Navigating Small Parcel Rates and Capacity ‘Perfect Storm’ in 2021

The first quarter of 2021 promises to bring much of the same volatility and uncertainty to the small parcel rates and capacity environment . With the holiday season behind us, many service providers are now fully entrenched in a worldwide vaccine distribution effort in a shipping environment that was already more expensive and capacity constrained than it was a year ago.

Here’s what all shippers should know as we move out of the chaos of 2020 and into a New Year that promises even more challenges – and opportunities! – for parcel shippers.

Small Parcel Capacity Lessons Learned from the Holiday Season

The 2020 holiday season was like no other. Record volumes of e-commerce orders  pushed major small parcel carriers to levy new fees while also capping volumes in order to balance their networks. Affecting ground, express, and postal service, very few shippers escaped the impact.

“As Americans increasingly shop online because of the coronavirus pandemic, private express carriers FedEx and UPS have cut off new deliveries for some retailers, sending massive volumes of packages ordered past deadlines to the Postal Service,” the Washington Post reported.

With capacity at a premium in the small package environment, shippers were left to their own devices when it came to getting their goods out the door and monitoring the cost and service impacts. We were called upon to help many companies as carriers took a brutally honest approach and let everyone know that they were buckling under the strain.

We’re really gridlocked all over the place ,” a Postal Service manager told the Washington Post. “It’s bad. I’ve never seen it like this before.”

Navigating the Perfect Small Parcel Storm

With carriers implementing caps in order to avoid being overwhelmed (or completely collapsing) and volume congestion riddling networks nationwide, shippers had to swallow a bitter pill: meeting consumer expectations for next-day or two-day service wasn’t happening. Shippers with contingency plans in place going into the holidays fared best as elections and vaccine distributions claimed an extraordinary amount of parcel and mail shipping capacity during the fourth quarter of 2020.

As with any crisis, there are always lessons to be learned. If 2020 taught shippers anything, it’s that it pays to listen to your small parcel carriers. Pay attention to their market moves and announcements, and then factor those insights into your overall transportation planning. We saw a similar uptick in awareness levels in 1997, when a 13-day UPS employee strike crippled the nation’s parcel network.

Fast-forward 23 years and COVID-19 had a similar impact – albeit more sweeping and longer in duration – on an industry that now includes multiple parcel carrier options. This time around, we saw that companies capable of distributing their shipping volume across FedEx, UPS, DHL, the USPS, and other providers (versus relying on just one) fared best during the 2020 holiday season.

Moving forward, smart shippers will continue to integrate flexible tactics into their supply chain planning, knowing that a “squeeze” on one end of that value chain will equate to a diversion at the other end of that sequence. This is where regional carriers and last-mile delivery services are helping to pick up the slack and, as a result, are now being taken more seriously than ever before. We expect this trend to continue in 2021 as companies shore up their transportation plans and work to avoid the challenges of 2020.

Small Parcel Network Visibility is the Key

Even with the vaccine distribution, COVID, and other outside forces impacting the small parcel landscape right now, we do expect a competitive, more rational, parcel shipping landscape to emerge later this year.

We could see a retreat in surcharges and other extra fees, but only when volume begins to wane and the environment starts to normalize. We also expect more competitors to enter the parcel marketplace and grab some of the opportunities that the larger carriers are overlooking right now. As this takes place, shippers should get some benefit from the heightened competition.

Regardless of the current small parcel shipping environment and the challenges that it’s inflicting on shippers and end customers, supply chain visibility continues to rise to the top as the ultimate combat tool. In an environment where next-day and two-day deliveries are the norm – and where these options are getting more expensive – the company that understands its total shipping costs is the one that will be best equipped to offset the “perfect storm” of capacity constraints, rising rates, and surcharges.

A critical tool for any market conditions, supply chain visibility includes all aspects of your transportation network—from the time the goods leave the loading dock until they reach their final destination, and all points in between. “The COVID-19 pandemic has moved supply chain and logistics technologies to the public eye like few times before,” Crunchbase states, “as shortages at grocery stores and the distribution of a possible vaccine highlight the importance of moving goods and essentials.”

End-to-end supply chain visibility also helps companies pinpoint areas of concern (i.e., is fulfillment causing the delay?), and address them quickly. It also gives shippers accurate insights into carrier performance and enables good decision-making on that front. Transportation Insight, for example, breaks down the data by geographic region and individual carrier to come up with the best possible options for shippers.

In other words, we’re not just throwing information over the fence to our customers; we take a highly consultative approach that helps companies shape successful supply chain strategies in any market conditions. As we move further into 2021, expect new parcel shipping opportunities and challenges to emerge. Those companies that align themselves with a knowledgeable, tech-enabled logistics partner will be best positioned to leverage these opportunities and circumvent the challenges.

Tap into our team’s insight to support your freight and parcel management practices. Download our Q1 ChainLink 2021 for multi-modal trend forecasts and cost impact analysis. Read it today  for supply chain strategy guidance, as well as the latest changes in truckload, less-than-load and small parcel transportation.

For more detail, listen to our SME Roundtable discuss transportation trends in our latest digital event.

Strategic Supply Chain Planning 2021 | Beyond COVID

Companies are looking at diversifying their supply sources. Whether this means on-shoring, near-shoring or simply adding alternative regions to the existing base. This is not a quick proposition. Suppliers have to be located, certified and tested. Order patterns have to be established and inventory policies implemented. All of this takes data, analysts and time. Perhaps the most difficult part, managing change.

Whether you are a manufacturer, distributor or retailer you have to be able to support more direct consumer channels than you may have traditionally. This will involve better collaboration, inventory management and alternative fulfillment and transportation options. Again, this requires data, analysts and change management.

The companies that will lead the pack are the ones that recognize the permanency of the COVID changes on the horizon and establish long-term supply chain strategies to mitigate risk and guarantee products and service to the end customer.

Network Need to Flex is Paramount

An exponential boom in e-commerce sales rapidly created significant congestion for last mile deliveries. The effect spilled across the entire supply chain. At distribution and fulfillment centers some shippers saw their small packages go unshipped due to volume caps implemented by parcel carriers. Elsewhere, LTL carriers facing heightened shipment volumes at their terminals delivered fluctuating service levels.

As a result, many companies examined how they complete final deliveries to their clients, a process that retail giants like Amazon have nearly mastered. More and more companies are shifting toward expedited service from either existing brick-and-mortar facilities or an adjusted network of distribution centers. Smaller, urban fulfillment centers added in certain areas can help skirt site-specific volume limits. More options make you less susceptible to geography-based capacity constraints.

But you must understand how those changes in network design affect cost and service performance. 

Through its ability to evolve a massive local network, Amazon proved to be among the most reliable carriers during the disruptions of 2020. Not everyone has the deep pockets to establish an Amazon-like network with large distribution centers and cross-dock strategies. 

However, you can determine where you can compete with that sprawling service network – and where you cannot. SKU rationalization, margin analysis of different channels and overall network design analysis can help businesses of any size understand where growth is occurring and where it is not. From there you can align your supply network based on the demand patterns your business is experiencing.

Look Upstream to Determine Opportunity

With everything happening in the supply chain environment, it is important to get outside of your business and examine your network upstream to your suppliers. This provides insight in several important areas. 

Over the past 20 years companies have worked to reduce and remove inventory where possible, achieving the absolute least cost in the process. Today, you must balance inventory, determine which inventory is right, and even decide the right customers to serve. Understanding your processes, as well as those of your partners is integral to transportation cost management.

When your retail partner asks you to drop ship product to their customers, can you segment your inventory into the different physical channels to both serve those individual orders and continue filling regular store-level inventory needs?

How should your inventory model change as you move toward insourcing or reshoring? With longer lead times and growing landed costs emerging from foreign vendors, local suppliers allow you to manage a smaller inventory or direct ship to customers and, ultimately lower overall cost. Do you have the contingencies in place across your network of vendor partners to deploy local or regional sourcing in the event of ongoing disruption in Asia?

By stepping outside your own walls and understanding processes upstream and downstream – as well as their alternatives – you become a stronger partner, especially if you can offer your suppliers visibility into your own demand. Ultimately, that level of collaboration helps your partners plan better, improving efficiency and service to you in the process.

By helping customers understand their total value stream and deploying a lean-minded supply chain strategy consultation, we help them visualize how changes to their network can improve cost and service across their transportation environment.

Capacity for Change can Limit Improvement

Achieving flexibility in your supply chain requires both an ability to recognize when processes are not performing and a willingness to apply change. If you don’t change, nothing changes, and it became especially clear in 2020 that a lot of companies don’t know how to implement that change. 

Leadership has to want to change and improve, and it is important to understand that if you are not constantly problem-solving then you are going backwards. Smaller companies understand this especially well, but larger companies are often separated into silos and metrics conflict with day-to-day activity.

Are you willing to let your partners save you from yourself? If leadership is not willing to accept analysis and insight that supports change, then activity rarely changes until crisis occurs. And when that crisis occurs, without analysis to support process improvement, you may not be able to determine the right practices to change.

Performing that analysis is no easy task. A lot of smaller companies don’t have the skillsets or capacity to complete that data-driven look. Likewise, medium and large companies may dedicate people to monitor performance in different supply chain areas. They may not have the groups of people capable of not only understanding how to complete the analysis, but also problem solve. 

That is where Transportation Insight helps. We not only have the capacity to complete analysis of SKU-level performance, network design and alternative, contingency supply chain strategies. Importantly, we also teach your teams how problem solve, a skill that you can then pass along to others in the organization.   

Once we deploy a problem-solving mindset alongside analysis of your supply chain data, we can create a map of the transportation activities across your network and determine options for alleviating problem points that drive up your cost. By pairing those continuous improvement efforts with renewed network flexibility that eliminates the risk of disruption, Transportation Insight positions you for improved cost control and enhanced opportunities for growth. 

For more insight that will help support your supply chain strategy in 2021, download our latest industry forecast. Read the First Quarter ChainLink 2021 for a multi-modal look at the transportation trends that will affect your business in the year ahead.

Fulfillment Strategies: Is Your 2021 E-Commerce Plan in Place?

Fulfillment Strategies: Is Your 2021 E-Commerce Plan in Place?

This is important for many reasons, not the least of which is the big uptick in e-commerce that’s occurring in 2020, and that will likely continue well into 2021. Already increasing year-over-year, U.S. e-commerce sales were up 43% in September 2020, having grown by 42% the prior month. This growth impacted manufacturers, distributors, and retailers, many of which were unprepared for the onslaught. 

If you spent most of 2020 just trying to get through the pandemic, it’s time to dust off your supply chain, logistics and transportation plans and make sure your fulfillment strategies align with your 2021 e-commerce goals.

Changing Business Models 

As a whole, the pandemic was a wakeup call for these companies that were forced to question some of their fundamental assumptions. 2021 could bring an entirely new set of supply chain, logistics, and transportation challenges with it. 

“As many executives heave a sigh of relief, they are also preparing for a dramatically different environment in 2021,” Industry Week points out. 

“Recent economic challenges have forced manufacturers to change their business models, seemingly overnight, to stay competitive and prepare for not just recovery, but unprecedented growth,” it continues. “However, it may be difficult for manufacturers to keep up with both a snap-back in demand and a huge appetite from customers for innovative products and solutions.”

Navigating the New Fulfillment Normal

Under normal circumstances, companies can add labor and shifts to make up for throughput problems in their warehouses and DCs. With social distancing guidelines in place and the need to keep employees healthy a huge issue for companies right now, simply throwing labor at the problem doesn’t work anymore. 

These realities directly impact customer service which, in turn, affects margins and revenues. When customers feel like they’re being kept in the dark or that they’re not in control of the ordering and shipping process, they’ll take their business elsewhere. 

Here are six more strategies that all companies should include in their 2021 plans: 

  • Get your parcel shipping act together. In a world where nearly all customers expect their goods in three days or less, and where 30 percent of them expect them next day, you can’t reduce shipping costs at your customers’ expense. With this emphasis on delivery expectations, companies have to create parcel strategies that acknowledge the fact that shipping is the highest cost component of any e-commerce order.   
  • Watch your accessorials and peak surcharges. With the parcel carriers continuing to roll out increasingly-complex pricing strategies and inflating rates due to the lack of competition, shippers also have to keep a close eye on accessorials and peak surcharges at the package level. Understand how it’s impacting your costs and how to adjust and adapt moving forward into 2021. If SKU-level profitability is an important KPI, for example, then add that to list of metrics to measure. 
  • Consider a multi-carrier solution. There’s a lot of good value to be had by working with regional carriers and freight consolidators. Varying your approach also helps support customers’ delivery expectations. Amazon, for example, has worked hard to ensure high levels of visibility that starts when an order is placed and that doesn’t end until the package is on the buyer’s doorstep. With more of these customers having same-day and next-day delivery expectations, the multi-carrier approach can help support your overall fulfillment strategy and even make it more affordable. 

  • Rethink your fulfillment approach. To meet your customers’ fulfillment needs, you can either offer a higher shipper service level or you can change how your product is fulfilled and positioned (i.e., either with a bicoastal or multiple fulfillment level location plan). Whether you’re fulfilling it yourself, using a third-party logistics provider (3PL), or a hybrid approach, the key is to look to 2021 and beyond when setting up these networks. 
  • Use advanced technology tools. To get a head start on 2021, companies can tap into the tools that help automate, personalize, and engage virtual transactions, and that fuel their e-fulfillment engines. Cart integration, for example, automatically answers buyer questions like: How much is it going to cost? What are my shipping options? And, is there an opportunity for me to pick it up in-store? Through that integration and automation, the customer gets the choice and the control that they’re looking for today.
  • Focus on more than just the sales process. Companies should also consider post-purchase experience and post-purchase engagement tools, both of which automate the customer buying journey. These data-centric tools also lighten the workload for your customer service team. Finally, having shipping analytics right down to the individual order level puts the power of business intelligence (BI) into the shipper’s hands, and allows it to make good decisions based on accurate, relevant information (versus just guesswork).  

While it’s easy to get mired in the complications of 2020 right now, you’ll be much better prepared if you break the mold and start planning for the future today. That way, you’ll be in the right position and ready to pivot—in whichever direction is necessary—when 2021 comes. 

5 Tips: Curtailing the Supply Chain Bullwhip Effect

A phenomenon that quickly turns otherwise accurate forecasts into far-reaching supply chain inefficiencies, the bullwhip effect refers to the increasing swings in inventory — in response to shifts in customer demand — as one moves further up the supply chain

Accustomed to seeing ample supplies of diapers, toilet paper, and cleaning products on store shelves, consumers were in for a shock when COVID-19 began to take its toll on the world’s supply chains in early 2020. Although the barest of shelves began to rejuvenate by midyear, there are still some lingering effects (plus the potential for more shortages later in the year and into 2021). 

Blame the bullwhip effect for creating a lot of this chaos and uncertainty. 

“Supply chains allow companies to focus on their specific processes to maintain maximum probability,” Osmond Vitez writes in The Bullwhip Effect in Supply Chain. “Unfortunately, supply chains may stumble when market conditions change and consumer demand shifts.”

Here’s what companies should be doing now to avoid supply chain disruption in the future. 

5 Supply Chain Takeaways for 2021

Under “normal” circumstances, companies invest in extra capacity, inventory, labor and work shifts to minimize the bullwhip effect or to avoid it altogether. The problem this time around is that otherwise routine approaches didn’t work. Demand sensing, forecasting and other forward-looking predictions were equally as ineffective, and mainly due to the unprecedented nature of the global pandemic. 

Here’s the good news: shippers now have boots-on-the-ground experience with a fairly extreme case of the bullwhip effect. Using their 2020 experience as their guide, companies can now prepare for the next potential disruption with a better understanding of the hefty impacts that it could have on their global supply chains. 

Here are five lessons that all companies should apply toward their future supply chain management: 

  1. Communication, data sharing, and visibility trump all when it comes to minimizing the bullwhip effect. One large national retailer, considered to be a leader in supply chain strategy, opened the lines of communication by allowing suppliers to access their inventory data. The result: increased customer satisfaction, a decrease in inventory and warehousing costs, and more stable supply lines.
  2. Third-party logistics experts have proven their worth. Well equipped to handle the logistics, transportation and technology that go into a well-oiled supply chain, experts like Transportation Insight know both sides of the business (i.e., shipper and carrier), and we can demonstrate and articulate how each node in the supply chain will benefit from a specific decision. 
  1. Scenario planning and simulations actually work. Think of them as the “war games” of your own supply chain, use them to run simulations on historical data across different hypothetical scenarios (e.g., if we can’t get raw materials from country A, how will it impact the rest of the supply chain?). Getting the answers to these questions before a disruption occurs will help you be more prepared in the event of a disruption.
  1. Use dashboards and control towers to get big-picture views in real-time. The days when a warehouse manager had to wait until the end of the month for a printed performance report are long gone. Thanks to advancements in technology, the same manager can get that information in real-time and then use it for good decision-making. Being able to drill down into order profits, for instance, will help you better understand what you should actually be charging for shipping. This, in turn, helps support good margin management in any business conditions.
    
  2. Alternate sources of supply are a good thing to have. In surveying 150 senior manufacturing executives, law firm Foley & Lardner found that most expect to make “fairly drastic” changes to their supply chains post-pandemic, including a shift away from just-in-time manufacturing (JIT) and sourcing in China. In Global Supply Chain Disruption and Future Strategies Survey Report, the law firm says that of those companies that were operating in China pre-pandemic, 59% have either already withdrawn operations, are in the process of doing so, or are considering it. Many of those organizations are looking to reshore their operations closer to home in the U.S., Canada, or Mexico.

Depending on how you approach it, transportation can play a major role in avoiding the bullwhip effect in your supply chain. Through good communication and data-sharing across all supply chain partners, you’ll gain an understanding of both real-time and historical information as it relates to all points in the supply chain. The better decisions you can make, the better the odds of avoiding the bullwhip effect.    

Tame the Bullwhip: Manage the Demand Waves

We examine the steps you can take to build a responsive supply chain management system in our latest Supply Chain Masters Series digital event. 

Watch the webinar to learn best practices for collecting, retaining and analyzing supply chain data. We also highlight the business intelligence solutions that drive continuous improvement and proactive strategy adjustment. 

Click the link below to learn supply chain strategies that minimize risk and protect your profitability today and tomorrow.

Buy Online Pickup In Store: Retail in Evolution

Yet, the store remains a core focus of the buying experience. That’s how it should be. The in-store customer is typically more loyal and tends to buy more than the online shopper.

A robust strategy for “Buy Online, Pick Up In Store,” or BOPIS, can offer the best of both worlds. BOPIS expands a retailer’s online exposure while preserving and deepening the in-store experience. In fact, retailers find that is common for shoppers to buy more product once they arrive at the store to retrieve their online orders. 

A well-designed BOPIS retail program also helps reduce delivery costs because the customer is going to the product, not vice-versa. Consumers prize the ease and convenience of the transaction, especially when the COVID-19 pandemic has made contactless interactions more of the rule than the exception.

Responding to a New Retail Landscape

For retailers with limited resources and insufficient time spent mastering alternate fulfillment methods, the real world suddenly became a very different place in 2020. Many have been challenged to adjust to an unfamiliar “fractured fulfillment” model where products are ordered, fulfilled, and distributed from anywhere to anywhere. It is difficult for retailers to strike the right balance of inventory levels that satisfy in-store shoppers and ensure product availability to support online channel growth.

Retailers often over-order store inventory to avoid the risk of stock-outs. This raises carrying costs, and shrinks inventory  available to allocate to online channels. 

Moving ahead with an ill-vetted BOPIS strategy can make things worse. Customers assured of a product’s in-stock status on a retailer’s website will be displeased if they take time to visit the store only to find the item isn’t available. This could damage a brand’s reputation, especially if word spreads quickly on social media.

Visibility is the pain point. Many retailers lack proper visibility into the inventory flow from their partners to effectively plan and execute an error-proof BOPIS strategy. Without visibility, retailers will continue to prioritize avoidance in-store stock-out scenarios, and will continue to absorb excess and costly inventory.

A strong 3PL provider arms retailers with superior, actionable data that improves inventory visibility without forcing them to increase levels of safety stock. The endgame is to manage appropriate safety stock thresholds for both in-store and BOPIS experiences so the customer is satisfied in either scenario. 

Personalized Solutions Require Visibility

Each retailer is unique, and each shipper-retailer partnership is unique. Working with good data, an experienced 3PL partner creates customized plans to achieve optimal results. Progress and outcomes are constantly measured and refined so fill rates achieve acceptable thresholds. Changes to the plan can be implemented quickly should circumstances change – and they often do. 

For example, a plan could require the partners to issue electronic order acknowledgements indicating changes to item quantities and arrival dates within a specified time of receiving an order. It could call for transmission of advance ship notices within two hours of a shipment’s departure so visibility is optimized. Fully leveraging distribution center connections to stores optimizes shipping flexibility to react quickly to customer behavior. 

It is still most profitable for stores when customers pick up their orders in-store, but the busy holiday season could make it difficult for consumers to get to the store. Data generated by zip codes can identify areas of strong online ordering and in-store activity. This offers retailers insight into how to best position inventory for timely and accurate distribution.

For example, a retailer wants to offer one- to two-day deliveries but its transportation providers are challenged to consistently hit those targets. It may be more feasible to ship that order out from a store versus a fulfillment center. This could require shippers to invest in a drop-shipping strategy to support an e-commerce strategy where goods are brought directly to the store level. All this strategy is grounded in visibility.

This holiday season will be like no other. In-store buying will still be prevalent. However, more consumers have adopted online ordering after being required to do so in the early days of the pandemic. BOPIS utilization will be strong this holiday, but it will continue long after peak season and even after the virus passes. Consumers want options. It is critical for retailers to comply, but to do so efficiently.

Master Your BOPIS Revolution

The last mile is the most complex part of e-commerce fulfillment. It is also the most important. The last mile makes or breaks everything that came before it. That final delivery is the moment your customer will remember your brand most. How well do you finish?

A BOPIS strategy is just one of several last-mile offerings that shippers and retailers are expected to deliver. Done right, it reaps brand loyalty, lower costs and profitable opportunities for new market share. However, it requires a specialized level of resources and knowledge. It also requires skills and vigilance to ensure flawless execution.

We created The BOPIS Revolution: Navigating the New Never Normal to highlight some of the things you need to keep in mind when approaching – or modifying – your BOPIS strategy. Watch our SME Roundtable for a deeper dive into the ways we drive top line revenue results through personalized solutions driven by technology and expertise.

To continue the conversation, reach out to one of our supply chain experts. Let’s talk about how we can help you evolve solutions that support final delivery strategies to control cost and consistently wow your customers.

Indirect Spend Cost Increases Continue into 2021

Many of the elements driving these cost increases cannot be controlled. 

That does not mean your organization is limited in its ability to manage and mitigate some of these rising expenses. A strong relationship with your support partners helps. So, too, does an expert partner with awareness of industry trends and spend management tactics that realize efficiencies, even during volatile times. 

To support your indirect spend management efforts in Q4 and heading into 2021, let’s explore some of the factors driving cost increases in your operation.

Resin Increases, E-Commerce Demand Drives Cost Spike

Resin costs continue to fuel increases for companies that utilize stretch film, bubble wrap, flexible mailers and other polyethylene products. Each resin increase usually translates to a product cost increase of 6-7 percent.

Five consecutive months of resin cost increases have inflated prices 44 percent. That has translated to a 20-25 percent uptick on flexible packaging-related products costs, such as the Oct. 1 increase announced by all major manufacturers of stretch film. That is the second stretch film increase this year – and we anticipate there will be additional increases on other produces that rely on polyethylene. 

At the same time, demand is up in the plastic market compared to 2019. A growing e-commerce marketplace began booming when COVID-19 accelerated consumers’ online buying behaviors for a broader range of products, from groceries to home office products. 

More e-commerce businesses are utilizing plastic packaging, bubble bags and poly bags to ship their products, whereas a few years ago they put those items in small boxes. In the 2020 parcel shipping environment, it is more cost effective to use poly mailers, and that is impacting demand.

While demand is up, some of the major manufacturers implemented maintenance related shutdowns in Q2 and Q3, reducing supply in the process. Increased hurricane activity along the Gulf Coast is also forcing shutdowns for many resin operations and nearby poly-product manufacturing plants situated close to petroleum refineries in the region. Additional shutdowns will only create a tighter market.

Cardboard and Other Commodity Costs Require Awareness

Market conditions may not support a fourth quarter cost increase on corrugated and linerboard. Often the top producers of these materials float the prospect of a rate increase to gauge pushback. Expect talk of a 6-8 percent increase to emerge toward the middle or late part of the quarter. 

Due to activity that scaled back for many operations during the pandemic, the demand and inventory levers may not support that increase. Expect that increase to emerge in 2021.

As businesses continue to ramp up coming out of COVID-19, demand may increase on those cardboard products, as well as others that are already in short supply. Costs for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), safety supplies and cleaning products will continue to escalate into 2021. That will cause pain for businesses from a pricing and availability standpoint. 

Cost increases on steel and related products will have a similar effect on MRO supplies. Expect price movement on nuts, bolts, fasteners, and other maintenance products in the early part of next year.

Lessons Learned for Future Performance

The challenges emerging in 2020 really validated the importance of strong relationships with your support partners. 

Do you always beat up your suppliers to get the best price?

If you do, the pandemic has taught us, you might suddenly find that you do not have a reliable supply base because you have not been loyal to a supplier. If you focus on buying what you need at the lowest cost and jump from vendor to vendor, when trouble arises you may not have a partner you can count on. 

Thanks to partnerships forged through Transportation Insight’s Group Purchasing Organization, we have the leverage to secure both the best product prices and the supplies you need to continue operating.

The pandemic has taught us that when businesses align with national supply partners, they have access to competitive prices and products delivered on a timely, reliable basis. 

This is especially important in the poly-packaging space. When times get tough and supply gets tight, suppliers will take care of the customers that have been good to them. They will have a difficult time supplying customers that are here today and gone tomorrow. 

Relying on long-term partnerships established in Transportation Insight’s Group Purchasing Organization, we are able to secure both good pricing and consistent supplies of products necessary to your operation. At the same time, we help you manage indirect spend areas that is driving up your overall operational costs that could be jeopardizing your profit. 

To learn more about how we help organizations manage their indirect spend and achieve double-digit savings watch our recent webinar.

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. 

E-commerce Supply Chain 2020: Digital Deck the Halls

The challenges this year will be as long a family’s shopping list:

  • The traditional holiday peak converges with elevated online demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. E-commerce sales will match or surpass brick-and-mortar. Consumers have multiple ordering channels to tap. E-commerce supply chain fulfillment and delivery operations need to respond to this decentralized − and unprecedented − demand-pull.
  • Many supply chains remain out of kilter, one of the pandemic’s many legacies. U.S. inventories are at their lowest levels in five years, according to several analysts. Stock-outs have been common throughout most of 2020. U.S. imports are spiking. However, those goods may not reach store shelves or distribution centers in time to satisfy peak consumption needs.

  • Parcel networks have been overwhelmed by demand since March. This has led to inconsistent delivery performance across the board. National and regional parcel carriers have maxed out their fulfillment and distribution infrastructures. Late deliveries mean that consumers will be forced to accept holiday service levels that are beneath their expectations. If there is good news, it’s that e-commerce consumers are aware of the problems and will be more tolerant of slower delivery. What they demand, and should expect, is access to real-time information about any service issues.
  • Consumers may order goods earlier than usual, allowing the supply chain to spread out delivery timetables to create a “load-leveling” effect. That would be positive news, but it should not automatically be counted upon. Amazon’s shift of its “Prime Day” program from July to mid-October could pull forward a fair amount of holiday activity.

  • Warehouse space is severely constrained. Amazon said several months ago it will need 50 percent more space to keep up with its projected holiday demand. Retailers with brick-and-mortar exposure need to position stores as “forward fulfillment” nodes. This allows orders to be pulled from store inventory and delivered over relatively short distances. Store networks will also support what is expected to be major demand spikes for in-store and curbside pickups of online orders. Pure-play e-tailers without store networks will need to get creative.
  • FedEx and UPS are levying meaningful peak surcharges on volumes from their largest customers. The U.S. Postal Service imposed the first peak surcharge in its history. Carriers say the fees are needed to offset their higher costs to serve. That is true, up to a point. Demands on delivery networks will be unprecedented, and carriers are pricing their services accordingly. Companies will have to consider this in their free shipping strategies to maintain profitability.

THE CLOCK IS TICKING

Is it too late for shippers and retailers to get their holiday house in order?

Not necessarily, but it will take fast action and deep planning. The challenges, as we’ve laid out, are immense. One key is to get ahead of the “demand curve.” When shippers gain visibility into end demand, they can prepare and execute a plan that enhances customer satisfaction and does so profitably. After all, meeting customer demands while losing money in the process is the hollowest of victories.

Managing the upstream channel is just as critical. Calibrating inventory flows with replenishment needs is a year-round challenge, and especially so during peak. The challenge is magnified this year with the headwind of COVID-19. Retailers need a clear line of sight into supplier production so they can forecast their inventory replenishment. In normal times, lack of visibility can lead to costly over-ordering to ensure adequate buffer stock. This season, however, over-ordering may be an adequate response, given how and where the inventory is positioned. 

During CSCMP’s EDGE 2020 Virtual Conference, Target Executive Vice President and Chief Supply Chain and Logistics Officer Arthur Valdez advised to “not be afraid to overreact.” That may sound counter-intuitive, but it can be an appropriate step during this peak. Target will be investing heavily in transportation services with a focus on improving delivery timing, Valdez said. Again, that appears to run against the grain as transport is considered a cost center. Yet it will be less costly than failing to execute deliveries because capacity is not available. A seasoned logistics partner can map out a strategy to leverage a customer’s existing assets, as well as to bring in outside capabilities that profitably meets customer demands.

This is especially important as shippers encounter an increasingly complex surcharge environment constructed by FedEx, UPS and, to a smaller degree, USPS and regional carriers.  High-volume FedEx and UPS customers could be looking at surcharges as high as $4 to $5 per piece. These are by far the most expensive surcharges we have ever seen. They can spell the difference between peak season success and failure, even if everything else breaks right. Any shipper expecting to tender significant traffic to either or both must be able to navigate those surcharges all within the framework of their logistics execution.

Amid the coming storm, it may be hard for folks to get a good fix on demand profiles beyond the holidays. But it pays to do so. For example, we may see another e-commerce surge early next year as fears of a combined COVID-seasonal flu cycle keep more consumers homebound. Already, we are seeing 2021 budget plans being adjusted to account for the lingering effect of COVID-19. We also expect similar peak season patterns for the next 3-5 years even after a coronavirus vaccine is approved and distributed. A strong logistics partner not only can help you get through 2020. It can prepare you for 2021, 2022, and beyond.

BOPIS: What Does It Mean for Shippers?

Linearity is on the way out. So is the shipper’s control of the supply chain. E-commerce has spawned the “omni-channel fulfillment” model where orders, distribution and deliveries occur from anywhere, anyone, and at any time. The traditional supply-push scenario with shippers calling the shots is giving way to a demand-pull approach with consumers in control of the transaction.

The “Buy Online, Pick Up In Store” (BOPIS) concept has become a key part of the asymmetrical, demand-pull world we live and work in. Who ever imagined a consumer ordering an item on an electronic device, having a retailer immediately pick and pack the product at one of multiple locations, and having it ready for the consumer’s arrival at a pre-arranged time, typically within a few hours and sometimes under an hour? 

Experience Depends on BOPIS Excellence

The COVID-19 pandemic is driving BOPIS toward mainstream adoption. Contactless interactions remain the order of the day – especially during the holiday season as health-conscious consumers continue to minimize time spent shopping in confined spaces. But BOPIS and other alternate fulfillment practices will outlast the pandemic. They will become permanent additions to the logistics landscape.

To execute an effective BOPIS strategy, shippers must understand retailers’ two overarching objectives: 

  • Ensure a seamless customer experience regardless of the order touchpoint.
  • Maintain adequate in-store inventory while expanding digital buying opportunities.

It is essential for retailers to have the right goods always available, and at the right place at the right time for the consumer. The “right time” could involve shipping to a residence or to another physical location. It could mean an in-person brick-and-mortar sale. It could mean BOPIS, or its first cousin, “Buy Online Pick Up at Curbside” (BOPAC). It could be a drop-shipping model where the shipper delivers directly to the store, thus minimizing the need to hold inventory in a space-constrained facility.

Striking the correct balance between in-store and digital inventory is just as critical. In-store customers are typically more loyal and buy more per visit than online customers. Retailers are loath to broaden their digital channels if doing so threatens to siphon off in-store activity.

Allowing both scenarios to thrive requires elevating visibility and analytics tools to new heights. A clear line of sight across the ecosystem allows shippers to align production with the retailer’s current replenishment needs. Analytics like Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence also provide shippers with vital clues about consumers’ future buying habits so they and their retailer partners can stay a step ahead.

Technology is only as productive as the knowledge of the people managing it. Seasoned third-party logistics specialists understand how to design and implement a consistently successful BOPIS program that leverages cost-effective automation. They have worked extensively with all stakeholders, and can quickly adjust the go-to-market processes to optimize outcomes and avoid costly missteps.

Final Delivery Drives Loyalty or Brand Damage

Online fulfillment is a fast-paced, often-unforgiving business. You are only as good as your last delivery. The margin for error narrows still further in a BOPIS transaction. Failing to execute an order after the consumer was assured the product was in stock and went out of their way to retrieve it is a breach of the “trust covenant” between the stakeholders. A BOPIS-related stock-out can seriously damage both brands, especially if a negative review spreads on social media.

The good news for shippers is that mastering this intense pivot point should result in enduring brand loyalty from consumer and retailer alike. Consumers prize convenience, and will favor retailers who make the BOPIS experience as easy as “pulling up and popping the trunk.” This goodwill extends to the products they pick up and take home.

Retailers, meanwhile, know how complicated it is to make life easy for today’s consumer.  Shippers who consistently execute will become sticky to the retailer. Product quality is obviously important. However, consumers often cannot discern between the nuances of multiple products of similar craftsmanship. What they do know, and will remember, is how, when and where they received their product. Or why they didn’t. That is how your brand will be remembered. In today’s world, logistics, more than any part of a shipper’s business, is becoming the competitive differentiator.

Navigate the New “Never Normal”

Planned properly, the BOPIS fulfillment model is a valuable tool in the highly competitive e-commerce space. 

The devil is in the execution.

Transportation Insight specializes in designing and executing supply chain strategy adjustments that empower you to provide the final mile delivery options required to wow end customers.

We created “The BOPIS Revolution: Navigating the New Never Normal” to offer insight into the many variables involved in meeting consumers’ evolving demands for service. Read it today to understand the strategies that we can help you leverage to enhance customer service, grow market share and increase competitive advantage.

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.