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Crowdsourcing, Drones and Why I’ll Never Buy a Bugatti

crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing, Drones and Why I’ll Never Buy a Bugatti

Amazon has taught me I don’t have to wait for my next two-pack of ravioli cutter stamps, so if you can’t get them to me in under two hours, I know someone else who can. It’s 2019, and customers want what they want, when they want it. According to a recent report, the global last-mile market is now expected to hit $55.2 billion by 2025, up from $30.2 billion today – and it’s no wonder. Amazon’s deep investments in delivery continue to fuel a surge in e-commerce; meanwhile, customer expectations and the entire supply chain have been completely upended.

The good news is that the more retailers invest in delivery, the more their e-commerce revenue grows. For businesses who’ve made supply chain a top priority, it’s huge validation.

So where does that leave us in the race to the doorstep? Companies are throwing cash at everything, from drones to self-driving robots to crowdsourcing. Who’s got the best chance of success? How can each one lower costs, increase speed and mitigate risks? Can they disrupt the industry without being, well… disruptive?

Drones: The droids you’re looking for?

Drones entered the mainstream about five years ago as a cool photography gadget. Thanks to falling prices, they’re a hot item on every kid’s Christmas list this year, but they’ve also generated a lot of buzz about their potential applications for logistics.

In rural areas, drones have huge promise for parcel delivery. They’re already supplementing human workers in large warehouses – flying to far-flung corners to pick goods on high-up shelves. And they’re working out in the freight yard, too, helping to track and manage trucks, trailers and containers.

Companies like UPS, Amazon, Google and even Dominos are experimenting with drones in the last mile. One popular model uses a carrier van on the highway as a hub for an armada of drones that fly out of the back to deliver small parcels to nearby homes. It’s an impressive, futuristic version of hub and spoke. Can it work? At what cost?

Just like commercial aviation and the automobile, drones have major hurdles to navigate, especially when we think about how they’ll work at scale. We’ll need major regulatory oversight to address safety, noise and privacy concerns. We’ll need to build control towers, write better algorithms, improve GPS, and figure out what to do about the weather. But these challenges will likely all be worked out, given enough in time and investment.

Autonomous vehicles and robots: Bots with brains.

What about autonomous cars and robots? Are they more viable in the near term?

McKinsey predicts autonomous vehicles could slash last-mile delivery costs in urban areas by as much as 40 percent. And companies from FedEx to Bosch have made bets on sidewalk delivery bots, deploying prototypes in San Francisco office parks, where they’re tightly controlled.  Long-term, the potential is clear, and companies with the deep pockets to make early bets could save a lot of money in the long run.

Both autonomous cars and bots cost thousands of dollars per unit to manufacture, though, and depend heavily on human supervision and maintenance. When it comes to flexibility and scalability, is a sidewalk droid really that different from a truck? Both are rigid, asset-heavy systems that require a big capex investment upfront with even higher maintenance and upgrade costs over time.

Think of it this way: earlier this year, actor and comedian Tracy Morgan from Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock bought himself a sweet new supercar: a Bugatti. He forked out a cool $2 million for it. But later that day, he was sideswiped by a driver in a Honda CR-V. It was just a minor fender-bender, but it turns out fixing a scratch on a Bugatti costs more than the entire value of the car that hit him – somewhere to the tune of $32,000.

The truth is, even if I had the cash to buy a Bugatti, I could never afford to maintain it. Will a fleet of delivery droids be the same?

Whether it’s drones or robots or some other yet-to-emerge autonomous technology, asset-heavy logistics strategies will always suffer from the same Achilles heel: whether it’s changing wiper blades or switching from lithium batteries to solar – hardware is expensive. And if a new hardware solution can’t solve for the demands of flexibility in the last mile, there will still be a need for something that can.

This doesn’t even take into account all the regulatory hurdles, infrastructure dependencies and real-world obstacles from bikes to baby strollers, pranksters to potholes, larcenists to labor unions.

But what folks aren’t talking about, and what I find most interesting, is the inherent limitations that come with any fixed-asset system.

Drones and robots may well be efficient, and hopefully one day safer. But what happens when a last-minute order comes in and the customer needs delivery now? How do you adjust a pre-planned droid route at the last minute – when the droid has already left the store?

Crowdsourcing: Using an infrastructure that’s already there.

Robots may well be our future, but how do we solve the delivery challenges we have today? That’s where crowdsourcing comes in.

Crowdsourcing lets retailers leverage existing resources already on the road to make delivery faster, more efficient and more flexible. While others are making big bets on drones, our Roadie drivers are delivering gigantic garden gnomes. We’re delivering temperature-controlled medicine that won’t be ready for pickup until 9 p.m. We’re working with Walmart to save busy parents a trip to buy groceries. We’re returning your lost luggage from the airport, and bringing you the ladder you bought online at The Home Depot this morning.

Some of the biggest brands in retail are investing in crowdsourcing. Today, we’re partnering with SMBs and Fortune 100 retailers to deliver everything from makeup to mattresses, paint to puppy food. Businesses across virtually every industry are solving today’s delivery challenges with an asset-light strategy that allows them to experiment and learn. They’re addressing delivery demand today, without making new capital investments or locking themselves into a futures bet with complex hardware systems. And most importantly, they’re not disrupting their existing supply chain in a way that can’t be undone without a huge cost if and when the autonomous tech winners begin to emerge over the next decade or two.

And that’s really the point. Retailers need optionality. Customers want to personalize their delivery for each and every purchase at the point of sale. A great customer experience means having a delivery solution for every customer delivery problem, whether you’re scheduling a sofa delivery on Sunday or sending a rescue inhaler right now. Making that work in the real world means having an arsenal of tools in your delivery toolkit.

We’re solving the problems retailers are having today, at scale – not iterating on solutions that may work at a required scale years in the future. Crowdsourcing is a sustainable solution that ensures we’ll all be around to see what delivery looks like in the future.

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Don Pancho_University for Peace Visit

Marc Gorlin is the Founder and CEO of Roadie, a crowdsourced delivery service that works with consumers, small businesses and national companies across virtually every industry to provide a faster, cheaper, more scalable solution for scheduled, same-day and urgent delivery. With over 150,000 verified drivers, Roadie covers 89% of U.S. households — the largest local same-day delivery footprint in the nation.

humanitarian

Amazon, Total Quality Logistics Among 2019 Humanitarian Logistics Award Honorees

Amazon and Total Quality Logistics (TQL) are among the 2019 winners of the American Logistics Aid Network’s Humanitarian Logistics Awards.

Disaster Relief by Amazon earned the Outstanding Contribution Award for leveraging its extensive services, operations and logistics technology to help advance the cause of effective and large-scale disaster relief. For instance, in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, the Disaster Relief by Amazon team mobilized two Amazon Air flights, full of tens of thousands of donated relief items such as tarps, buckets and water containers.

Total Quality Logistics also received an Outstanding Contribution Award for Moves that Matter, a program that provides funding to help nonprofits and businesses defray the cost of humanitarian shipments, as well as for TQL Cares, an in-house initiative that raises millions of dollars and contributes thousands of volunteer hours to various compassionate causes each year.

Nezih Altay of DePaul University received the Research and Academic Contributions Award for being one of the first U.S. academics to recognize the importance of applying operations research and supply chain management to the challenge of disaster relief. His 2006 paper, OR/MS Research in Disaster Operations Management, was one of the first papers to spark research in humanitarian logistics and remains the most cited article in its field.

Author and supply chain resilience expert Phil Palin received the Lifetime Achievement Award for his ongoing work to help government and businesses develop greater alignment when providing disaster relief. Over the years, he has worked closely with federal, state, local and private sector leaders to prepare for and respond to complex wide-area catastrophic events and served in a variety of capacities, most recently as the FEMA team leader for the supply chain Ecosystem Assessment. He has also authored numerous books and articles about supply chain resilience, including Out of the Whirlwind: Supply and Demand after Hurricane Maria.

“Each of these recipients is living proof that humanitarianism isn’t just a one-time event–and that true service extends well beyond a single disaster,” says Mark Richards, board chairman of the American Logistics Aid Network. “It truly is part of their corporate DNA and personal passion. We’re grateful to them for the many contributions they have made, and we are proud to recognize them.”

ocean

A Tough Year on the Water Hasn’t Dampened Innovation for these Ocean Carriers

To say that 2019 has been challenging for ocean carriers would be an understatement. The year began with the National Retail Federation forecasting a decline in year-over-year growth, echoing World Bank chatter of a slowing global economy.

And don’t forget the tariff wars between the U.S. and China (heck, the U.S. and just about anyone). Managing capacity on ships has also been an issue, and then there is the potential biggest bogeyman of all: the International Maritime Organization’s low-sulfur fuel mandate taking effect Jan. 1, 2020.

Sure, we could dwell on the gloom and doom, but that would not be very Global Trade magazine of us, now would it? We here in our silky ivory tower like to spotlight the positive, which we reveal with these ocean shippers we love.

MSC

Mediterranean Shipping Co. this year watched the world’s largest container ship, the MSC Gülsün, complete its maiden voyage from northern China to Europe. With a width of 197 feet and a length of 1,312 feet (!), the Gülsün was built by Samsung Heavy Industries at the Geoje shipyard in South Korea. It can carry up to 23,756 TEUs shipping containers on one haul. That capacity can include 2,000 refrigerated containers for shipping food, beverages, pharmaceuticals or any other chilled and frozen cargoes. That’s a lot of snow cones!

MOL

Mitsui O.S.K. Lines sees MSC Gülsün and raises you the MOL Triumph, which achieved a new world load record this year. Departing Singapore for Northern Europe on THE Alliance’s FE2 service with a cargo of 19,190 TEU. That surpassed the previous load record achieved in August 2018, when Mumbai Maersk sailed from Tanjung Pelepas to Rotterdam with 19,038 TEU onboard. Yes, you are correct, that’s a pretty slim margin of victory, and analysts suspect the MOL Triumph record won’t last long given the 23,000 TEU ships being introduced.

HYUNDAI MERCHANT MARINE 

Speaking of THE Alliance, current members Hapag-Lloyd, ONE and Yang Ming will be joined in April 2020 by Hyundai Merchant Marine (HMM). The South Korean carrier recently signed an agreement to join THE Alliance and then passed the pen to the founding members, who extended the duration of their collaboration until 2030. “HMM is a great fit for THE Alliance as it will provide a number of new and modern vessels, which will help us to deliver better quality and be more efficient,” said Rolf Habben Jansen, Hapag-Lloyd’s chief executive. 

HAPAG-LLOYD

Oh, speaking of the fifth-largest container shipping company in the world, Hapag-Lloyd is piloting an online insurance product as part of a digital offering to try to overcome the widespread practice of shippers relying on the limited cover provided under the terms of carriers’ bills of lading. While Hapag-Lloyd says it takes the utmost care in transporting cargo, company officials acknowledge things can and have gone wrong. Thus, the introduction of Quick Cargo Insurance, which is underwritten by industrial insurer Chubb in Germany and is limited to containerized exports from that country, France and the Netherlands. However, the carrier says it plans to expand the offer.  

MAERSK

To navigate new environmental regulations, A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S is considering going old school. We mean really old school by using a modern version of the old-fashioned sail to help power its ships. Currently being tested on one of Maersk’s giant tankers, the sails look less like the flapping silk you know from Johnny Depp movies and Jerry Seinfeld’s puffy shirt and more like huge marble columns. But they are nothing to laugh at as two 10-story-tall cylinders can harness enough wind to replace 20 percent of the ship’s fossil fuels, according to their maker, Norsepower Oy Ltd. 

MOL, THE SEQUEL

While we’re getting all green up in here, it’s worth also pointing out that Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. This year joined three other Japanese companies— Asahi Tanker Co., Exeno Yamamizu Corp., and Mitsubishi Corp.—in teaming up to build the world’s first zero-emission tanker by mid-2021. Their joint venture e5 Lab Inc. will power the vessel with large-capacity batteries and operate in Tokyo Bay, according to a statement the foursome released on Aug. 6. Thanks to the onslaught of legislation to improve environmental performance, other companies are also looking to battery power. Norway’s Kongsberg Gruppen is developing an electric container vessel, and Rolls-Royce Holdings last year that started offering battery-powered ship engines.

AMAZON

No, this is not a leftover strand from a different story in this magazine about moving packages on the ground. “Quietly and below the radar,” USA Today recently reported, “Amazon has been ramping up its ocean shipping service, sending close to 4.7 million cartons of consumers goods from China to the United States over the past year, records show.” While other ocean carrier leaders prepare for the bald head of Jeff Bezos, his move really should be no surprise given Amazon’s attempt to control as much of its transportation network as possible. (See my September-October issue story “Air War: Fast, Free Shipping has UPS, FedEx and Amazon Scrambling in the Air”). Of Amazon now floating into the sea, Steve Ferreira, CEO of Ocean Audit, a company that utilizes data and machine learning to find ocean freight refunds for the Fortune 500, told USA Today: “This makes them the only e-commerce company that is able to do the whole transaction from end-to-end. Amazon now has a closed ecosystem.” 

two-day shipping

Two-Day Shipping or One-Day Order Processing: What Wins?

Your average customer doesn’t know much about logistics, so every e-commerce company faces a unique concern for giving customers what they want. Do you offer two-day shipping for when an order is processed, or speed up your processing, all in order to meet their demands for quick products?

From the customer perspective, two-day shipping obviously sounds fantastic. However, it stops being so great when things take far longer than two days. Imagine if your order processing takes a week — how would customers feel?

In the same light, if an order is processed in a few hours, but shipping takes weeks, people might not even click “buy” if you’re upfront about how long it’ll take to get to their door. Google will lead you to many people who are disappointed with shipping times, regardless of the promise they were made.

So, what’s an e-commerce business to do?

Two-Day Shipping Changes

Adding two-day shipping is all about speed in your warehouse. As soon as this team receives an order, they get to work picking, packing, and sending it off to the customer. Buyers have a clear understanding of when things will arrive after the order is shipped and they’ll hold you to it.

To achieve this, you’ll need a streamlined warehouse with quality technology and practices, optimized to move orders as fast as possible. You also need enough people to prevent a backlog. Warehouse management tools are a tremendous help for this labor planning, plus they can ensure you’ve got the inventory of products as well as boxes and packaging materials to keep you ready.

The good news for a business is that you can keep your shipping promises even when inventory runs low because you’re guaranteeing delivery after order processing. 

Making the most out of two-day shipping requires you to be transparent. Customers need to know that the two days are when the product leaves your warehouse and arrives at their door, not when they click “buy.” Companies often address this by providing an estimated arrival date and then following up with an email once the product is shipped.

Thoughts on One-Day Order Processing

Order processing, simply put, is your ability to verify and use a purchase order to create a warehouse shipment order.

Most customers just don’t think about order processing when they’re making a purchase. Some don’t really understand the concept because they’re treating your business like a brick-and-mortar solution where they walk in, ask for what they want, and then you (the business) immediately know and can start on their order.

The behind-the-scenes actions of verifying orders and payment, checking inventory, creating an order for a warehouse, and getting it all in line when your staff is there simply blow by without a thought. You can see this in the wide range of explanations, FAQs, and responses to customer complaints about package deliveries and times. Even Comcast has to explain order processing times on its support pages.

If you’re able to streamline all of those activities, it’s a boost that customers will love, even if they don’t realize it. Processing every part of an order in a single day, or on the same day, allows your team to pick, pack, and send faster. It’ll improve the speed of all orders you receive, not just those that select expedited shipping.

Most of this is done via technology like warehouse management systems, which allow you to better control costs and understand revenue as well as inventory. What you’ll like about using a WMS is that they process orders quickly enough for you to insert them in the workflow where they need. So, if you get two orders — the first at regular shipping and then another an hour later with two-day shipping — the system will automatically move the two-day shipping to the front of the line.

The Customer-Driven Choice

Choosing between these two options requires one more consideration: where are your customers unhappy?

Unhappy customers won’t buy from you again and are likely to leave negative reviews that can impact other sales. When concerns are around your shipping, read them carefully. Ask if you can best respond by processing an order more quickly and reducing long wait times or if they demand immediate satisfaction with the two-day turnaround.

In general, customers are more likely to understand two-day shipping on your website, so if the issue is clarity or complaints around not knowing when goods will arrive, this might be a better course of action. On the other hand, if they don’t like how their order disappears for days or weeks before they get a notice about it being shipped, order processing can be the right solution.

Shoppers on the e-commerce behemoth Amazon will sometimes gripe that their Prime packages still take a week to arrive. Often this is because the seller’s order processing systems and inventory levels have issues. Because customers are paying for two-day shipping, they can feel cheated. It’s a direct sign for where those companies should focus their next warehouse investments.

Both two-day shipping and one-day order processing can improve your operations. When possible do both. When not, pick the one that your customers will understand and appreciate most based on the feedback you already have available.

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Jake Rheude is the Director of Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an ecommerce fulfillment warehouse that was born out of ecommerce. He has years of experience in ecommerce and business development. In his free time, Jake enjoys reading about business and sharing his own experience with others. 

Giving Customers Choice: The Power of Personalized Delivery in the Age of Amazon

The past five years have paved the way for a new age of retail — where stores have become omnichannel-driven showrooms, checkout has become as simple as a flick of the phone, and teeming competition has driven retailers to create curated experiences for their customers. 

Most fingers point at the e-commerce giants, Amazon in particular, for putting pressure on brick-and-mortar stores to compete on convenience and personalization. Particularly around delivery, Amazon changed the game with two-day shipping for Prime members. As retailers have fought back by leveraging their physical footprints to improve fulfillment times with offerings like click and collect, Amazon upped the ante with one-day delivery. 

There’s no doubt about one thing: increasing consumer demand for convenience is as important as it’s ever been. The focus has been on enabling same- and next-day delivery, but that’s also been putting retailers under enormous strain and compressing already thin margins. 

If you’re solely focused on matching Amazon’s one-day shipping promise, you’re missing the bigger picture. Consumers want more than same-day, next-day, or scheduled deliveries – they want the freedom to choose

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Capgemini found that 73% of consumers think receiving a delivery in a convenient time slot is more important than receiving it quickly. It ultimately comes down to a question of time vs. money. Sometimes customers are willing to pay for something to be delivered in a few hours, and sometimes they’d rather save money and receive it in a week.

Instead of focusing on keeping up with Amazon’s expedited shipping, retailers need to focus on building better customer experiences. From a delivery standpoint, this means creating a logistics infrastructure that can reliably deliver orders when buyers want them delivered. This is accomplished by leveraging multiple delivery models and creating a reliable set of options that includes urgent, same-day, next-day, and more. 

For retailers determined to stay competitive, partnering with innovative providers for home delivery and last-mile logistics can add optionality while avoiding the challenges of building out owned asset networks or expanding service with traditional parcel networks.  

The bottom line is this: consumers want what they want, when they want it. The maturation of e-commerce has ushered in an era of personalization at scale and growing customer demand for convenient, flexible shopping experiences. Next-day and same-day delivery sit at the center, but customers are ultimately focused on choosing the right fulfillment option for each and every order.

Otherwise, they’ll leave and find the retailer who can. 

Will Walker is the Enterprise Manager at Roadie, the first on-the-way delivery service that connects people and businesses that have items to send with drivers already heading in the right direction. Roadie works with top retailers, airlines, and grocers for a faster, more efficient, and more scalable solution for same-day and last-mile deliveries nationwide. With over 120,000 drivers, the company has delivered to more than 11,000 cities and towns nationwide — a larger footprint than Amazon Prime.

FedEx

FEDEX, UPS, & AMAZON SCRAMBLING IN THE AIR FOR FAST, FREE SHIPPING

Christmas came in May for Amazon Prime subscribers, who were informed the platform’s tens of millions of items would be available for free same-day delivery and two-day shipping. 

“Prime Free One-Day is possible because we’ve been building our network for over 20 years,” reads a company statement. “This allows Amazon to work smarter based on decades of process improvement and innovation, and to deliver orders faster and more efficiently.” 

Customers reap the benefits as Rakuten Intelligence research shows that over the past two years, the time from purchase to delivery has been slashed from 5.2 days to 4.3 days on average. And yet, Amazon is faster still, at 3.2 days.

Other retailers took the Amazon news like a lump of coal, with Walmart scrambling to unveil free one-day shipping without a membership fee. Target already had such a program for card-carrying loyalty shoppers. FedEx revealed it was parting ways with Amazon for “strategic reasons.”

Meanwhile, industry watchers caution about the hidden baggage that comes with rapidly delivered packages.

Competition is Fierce

Despite the cheery one-day news, Amazon still faces competition from Walmart, which boasts more than 4,700 store locations and an extensive network of warehouses from which it can deliver packages. Another worthy contender is XPO Logistics, which is among the largest third-party logistics providers with 90 facilities across the country. 

During his December earnings call, FedEx CEO and founder Fred Smith said his company views Amazon “as a wonderful company and service and they’re a good customer of ours. We don’t see them as a peer competitor at this point in time.” 

Mere months later, FedEx severed ties with Amazon and partnered with Dollar General on package delivery services, with expectations to offer the service in more than 1,500 stores by late in the summer, building to over 8,000 stores by 2020. 

“We believe this move is an attempt to increase delivery density in lower population areas,” states the Morgan Stanley Research on the move. “… The Dollar General partnership follows a series of headlines including FDX’s AMZN customer loss, move to seven-day ground delivery, and incentive compensation modification ahead of their June 25th fourth quarter earnings release.

So much for not seeing Amazon as competition. FedEx’s annual report, which was released on July 16, mentioned Amazon six times and included this context: “We face intense competition.”

“[I]f customers, such as Amazon.com, further develop or expand internal capabilities for the services we provide, it will reduce our revenue and could negatively impact our financial condition and results of operations,” the FedEx report states. “News regarding such developments or expansions could also negatively impact the price of our common stock.”

And how is this for sounding completely opposite to what Smith had said just seven months prior? “[S]ome high volume package shippers, such as Amazon.com, are developing and implementing in-house delivery capabilities and utilizing independent contractors for deliveries, and may be considered competitors.”

Look! Up in the Sky!!

“Amazon.com is investing significant capital to establish a network of hubs, aircraft and vehicles,” the FedEx annual report notes.

That’s striking when you consider the far fewer times FedEx rival UPS is mentioned in the same report. Keep in mind that UPS currently has 564 cargo jets and thousands of facilities and fulfillment centers around the world, while Amazon has one air hub and options on 100 planes—by 2021, according to a June announcement. 

Ditching Amazon as an air customer led to FedEx slashing prices to fill its planes, according to numerous reports.

As the shipping giants fight for the skies, benefits are being reaped on the ground. Hillwood, developer of the 26,000-acre master-planned AllianceTexas development near Fort Worth, announced in June it has acquired control of 600 acres of additional contiguous land. Strategically located between Fort Worth Alliance Airport and the BNSF Railway Alliance Intermodal Facility, the new Alliance Westport property increases Hillwood’s potential for more manufacturing, large-scale logistics facilities and aviation sites adjacent to the airport’s recently expanded runways.

Alliance Westport is already home to more than 8 million square feet of industrial and aviation development, including key logistics facilities for UPS, FedEx and Amazon Air. When combined with BNSF Railway’s intermodal facility volumes, these three hubs will offer Alliance Westport customers unparalleled access to rail, highway and air shipping options, all within a one-mile radius. The railway and roads have direct routes to Mexico and expedited transit times to the West Coast ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

“This is one of the most significant land acquisitions in the history of AllianceTexas,” says Tony Creme, senior vice president of Hillwood. “As Alliance Airport and the BNSF Railway Alliance Intermodal Facility continue to expand and strengthen the foundation for AllianceTexas’ commercial growth, this new property in Alliance Westport will serve as a strategic link between these two pieces of critical logistics infrastructure and offer unparalleled connectivity to our customers.”

 But What About the Planet?

As efforts intensify to move products faster, speedy deliveries are taking a toll on the environment, according to Patrick Browne, director of Global Sustainability at UPS

“The time in transit has a direct relationship to the environmental impact,” Browne told CNN Business on July 15. “I don’t think the average consumer understands the environmental impact of having something tomorrow versus two days from now. The more time you give me, the more efficient I can be.”

A van schlepping goods to e-commerce customer doors does remove from the road the vehicles of those who would otherwise be driving to brick and mortar stores, but a 2012 University of Washington story found that advantage is erased if the delivery route begins far away and items are coming immediately, because the ability to lump orders together is diminished. 

Last-mile services such as Amazon Flex and Walmart’s Spark Delivery often deliver only a few items at once in personal vehicles or small vans. A new option called Amazon Day, which offers discounts and rewards to customers who choose “no-rush shipping,” does allow for the consolidation of orders, however.

Amazon’s competition can take solace in the fact that Amazon was already absorbing added costs for fast deliveries before the Prime one-day announcement, which included news of an additional $800 million investment in logistics infrastructure.

ENTREPRENEURS

ENTREPRENEURS ALLEGE AMAZON’S “UNSCRUPULOUS BUSINESS PRACTICES” FORCED CLOSED BUSINESSES

A group of companies in Los Angeles and surrounding areas that were part of Amazon’s Delivery Service Partner Program are suing the e-commerce giant, it was announced Aug. 5. 

Plaintiffs the Hubper Group Companies and their affiliates allege Breach of the Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing, Breach of Implied Contract, Estoppel, Fraudulent Concealment, Unfair Business Practices and Intentional Interference with Business Relationship in the complaint filed in the Superior Court of Los Angeles by the Newport Beach, California-based law firm WHGC, P.L.C. 

They seek an unspecified amount in compensatory damages, disgorgement, plus exemplary and punitive damages from Amazon Logistics, which is accused of “wrongfully and without cause” terminating the plaintiffs’ Delivery Service Partner relationship this past April. That was after the Hubper Group Companies claims to have invested about $4.5 million into continuing its exclusive operations for Amazon, which included employing about 600 people to deliver good from nine stations covering 300 routes. 

Further, once Hubper Group Companies was put out of business, Amazon contacted the plaintiffs’ former drivers, offering employment as independent contractors utilizing the same delivery routes, according to the lawsuit.

“This is a clear-cut story of a corporate giant knowingly and deceitfully putting a group of local entrepreneurs out of business,” says a member of the plaintiffs’ legal team. “Amazon Logistics convinced these hard-working entrepreneurs to invest in a business that they knew would soon render worthless, a practice that is immoral, unethical, oppressive, unscrupulous and substantially injurious to consumers overall.”

New Times Call for Fulfillment Companies to Become More Than Just Order Fillers

For years, third party fulfillment warehouses have been viewed as simply ‘warehousing and shipping centers’, tasked with the straightforward duty of making sure customer orders are shipped on-time and accurately. The pressure to change and adapt wasn’t present until recently, so the warehousing industry as a whole remained static – and largely does even today.

Lately, however, the importance of on-time and accurate deliveries has become amplified due to consumers’ growing expectations, causing outsourced warehousing providers to become more ‘nimble and flexible’ or face the prospect of losing business. Furthermore, with outside pressures such as Amazon’s growing dominance and a new injection of technology into a largely archaic industry, fulfillment centers are being faced with a challenge – will they expand locations, differentiate, broaden service offerings and become valuable assets to their customers by adding value or will they choose to serve as a traditional cost center and risk extinction? The pressure to become a more strategic partner to customers is so great now that many industry insiders believe that they must either adapt quickly or they won’t survive.

Fortunately, there are a select group of third-party warehouses that are expanding their presence into new markets to offer multi-location shipping, growing their service offerings to provide a suite of valuable capabilities rather than just filling orders, broadening their technological capabilities, and even collaborating with customers in their corporate and marketing processes in ways that would have been unthinkable in the past.

Companies that employ outsourced logistics services companies will need to make sure that their choice of provider meets all of these requirements in order to remain competitive in the omni-channel landscape.

How Many Locations Does the Fulfillment Center Have?

Many customers want their package delivered within at least a two-day ground window throughout the US. Despite Amazon’s push to create same-day deliveries and dominate the outsourced fulfillment market, multi-location fulfillment centers have carved out a niche by focusing on not only offering a substitute for Amazon’s FBA service (via merchant fulfilled service), but also capitalizing on multi-channel fulfillment of orders through customers’ websites and other online marketplaces, such as eBay, Jet.com, etc. In order to meet Amazon’s Prime fulfillment status, a third-party warehouse must be able to operate on a 2-day ground basis throughout the country. This means they must have, in most cases, three or more facilities spread strategically throughout the United States. Only a very small fraction of companies can meet this requirement. Other online marketplaces aren’t quite as strict in terms of ground shipping requirements, but the expectations will most certainly evolve over time.

Amazon isn’t the only factor applying pressure to the multi-location demands. Because consumers are flat out demanding quicker delivery of goods, a new breed of technology driven warehouse marketplaces are popping up, helping companies strategically locate goods using multiple partner warehouses tied together by one overarching technology and warehouse management system. But these new warehouse marketplaces don’t offer the same advantages of using a single company with multiple locations. First, the online marketplaces add a layer of commission in an otherwise very tight margin industry, driving up overall costs for users of outsourcing. Second, pressures to conform to additional third-party software distract from the focus of the fulfillment center, which lead to differences in service levels. At the end of the day, if profitability is higher for internally generated customers, more time will likely be spent servicing them rather than less profitable marketplace customers. Speaking directly with multi-location warehouses or using a fulfillment services matching service to find a single company is imperative to not only save money but ensure the highest level of service.

How Innovative is the Fulfillment Center’s Technology?

Most e-commerce fulfillment companies offer quick and easy integration between Web Stores and their in-house WMS (warehouse management system). This has become the norm, as more WMS programs have expanded to include integration with most of the popular online shopping carts. However, fulfillment centers that are on the cutting edge of technology have taken things a step further – not only offering a more customized experience but also allowing for integration above and beyond the cookie cutter order and shipping tracking levels.

Through the use of API (application programming interface) and web services, e-commerce fulfillment companies can be more flexible with the information that they send back and forth between their company and customers. Most importantly, real-time inventory information can be more easily synced, allowing for a more robust set of data viewed online by end consumers. But the expanded exchange of data doesn’t end there – some fulfillment providers are even sending information to ERP and accounting software programs (such as QuickBooks), eliminating the frustration of manual entry.

Is the Fulfillment Center Able to Provide Packaging Consulting?

How companies package their products is becoming more important than it was in years past. Providing a unique and memorable “unboxing experience” is a way that some sellers are differentiating themselves from competitions especially in very competitive markets. Contract packaging and custom packaging production are two major areas a fulfillment center can have a measurable impact on end customer satisfaction and brand loyalty. By assisting sellers with the design and production of creative and cost-effective packaging solutions, fulfillment companies can add measurable impact.

Because fulfillment centers have purchasing leverage by aggregating carton, box and other packaging materials purchases among their overall customer base, offering packaging consulting services would appear to be a “no brainer”.  However, very few fulfillment warehouses offer this service. Usually outsourced warehouses have a set of standard boxes that they offer customers, but nothing more.

Another way that packaging consulting can be valuable is by helping sellers design or implement carton and packaging solutions that will reduce shipping costs or damage. Warehouses with significant experience in carton selection are best positioned to act as a strategic consultant.

Are Returns Management Services Available with the Fulfillment Center?

Customers are inevitably going to return products. In fact, it’s almost as if the perfect storm for increased returns has struck the online retail marketplace – increasing consumer purchases online combined with major retailers offering almost unheard-of returns policies to increase the likelihood of purchasing. Some companies, such as Amazon, have made returns so easy that other smaller competitors are almost forced to follow suit or else they will lose the sale.

But again, many traditional fulfillment services companies haven’t built internal capabilities to truly serve as a returns processing center for their fulfillment clients. Returns processing is quite challenging and requires not only thorough knowledge of the product, but also oftentimes requires specialized equipment or processes. For example, in order to handle returns processing for an apparel company, a fulfillment provider must be able to inspect the goods for damage and prepare it for resale, which could include additional services such as re-tagging or ironing.

Furthermore, technology plays a major role in being able to effectively manage returns. When done formally, consumers must obtain a returns authorization, which needs to be communicated to the fulfillment provider in order to process the approved return. Once the return hits the docks, the fulfillment center must have a robust process in place to quickly receive, inspect and return the product to inventory or it will be stuck in an obscure receiving bin for an unknown period of time. Fulfillment houses that track this process manually simply aren’t prepared to handle the stringent needs of fulfilling returns – which is why many “pass” on the opportunity.

Does the Fulfillment Provider Offer Accounting Support, Call Center and Creative Services?

While it is extremely rare, some fulfillment companies offer additional back-end business services to client, such as invoicing, billing, accounting, call center services and even other creative services so smaller businesses can focus more on selling and marketing their products. While not necessarily related, these services are easily outsourced without much risk, making a one-stop shop especially intriguing.

A lot more of them offer this now because they know startups and growing companies need extra help in a more competitive business climate. Offering additional services also makes the fulfillment center more competitive compared to ones only capable of shipping expertise.

The most well-known of these services spans from accounting to call center support services but can include such wide-ranging support services such as web development, online marketing support, photography for e-commerce, video production. Outsourcing web development, marketing, and e-commerce photography is very valuable for e-commerce companies, and benefits the fulfillment company if the work results in more orders to process.

The list of fulfillment providers that offers all of these services and capabilities under one roof is extremely limited. Over time, however, more and more companies will be forced to adapt and expand – or cease to exist. As an online retailer, it’s extremely important to align with an outsourced provider that is well positioned for the future. Taking a long look at the breadth of capabilities offered is critical in forging a partnership that will last and grow and that will serve as a vehicle of additional value.

e-commerce

Shipping Solutions Keep Pace with E-Commerce’s Global Reach

I recently came across a study in which 80 percent of executives from leading U.S. e-commerce companies said they considered expansion to international markets “critical” to future growth.  The survey also revealed that Canada, Western Europe and Asia account for most international sales from U.S. websites, followed by China and Japan.  

These findings are indicative of the “no-turning-back” mentality taking place among retailers, as the reality of the growing global e-commerce marketplace takes hold. U.S. retailers now look beyond their borders and see a world in which 80 percent of B2C e-commerce sales are taking place outside of North America, and in which consumers are increasingly open to shopping across borders.

International e-commerce sales have become so pervasive in fact, almost 60 percent of shoppers say they made an international purchase in the past six months. That number jumps to almost 63 percent for European consumers, and 58 percent for Asia-Pacific shoppers.

This is especially true within the lucrative U.S./Canada trade relationship, with as much as one-third of Canadian e-commerce purchases going to U.S. sites, and more than 60 percent of Canadians having made an international purchase in the last six months. 

Today consumers across the globe, including in emerging and developing countries, have unprecedented access to brands and product selections online. Consider, for example, that 75 percent of online shoppers in India and 61 percent of shoppers in Nigeria have made international purchases. It’s no wonder then the value of retail e-commerce is surging and projected to be valued at almost $5 trillion by 2021, just two years from now.

For smart retailers, the customers are there. The challenge is to connect with consumers in a way that aligns with their local customs and expectations to localize transactions and fine-tune the customer experience. And, since ensuring seamless deliveries is an important part of any customer experience, it’s essential to understand that international logistics resources are possible today that were unthinkable just a few years ago.

Meeting customer expectations – in every country

In thinking about satisfying expectations, a retailer will come to understand that the world’s consumers essentially want the same things when shopping online:  

  • Consistent inventory across all channels
  • Detailed product information 
  • Site navigation in their native languages
  • Prices listed in local currencies
  • Online payment/currency-conversion capability
  • Access to rebates and other savings incentives
  • Fast delivery – what they want, delivered when they want it.

A retailer must dedicate time to market research as a way to understand consumer preferences and dislikes.  You need to make sure there’s demand for your product, determine who your competitors are, and then find your competitive advantage. A good logistics strategy will be an integral part of that competitive advantage because seamless, on-time deliveries – and hassle-free returns – are among the most important deliverables for consumers all over the world.  

PriceWaterhouse Cooper’s 2019 Global Consumer Insights Survey asked consumers in 27 countries about their shipment expectations. Among the more interesting findings, is the impact mega-retailers including Amazon, Alibaba and Net-a-Porter have had in defining global consumer expectations. Global consumer expectations include free shipping (72 percent), free return shipping (65 percent), package tracking (54 percent) and same-day delivery (50 percent).

To accommodate these globally-shared expectations, international retailers are building logistics strategies that create the “look and feel” of a domestic delivery – despite being an ocean or a continent away.  Italian customers don’t really care if customs delays affected a shipment leaving the United States, or that bad weather over the Atlantic forced a shipment to be re-routed. They just want their packages delivered on time, as promised. Every time.

Behind the scenes, logistics providers are working to expand their international footprints, to ensure capabilities are in place to help businesses meet their delivery promises.  For example, my company recently announced a $1B investment in the future, including a new national hub set to open in Toronto in 2021.  You’ll find similar developments happening around the world.

Technology and innovation are also allowing logistics companies to provide levels of service that were unthinkable as recently as a few years ago. Some of those solutions include: 

-Customized solutions. Shipping companies can support a retailer by providing a wide range of options to build the best solution for a particular customer’s needs. Shippers have traditionally been bound by rigid carrier schedules; today, a solution can meet a specific need. For example, a shipment traveling from southern California to Ontario would benefit from direct linehaul service to the border, followed by induction into a Canadian distribution center. The direct linehaul could conceivably shave two to three days from a “traditional” Canada-bound schedule.

-Different modes of transportation. Hybrid solutions might integrate ground service with a rail or air component, depending on a particular situation. In fact, 2018 was a particularly strong year for intermodal volume on U.S. railroad, according to the Journal of Commerce.

-Expedited service. For shipments to Europe, Asia, Latin America, or even across North America, a retailer can take advantage of unprecedented expedited air solutions. We used to think of “expedited” as a solution reserved for extreme emergencies, but today, retailers increasingly rely on expedited air solutions because of its guaranteed, anywhere/anytime capabilities.

-Cross-border expertise. Efficiencies in customs management now make it possible for shipments to move swiftly across international borders. Experienced providers will ensure maximum efficiency in the clearance process, including assignment of the proper tariff classification code. Getting the tariff classification correct is important because an incorrect classification will delay a shipment, and shippers might pay a higher rate of duty. A report by the Auditor General of Canada found 20 percent of shipments arrive at the border with an improper code assigned! And since tariff classification is used to determine eligibility for free trade agreement benefits, an incorrect classification could cause the shipper to miss out on those savings as well.

E-commerce truly is the engine of future retail growth. And thanks to innovations in transportation efficiency, your access to the world’s customers has never been easier.

auto purchases

Auto Purchases Reveal New Consumer Trends

Same-day shipping, orders at the click of a button, e-commerce, automation, are all elements that strive to meet the ever-demanding market of consumers with Amazon standards, speed, and accuracy. While many millennials learn to adapt to this consumer culture, Gen Z understands it as a common standard.

Global Trade Magazine had the opportunity to take an inside look at how Gen Z is transforming auto purchases in an exclusive Q&A with Grant Feek, co-founder and CEO of TRED.

Why are consumers, particularly Gen Z consumers, moving away from the traditional auto purchase approach?

“Firstly, our data suggests that gen z consumers are very interested in owning and driving vehicles. Many prognosticators conflate the pending adoption of automotive technologies, such as autonomous drive, with a pending decline in car ownership rates – we don’t see the latter trend in our data.”

“Secondly, our data suggests that gen z consumers are more likely to purchase and sell vehicles in non traditional ways – we suspect that this trend has less to do with gen z’s overt aversion to buying a car traditionally, and more to do with the facts that gen z is (1) more comfortable using computers / trusting online marketplace technology and (2) less engrained in the pre-existing traditional vehicle purchase / sale process. In the same way, gen z’ers are more likely to have groceries delivered, rent clothing, hold cryptocurrency, etc.”

What is it about a dealership consumers are trying to avoid?

“Our data suggests that the #1 complaint with the traditional dealership buying experience, for all consumers (not just gen z), is that it takes too long. We also hear a lot of complaints about pricing.”

What negative associations are seen with Gen Z consumers and new car purchases?

“I don’t think that gen z sees negative connotations associated with car buying so much as gen z has more progressive consumer expectations. It’s important to keep in mind that these kids grew up with iPads in their laps and Amazon Prime at their fingertips. They’re conditioned for internet research and purchase convenience from birth.”

In what ways will the industry have to change to capture the attention of Gen Z consumers?

“Today the technology exists to allow consumer counter parties to deal directly with one another, without the middleman, while still enjoying the vehicle assurances and payment conveniences that they would get at the dealership. We think that’s the future of used car buying and selling for gen z in the US, as well as for everyone everywhere.”

What are the unique needs Gen Z brings to the auto industry? Are they realistic? Will they eventually phase out? 

“In the used car space, gen z buyers expect price transparency, vehicle history information, vehicle inspection information, the option to test drive, payment options, vehicle service and GAP options, and transaction assurance. Gen z buyers and sellers expect the very best of value. We don’t think these trends will phase out. We think the next generation will be even more “demanding” than is gen z.”

In what ways are peer-to-peer car marketplaces changing the game?  

“Peer to peer car marketplaces change the game because they put thousands of dollars per transaction back in the pockets of consumers – you can see Tred’s real time savings data here. In this way, we believe that peer to peer marketplaces will change how many high ticket products are transacted in the coming years: cars, motorcycles, RVs, yachts, boats, bicycles, homes, etc.”