like dominoes. The late truck has more time on the dock, so your freight is arrives at its destination later. When it does, there could be a delivery failure due to a closed dock or a receiver bound by rules prohibiting deliveries outside a set window. Additionally, freight bills could increase because transportation providers are unwilling to wait a long time for freight loading and unloading. Your carrier partners might not be able to meet service times because of your approach to social distancing.

There are ways to approach this that will help your business move forward. Once the impact to individual facilities is determined, it’s possible to reconfigure your logistics network to meet the current capacity needs. Some of the options your team can explore include:

  • Do you need to reduce inbound material shipments until capacity can increase?
  • Should you adjust your outbound schedule to ensure you can maximize transit lanes?
  • Can your team or warehouse be more efficient in managing inbound and outbound freight?

Having a Partner to Help You Adjust for Social Distancing

It’s critically important to have a partner in your corner that not only understands how to configure logistics operations using tried and true techniques, but how to translate them to the broader supply network to balance cost, service and risk. While technology plays a key part into this transformation, these solutions need to be approached with a holistic solution in mind.

As we reopen facilities and plan for the “new normal” for the foreseeable future, it’s important to solve these problems now. Because we have no idea when social distancing practices will ease, the problems you face now won’t go away on their own. Instead, solving them will help you become a “shipper of choice” as activity ramps up. You can also maintain profitability and positively plan for the future.

In this race, Transportation Insight is your complete partner in success. Our technology tools allow you to decide between the best carriers and networking options.We can also help you drive success through supply chain mapping, optimization, and applied Extended LEAN strategies with social distancing in mind. Because we’ve worked through thousands of supply chains with hundreds of companies across industries, we know how to apply the best practices and wisdom around your current and future strategies.

Partnership matters – and Transportation Insight is prepared to help you now and well into the future. Contact us today to get started with a consultation on how your facility can manage productivity despite social distancing.