Amazon Gets Set to Disrupt the Freight Forwarding Market

Amazon Gets Set to Disrupt the Freight Forwarding Market

amazonAfter building an enviable fulfillment process and network, acquiring trailers to transport goods between fulfillment and sortation centers, dabbling in its own delivery services and dipping its toes in air cargo, Amazon is now eyeing the ocean freight forwarding market. 

Should other freight forwarders be concerned?

Freight forwarders are already facing a difficult market thanks to overcapacity, declining rates and a global economy that has remained in the doldrums for several years. However, as Amazon enters the NVOCC realm, there are bells going off in many freight forwarding offices.

Amazon is a monster e-commerce provider, an IT firm and a logistics provider. It is also a major customer of such delivery companies as FedEx, UPS and the USPS. In fact, according to some publications, Amazon is a $1 billion customer for UPS alone. $1 billion in transportation spend with UPS alone – that’s perhaps the main reason for building out its logistics and transportation network – costs are soaring – and so Amazon apparently has decided to bring it all in-house.

increase your airfreight revenuesDespite the precarious industry headwinds facing freight forwarders, Amazon’s NVOCC registry from the FMC depicts its Asian ambitions.  Amazon’s official name on the FMC’s NVOCC registry is Beijing Century JOYO Courier Service Co. Ltd. JOYO was a Chinese e-retailer acquired by Amazon in 2004 and also marked Amazon’s entry into China.

According to industry speculation, Amazon could provide freight forwarding services to Chinese companies looking to export products directly into its Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) warehouses, or perhaps even “cross-dock” the goods to inject into Amazon’s US delivery network. In addition, Amazon could provide a service most other freight forwarders are unable to – limiting the number of cargo ‘handoffs’ within the supply chain as well as fully taking advantage of its strong IT capabilities to further automate the process.

Amazon will come up against stiff competition. Alibaba, China’s own monster e-commerce provider, IT firm and coordinator of logistics services, signed an agreement with China Shipping Group, its subsidiary, China Shipping Network Technology and sister company China Shipping Container Lines in 2014 to set up an integrated and cross-border logistics platform. The platform will allow for both China Shipping’s and Alibaba’s clients to use it for price inquiry, ordering, tracking and settlement.

The race is on between the world’s two largest e-commerce providers and logistics is where the competition will ultimately determine the winner and perhaps redefine a freight forwarding market in need of change.

The World Needed Another Article on Amazon’s Dominance?

We actually put this article together for a very different reason than to just comment on Amazon.  At Crescent Air Freight we are not only a freight forwarder and NVOCC, but we’re also a consolidator which means we do business with other freight companies.  Many of our industry customers are ocean freight forwarders, NVOCC’s and customs brokers who don’t have in house air freight capabilities.  In other cases we’ll work with freight forwarders who may be licensed for air freight shipping but simply don’t have access to the pricing that we do.  So in that respect, we see some significant value in what Amazon could bring to the logistics marketplace.

Here’s an example of how we cooperate with industry competitors and how Amazon could do the same:

unlock the airfreight business in your customer baseWe have an NVOCC client who has no air freight capability, but they have tremendous ocean freight volume from various U.S. exporters.  A small percentage of the business that their customers have requires air freight service, and our client was simply letting that traffic walk out the door as they were unable to service it themselves.  Crescent was able to put together a simple set of rate and booking procedures that effectively made us the outsourced air freight vendor for this client.  As a result they are now able to capture over $50,000 in annual net revenue from this activity alone.

Now imagine Amazon’s volume of container traffic from China to the United States alone.  By choosing to become an NVOCC instead of a BCO (Beneficial Cargo Owner), Amazon is clearly signaling that they intend to make money off the sale of ocean freight services.  So imagine, just as a consumer goes to the Amazon Marketplace and chooses from 10 different vendors of the Apple iPhone, your freight business can now get centralized access to 1 set of prices for containers from Shanghai to Long Beach (for example).  No more price fluctuations, no more bloated destination charges from multiple handling agents and warehouses, etc.  Just one simple price.  That’s the power of what Amazon’s entry can mean to the market for U.S. import logistics.

Freight forwarders will be mistaken to see this as competition.  Amazon has repeatedly shown that “coopetition” with small businesses and other vendors – including those who sell competing products – is integral to their business model.  We believe they’re going to harness their considerable buying power in the freight markets to do the same for container shipping from Asia to the United States.  And this is no small undertaking – Far East Asia supplies over 50% of U.S. imports!  Clearly Amazon sees vast potential to deliver savings and take a cut for itself.  So how is this not competition for forwarders?  Well, in simple buying & selling terms it has to be considered competition.  However, in terms of value added services, it’s actually going to be a benefit to freight forwarders and NVOCC’s.  Considering most forwarders, especially small to mid-sized ones, deliver unsurpassed service benefits to their clients that large forwarders and integrators don’t, the actual cost of freight is nowhere nearly as significant as one might think.  If you’re a small or mid-sized forwarder who continues to add value to your customer’s business, then Amazon is about to drive down costs and stabilize them for your benefit as well as for the benefit of your customers.  If you’re a freight forwarder who currently does not service China origin business, Amazon may just give you a chance to capture business you’ve been neglecting due to lack of access or in house capabilities in the way that we did for our NVOCC customer.

So we say, “Welcome Amazon”.  It’s going to be fun competing with you and growing with you.

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IoT In the Logistics Space

IoT In the Logistics Space.

IoTEvery once in a while the logistics business gets to be “cool”. We’re not using a tired old pun here about the “cool chain” or perishable transportation solutions. Instead, we’re excited at the moment by the phenomenon known as the “Internet of Things” or IoT. As we’ve shown in some previous posts here at the Exporting Excellence™ blog we really like data and how it can be applied to (or derived from) international business, and IoT is all about the data.  From tracking passenger baggage to initiating preventative maintenance orders on aircraft, IoT is having a profound impact on the field of logistics and there are several ways that your business can benefit from this trend.

As we had mentioned in our post on big data, routine business processes create a great deal of data. This is primarily a byproduct of the increase in digital and online business processes – quite simply, every click we make in a browser, app or other program generates a data point that gets recorded somewhere, somehow. Big Data essentially focuses on how to compile, sort and interpret such data. IoT on the other hand is more concerned with how to “make” more data by bringing devices and gadgets that were previously inanimate and silent to “life” using network and digital communications. The result of compiling all this extra data is to enable businesses to use their resources more efficiently which in turn can increase sales, profitability, or other key business performance attributes.

We were really impressed with this recent report published by Deloitte University (part of accounting and consulting giant Deloitte Touche Homatsu) that offers some great insights into how IoT has been successfully adopted into supply chain and logistics processes as well as the many opportunities that it offers.

So what is the opportunity that IoT brings to the freight business? At the moment, most of the attention is focused on tracking cargo. The ability for an importer to determine how far from port their material sits, for example, seems to hold value for major wholesalers and retailers. Some specialized applications such as temperature monitoring for perishables and transit time tracking for pharmaceuticals seem to be gaining traction as well. A recent example of IoT technology hard at work that we came across was in the logistics of beer kegs. Already a high value segment of the logistics business, IoT is now enabling beer distributors to know how much beer actually remains in a keg. This information actually allows a bar to waste less beer (and more importantly increase yield per keg) and at the same time allows distributors to plan deliveries more efficiently. The “pre-IoT” way of measuring the amount of beer in a keg was to physically tilt it and see how heavy or light the keg was. New kegs, equipped with sensors and IoT technology can actually report the accurate quantity thereby enabling a more efficient supply and utilization process. It’s a product called iKeg from SteadyServe and you can learn more about the concept from this Wall Street Journal blog post or the company’s website. 

All of us in the logistics industry need to embrace our moment of “cool.” There is no need to expound on the many, many ways the internet has changed the world around us … we feel it everywhere. The logistics industry has lagged a bit in technological advancement because we are still a hands on, deliverable operation. It’s easy to leave the “cool” internet technology to those businesses that don’t have so many moving, physical parts. With IoT we are getting a chance to pull the technology available everywhere else, into our business. If IoT can make us operate smoother, track shipments easier, regulate temps better on perishable cargo….. what isn’t “cool” about that? And really, is anything “cooler” than increased profitability and efficiency derived from your supply chain?

 

 

The Pain of Demurrage Costs

The Pain of Demurrage Costs.

At Crescent Air Freight we spend a lot of time focusing on the hidden costs of logistics. We get clients and prospects to see what bad logistics can cost them far beyond the freight invoice by examining the impact on cash flow, profitability and brand equity. The concept is simple: poor logistics decisions (usually based on price alone) can result in delayed deliveries which can cause delayed payments, lost sales, and lack of product availability in overseas markets. However, there’s also a very real cash cost that comes with improper logistics planning and it’s known as demurrage.

demurrage costs

Demurrage, also known as detention, is a cost resulting from extended use of equipment, warehouse space, or other transportation resources. Basically, it’s a penalty charged for using someone else’s equipment or space. For example, railcars accrue demurrage if they are not unloaded in a timely manner; Vessels accrue demurrage if they are forced to wait at a port beyond a standard free time allotted by the port authority; Truckers charge detention when vehicles or drivers are made to wait for cargo pick up or discharge.

The problem that arises is when a demurrage or detention scenario arises, cargo owners often find their goods being held at ransom. Demurrage or detention charges are almost always expensive and your goods cannot be released until those charges are paid. Even worse, since such charges accrue on a daily basis, there’s very little room for negotiation and the final cost can change based on the time of receipt of payment!

NEW INCOterms CTAUnlike standard INCOTERMS which sets protocols for “who pays what”, the unfortunate reality is that demurrage costs are basically paid by the party who wants their goods so badly, they’ll even pay a penalty just to get them. Honestly, this can be avoided…it doesn’t have to happen. The solution to the problem, almost always lies in being prepared ahead of time and planning for eventualities. Matters like vessel detention or railcar detention tend not to be very relevant to the supply chains of our customers. However, port detention of export or import containers, airport storage of air freight shipments, and carrier demurrage charges for ocean freight containers gated out beyond “free time” are all examples of demurrage that occur on a daily basis. Obviously, this imposes heavy costs on cargo owners and can be avoided with better logistics planning.

Solutions to the demurrage/detention problem begin with the proper planning of a shipment and all the formalities associated with the arrival or departure of those goods. For example, we once had a client who wanted their export cargo out of their warehouse and into a container 7 days prior to the cut off date for a vessel headed to Australia. The problem was that the steamship line only allowed the container to be pulled out for loading purposes 5 days prior to the vessel cut off. Our client was unaware of the fact that they would have to pay a penalty for being 2 days too early. The solution was rather simple: we researched the details of the fees, calculated the cost of the extra storage and asked the client if they were willing to pay for it. Guess what happened? The client said “no”! They were very appreciative of us taking the time to research the cost associated with their plan and helping them to understand their true costs. However, had we not done this, it would have resulted in a few hundred dollars of charges that their trucker would have to pay upon returning the container. That’s right, the trucker would have been on the hook, and that’s one of the tricky parts of demurrage costs – it doesn’t just affect the cargo owner, but can also create headaches for their vendors or customers.

At other times, the problems can be caused by documentation mistakes in customs paperwork resulting in cargo being held at the port of destination. In such an instance, the delay might be caused by the exporter or importer of record, and it is the local customs authority that raises the objection, but the storage expense accrues at the airline terminal and often has to be advanced by the customs broker or trucker collecting the cargo at time of release. We once saw a client lose tons of a perishable food product in Turkey this way just because their logistics service provider at the time neglected to get documentation approved in advance of the shipment. That one step alone would have prevented thousands of dollars in unnecessary freight charges plus the confiscation of product.

Sometimes, the shipper can choose to take the cost of demurrage or detention as a cost of doing business. It can be strategic at times, although still a cost. Remember the client who tried to ship too early? Well, some months later they actually asked us to pull a container ahead of the free time allotted by the vessel operator just so they could have their product shipped out before the end of the quarter. In this scenario, it was actually beneficial for them to pay for detention rather than to have the good be in inventory at the start of a new month.

And, every once in a while, we get to see a cool scenario unfold where the shipper gets the last laugh. For example, at various times during the ISAF war effort in Afghanistan, ocean freight containers were delayed at the border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan. At certain times of heightened tensions, the delays stretched into weeks and demurrage applied to the shipping containers to the tune of thousands of dollars. The liners demanded these charges of truckers when the unloaded containers were brought back to the port and shippers, including many U.S. companies, were forced to pay penalties that were vastly more expensive than the cost of freight or even the merchandise itself. However, with some crafty logistics support on their side, some shippers simply decided to buy their own containers and ship them full of goods. The cost of buying a “shipper owned container” is higher than the cost of using one owned by the liner, but shipper owned containers are not liable to “in & out” demurrage costs. In effect the shipper’s were treating the containers as disposable and not bothered if they came back at all. This actually was the most cost effective solution to countering exorbitant detention costs that shippers were forced to pay.

These are just a few examples of how logistics costs can have a devastating impact on order profitability. However, the good news is that many of these problems can be avoided if your logistics service provider takes the time to understand your business, specific product requirements, and your import/export goals.

 

 

 

 

Top 10 Markets for U.S. Exports

Top 10 Markets for U.S. ExportsScreen Shot 2014-05-22 at 12.51.06 PM

At the Exporting Excellence™ blog, we’re all about international trade.  International trade does more to create jobs, promote cultural ties, create an interchange of ideas, transfer technology and promote understanding throughout the world than any other means of diplomacy, foreign aid, statecraft, etc.  Most of all, international trade is a great enabler of economic growth and wealth creation for all countries of the world.  While we have posted content about specific markets on this blog, we’d also like to introduce a series of lists that outline the best markets for U.S. exports in general and by specific industry.

The proof is overwhelming: export sales can grow your business far more than local sales.  After all, why limit yourself to your zip code when you can literally sell to the world.  Here then, is a look at the top 10 markets for U.S. exports:

# 1 – Canada.  Value of U.S. exports purchased in 2013: US$301.6  billion. Exporters of automobiles, trucks and accessories thereof take note: Canadians love large and midsized cars and trucks made in the USA.

#2 – Mexico.  Value of U.S. exports purchased in 2013: US$226.1 billion.  America’s neighbor to the south is well situated to engage in two-way trade with all NAFTA countries as we detailed in a recent blog post.  U.S. exporters of industrial machinery, agricultural products and dairy products will find a great deal of opportunity in Mexico.

# 3 – China.  Value of U.S. exports purchased in 2013: US$121.7 billion.  See, it’s not a one way street!  While China does supply an enormous amount of manufactured goods to the United States, American companies exporting agricultural products and hi-tech equipment are going to see growth in China for years to come.

# 4- Japan.  Value of U.S. exports purchased in 2013: US$65.2 billion.  Japan has a diverse consumer market as demonstrated by the fact that U.S. exports of medical instruments, aircraft equipment and industrial machinery are in high demand.  Japan, like China, is a good market for U.S. technological goods and services.

#5 – United Kingdom.  Value of U.S. exports purchased in 2013: US$56 billion.  See how trade works?  Not only political allies, but also major trading partners, the U.S.-U.K. relationship remains one of the closest in the world on so many levels.  U.S. exports of agricultural products as well as foods continue to enjoy growth in the U.K. despite the economic turbulence of recent years.

# 6 – Germany.  Value of U.S. exports purchased in 2013: US$44.2 billion.  Technological goods, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment from the United States are in high demand in Germany.  It is the strongest of Europe’s economies and should be a key part of your Europe export strategy.

#7 – Brazil.  Value of U.S. exports purchased in 2014: US$44.1 billion.  We profiled Brazil in a recent blog post as it offers great potential for U.S. exports.  Machinery and aircraft equipment account for the lion’s share of Brazilian imports from the U.S.  Tourism also remains a growth sector with substantial interest from U.S. tourists and investors.

# 8 – The Netherlands.  Value of U.S. exports purchased in 2013: US$42.6 billion.  U.S. exporters in the fields of “Clean Tech”, medical equipment, and biotechnology will find The Netherlands to be an attractive market with strong growth potential.

# 9 – South Korea.  Value of U.S. exports purchased in 2013: US$41.7 billion.  Along with Canada and Mexico (NAFTA), South Korea is one of the few countries that shares a Free Trade Agreement with the United States.  Opportunities abound for companies exporting aircraft related equipment and for providers of research and development services and technology.

# 10 – France.  Value of U.S. exports purchased in 2013: US$31.8 billion.  Known for their rich artistic tradition, ironically, French imports of U.S. artwork exceed $200 million annually.  Industrial goods such as specialty chemicals and high technology equipment from the United States enjoy strong demand in France as well.

Sources for this list include the U.S. Commerce Department which publishes superb trade data available at no cost to U.S. businesses. 

Additional country data was obtained from the U.S. Bureau of Census, and Inc. Magazine.

Importing & Exporting with Indonesia

MINT (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria & Turkey) – Drivers of Future Growth for U.S. BusinessesScreen Shot 2015-01-21 at 7.20.50 PM

Continuing our focus on the global markets that offer the brightest prospects for U.S. exports and imports, we now turn our attention to Indonesia. Our previous reports had focused on the BRIC countries, namely Brazil, Russia, India and China. Subsequently, a new crop of countries known as MINT (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria & Turkey) has arisen as drivers of future growth for U.S. businesses. MINT is an acronym originally coined by Fidelity Investments, a Boston-based asset management firm and was popularized by Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs, who had created the term BRIC. The term is primarily used in the economic and financial spheres as well as in academia. Its usage has grown especially in the investment sector, where it is used to refer to the bonds issued by these governments. These four countries are also part of the “Next Eleven”. We recently profiled Mexico and identified it as a source of excellent two way trade with the United States. This month we turn our attention to the Indonesian part of MINT

Based on key metrics such as market size, growth potential and accessibility, Indonesia has emerged as a country offering strong economic growth potential. According to World Trade Organization statistics, Indonesia is the world’s 27th largest exporting country. Indonesia is also the world’s fourth most populous country after China, India, and the United States and the world’s third most populous democratic country after India and the United States. In 2009, BRIC and Indonesia represented about 42 and 3 percent of the world’s population respectively and about 15 percent of global GDP altogether. All of them are G20 countries. By 2015, Internet users in BRIC and Indonesia will double to 1.2 billion. In 2009, Indonesia was the only member of the G20 to lower its public debt-to-GDP ratio – a positive economic management indicator. U.S. companies exporting industrial machinery and equipment, chemicals and food products can benefit from opportunities in Indonesia.

From a logistics perspective, Indonesia does have some significant limitations that can adversely affect your export business. The primary issue the country faces in this regard is a weak transportation infrastructure. While Indonesia has been steadily investing in its ocean ports and diversifying traffic away from the main port of Jakarta, there is still a great deal of work to be done. Airport infrastructure in the major cities of Jakarta and Surabaya also are strong and well suited to international trade. However, poor road infrastructure can create significant challenges for U.S. exporters who are selling goods on a DDU or DDP basis. Delays in delivery times and increased costs associated with locating suitable trucks for local delivery can inflate costs thus eroding profit margins on export sales.

Another major issue that U.S. exporters must contend with, and one that poses serious obstacles to Indonesia’s growth as a desirable market for foreign goods and investment, is that of customs procedures. The basic documentary requirements for import into Indonesia are rather straightforward. Exporters must provide:

1. Airway Bill or Ocean Bill of Lading that show the actual cost of transport.

2. Commercial Invoices that clearly state the buyer and seller of goods.

3. Certificate of insurance.

4. Certificate of Origin.

Despite these clear and brief requirements, however, the potential for delays and cost overruns resulting from customs compliance issues is significant. For example, the requirement that shipping documents should state the actual cost of transport is significant as Indonesian customs charge import duties on the combined value of merchandise value and cost of transport. Exporters must be aware of this as it has a direct impact on the landed cost of their merchandise. Logistics providers should be aware of this and ensure that their documents reflect accurate charges so as to prevent their clients from unnecessarily facing excessive duties which can result in lost profits and claims from dissatisfied or “overcharged” customers.

Similarly, the accuracy of information stated on commercial invoices is of utmost importance. Discrepancies in the details of the seller, buyer or merchandise stated on invoices can cause Indonesian customs officials to withhold release of goods until corrections or amendments are made thereby resulting in additional costs such as storage, detention charges, courier costs for replacement documentation and fines or penalties for incorrect paperwork.

While the potential of Indonesia as a market for U.S. goods is significant, exporters and logistics companies must be keenly aware of the pitfalls that come with shipping to this market. Knowing these pitfalls is significant to your growth in logistics. Even with pitfalls Indonesia will be ranked seventh in GDP by 2050 according to Jim O’Neill. The country is the largest economy in Southeast Asia and a member of the G-20 major economies. Currently Indonesia has the world’s 9th largest GDP-PPP and 16th largest nominal GDP. Definitely not a market to ignore.

Container Info & Spec Sheet

 

 

What is the greater cost: Stockpiling Inventory or Missed Sales?

What is the greater cost: Stockpiling Inventory or Missed Sales?stockpiling inventory warehouse

Logistics professionals are on the front lines of the fight to maintain market presence and minimize costs of product supply. One of the main issues faced is whether or not to stockpile inventory in an overseas destination or risk losing sales due to lack of inventory in that market.

Most large organizations have implemented good demand planning practices which enable them to plan production and shipping schedules. A client of ours, who is a global leader in the tobacco business, had such an efficient schedule in place for their business in Turkey that they were able establish a precise order flow one year in advance. Their demand planning was so effective that they almost never required air freight service for this market and could tell months in advance exactly how much product was to be shipped in any given week of the year.

On the other end of the spectrum, another client of ours who is a global leader in the foods business had a simple mistake in their demand planning process force them to de-list product from the market in Singapore for an entire month until they could send over the product needed to meet demand by ocean.

So you want to stockpile?

Here are some factors to be considered when deciding whether or not to stockpile inventory:

  • Failure to have inventory in market leads to obvious decreases in sales, cash flow and profitability.
  • Storage of inventory, especially overseas, is often expensive and eats directly into profit margins.
  • Inventory shortages often have to be met by expedited modes of transport and often specifically by air freight which is generally expensive and adversely impacts profit margins.
  • Excess product can be subject to damage, theft, obsolescence or other misuse which can result in direct and substantial losses in terms of write offs, discounted selling prices or additional processing costs.

So what to do?

The primary determinant of whether or not to incur increased transport or storage costs is profit margin. Coming back to the example of our client in the tobacco business, even though they enjoyed tremendous operational efficiency in their exports to Turkey, this client often relied on air freight to meet demand in the Far East. They also used air freight for new brand or product introductions and generally developed a market by using air freight first and then gradually shifting logistics to ocean freight. Very often the excess air freighted product was warehoused overseas in markets such as Japan and Hong Kong. Their tolerance for such expense came from the substantial profit margins they enjoyed. Equally important was their branding. The client believed that the cost of not having product in the market was not only high in terms of lost sales, but also in terms of damage it would do their brand in overseas markets.

But what if we don’t have the profit margins to support such costs? Let’s re-visit the example of our client in the foods business. Despite having a very good demand planning system in place as well as the resources that came with being one of the world’s largest corporations, this client ran into a problem that could happen to anyone: human error. Apparently, one of their demand planners in Singapore simply forgot to enter her orders before leaving for vacation. As a result production never got the orders and nothing was scheduled to ship by ocean. By the time the problem was detected the client had no other option but to use air freight to meet the demand of 30 tons of their merchandise in the local market. We assisted the client by providing a combination of cost effective air freight, and even created a schedule to stagger the shipments in such a way as to spread the cost out over several weeks just to minimize the cash flow impact they were about to feel. After careful review of the numbers, however, the client decided that their profit margins simply did not justify them incurring the cost of air freight. For 30 days they had no goods to sell in Singapore. From a profit and loss standpoint the choice was clear and that was the client’s main deciding factor. We presume that the loss far exceeded benefits that they may have realized in terms of brand equity and market share.

In both instances, what we have learned is that there are direct, indirect, obvious and discreet costs involved in managing international business. One of the best things a logistics professional can do is to learn what matters to their organization not only in terms of delivery but also in terms of profitability, cash flow, market-share and brand equity.

Logistics professionals need to consider the following when deciding whether or not to stockpile inventory:

  • Cost of domestic/overseas warehousing of excess inventory.
  • Cost of insurance of stored excess stored inventory.
  • Cost of air freight for excess inventory versus cost of ocean freight & storage of excess inventory.
  • Impact on company profitability and cash flow from absence of product in market.
  • Importance of product availability to the corporate brand.

So when you are in a position where you need to decide whether or not to stockpile, don’t hesitate to reach out to us and talk with one of our Logistics Professionals to make sure you understand all of the associated costs which will allow you to make the best, most informed, cost effective decision for your company.

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What Big Data & Little Data Mean To You in the Freight & Logistics Process

What Big Data & Little Data Mean To You in the Freight & Logistics Process:Big Data in Logistics

Possibly the most important business technology issue of the moment is known as “Big Data”, and its ability to transform an organization by allowing employees at all levels of the organization to make better decisions. Simply defined, Big Data is the compilation of such a large set of data points that cannot be defined or analyzed using existing “low tech” tools. For shippers this essentially means that an Excel spreadsheet of shipments in process just isn’t enough anymore to determine how well your logistics process is moving. In a recent paper written by a large logistics consulting firm, it is stated that the sustained success of Internet powerhouses such as Amazon, Google, Facebook, and eBay provides evidence of a fourth production factor in today’s hyper-connected world. Besides resources, labor, and capital, there’s no doubt that the information feeding Big Data and the use of such data has become an essential element of competitive differentiation.

In our July 24, 2014 blog post we addressed the importance of supply chain metrics, and this is precisely what lies at the heart of Big Data. Metrics are established based on past data generated from transactions or shipments and from this data companies can determine how well their supply chain or logistics process is performing. For example, a simple metric like “On Time Delivery” is calculated by measuring the time it takes an order to depart a shipper’s facility and arrive at the customer’s location. The decision about whether the performance is good is based on previous shipments in most cases.

While Big Data is thought to be a senior management issue, the fact is that the data points being studied at the highest levels of an organization originate from the day-to-day operations of the business. Let’s take a look at an example of how Big Data collection begins in the daily workflow of logistics personnel and how they can use it to improve their performance and hence their business.

Wasted Space – a client of ours, one of the country’s largest foods business, had state of the art distribution centers around the country. They needed such infrastructure to support their massive supermarket and big box store retail business. As a result, their international operations were something of an afterthought. Shipping personnel were simply taking cases of product, shrink wrapping them onto a skid and declaring them ready for export.

As we mentioned in our post on dimensional weight, shippers need to be aware not only of the weight of their product but also the dimensions of the cargo being tendered for air transport. As a result, the shipper was tendering cargo of 45 – 100 kgs on skids that had a volume weight of 275 kgs, effectively doubling or tripling the shipment charges.

By doing a simple analysis of the disparity between gross weight and volume weight (Big Data points) we were able to explain to the shipper that the cost of over-packing their material into cardboard boxes was well worth the time and savings in shipping charges. Within a matter of weeks the customer began to realize a reduction of air freight costs in excess of 50%. The Big Data analysis here entailed nothing more than looking at the discrepancy in weights and coming up with an alternative. Logistics managers can perform this sort of analysis in collaboration with their freight forwarders any day and without high level/hi tech solutions being deployed.

There is no doubt that Big Data gets very sophisticated and has the power to really revolutionize a supply chain. It can increase effectiveness exponentially, however, the fact remains that the data often originates at the warehouse level and can be a part of the daily process of logistics professionals at all levels of the organization.

Clearly the time is at hand to tap the potential of Big Data to improve operational efficiency and customer experience, and create useful new business models. It is time for a shift of mindset, a clear strategy and application of the right data analysis techniques. Those companies that do early will enjoy a disproportionate advantage over their competitors.

Container Info & Spec SheetScreen Shot 2014-05-22 at 1.00.30 PM

LCL: Ocean Shipping for the smaller volume shipper

LCL: Ocean Shipping for the smaller volume shipper

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 2.38.31 PMShippers often believe that they have to choose between enduring the high price of air freight in order to trade in small lots, or scaling up to large volumes in order to drive down per unit transport costs through containerized or bulk shipping.   There is however, a viable solution that allows companies to move product in small lots without paying the air freight premium.  Known as “LCL” or “Less than Container Load”, this mode of ocean shipping offers companies of all sizes substantial benefits and can help optimize their supply chains and international business processes.

What is LCL?

Quite simply, LCL is consolidated ocean freight.  Instead of consolidating sufficient orders to fill one’s own container, a shipper can tender their smaller lots to a freight forwarder or ocean freight consolidator who will in turn load a container with cargo booked by their other customers.  There are several advantages to having LCL as a shipping option in your firm’s logistics process including the following:

  • Shippers who do not wait to ship product until they have enough orders to fill their own container are able to supply or receive their goods much more quickly.  The benefits of this alone are significant as it can have a favorable impact on sales, profitability, order to cash realization, warehousing costs and customer satisfaction through expedited delivery.
  • Shippers who do not need the speed of air freight can realize tremendous cost savings by routing cargo through LCL ocean freight.  While the unit transport cost of LCL will not be as low as that of a full container (FCL), it can be substantially lower than that of air cargo.
  • Using LCL as a mode of transport allows shippers to engage in test marketing or perhaps even embark on a gradual market expansion.  LCL does not require a company to ship entire container loads of merchandise when such demand has yet to be established, thereby eliminating risks of overstocked merchandise, warehousing costs in the destination market, and other such carrying costs.
  • LCL is more expensive on a per unit basis than FCL shipping.  This is rather straightforward since buying part of a container will not yield the cost benefit of buying an entire one.

Small and midsized shippers are the most direct beneficiaries of the LCL mode of transport. The logic here is straightforward, as companies lacking larger volumes will simply take longer to realize enough demand/sales to fill a full container.

Large shippers also have the ability to benefit from LCL cargo in several ways.  By using LCL to reach markets that have demand, but are so small as to not justify entire container loads of volume, large companies can continue to meet their customers’ needs.  Also, large shippers may have a tremendous amount of cargo from various suppliers or going to various domestic distribution centers.  This effectively enables them to build their own consolidations across a region.  As an example, imagine a retailer with outlets throughout the United States East Coast region who sources product from 5 different suppliers in China.  The opportunity exists to consolidate cargo from all the suppliers and build one’s own container.  Upon arrival in the U.S. the container can be delivered directly to the retailers’ regional distribution center for onward distribution.  The retailer hence realizes a considerable saving by not using air freight from 5 different suppliers and by building their own consolidation.  They would have also likely realized similar savings (though somewhat less) by booking their shipments with an ocean consolidator from each of the 5 origins in China.

There are some pitfalls associated with LCL cargo, and the most notable of these is a lack of transparency.  While a full container is easily tracked, as is an air freight shipment, LCL cargo may sometimes appear to be in a “black hole” once it is loaded at origin.  This is because cargo may change hands between a few consolidators, or containers may transship through multiple ports en route to final destination which may not be apparent at time of booking.

There is also some difficulty in understanding total costs of shipment.  Due to charges incurred at destination, such as port charges, warehousing and unloading costs it can be difficult to arrive at a an accurate, consistent landed cost.

Fortunately, both of these problems can be minimized by a freight forwarder.  Freight forwarders maintain strong buying relationships with ocean freight consolidators which enables them to make pricing and routing decisions based on best practices in the marketplace.  Shippers/importers don’t have to feel like they’re taking a leap of faith with a consolidator so long as they have an experienced freight forwarder assisting with booking, documentation formalities, route optimization and tracking capabilities.

As ships sail faster, and countries develop better inland infrastructure in the form of railways and highways, LCL cargo will continue to become a more viable transport option for shippers of all sizes.  By working with a freight forwarder, shippers and importers can develop and implement a plan to ensure timely and cost effective supply of merchandise without having to incur the expense of air freight and without being forced to commit to the volumes needed to maximize utilization of a dedicated ocean container.

Some Interesting LCL facts:

As a general guideline, 10-15 cubic meters of cargo is considered the upper limit for LCL freight.  If a company is shipping more than this quantity, it is likely that they would benefit from using their own 20’ container even if the containers capacity is underutilized. 

The main unit of measure for LCL cargo is the cubic meter (cbm).  To determine the # of cubic meters you are shipping use the following calculation:

In Inches:Container Info & Spec Sheet

Length x Width x Height / 1728 = cubic feet

# of cubic feet / 35.31 = # of cubic meters

In Meters:

Length x Width x Height = # of cubic meters

By Gross Weight:

Gross weight in kilograms/1000

LCL charges will be based on the higher of the cubic meters or gross weight (kgs.) per 1000. 

 

Port Congestion Surcharges: What it all means from a compliance standpoint.

Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 12.51.32 PMPort Congestion Surcharges: What it all means from a compliance standpoint.

Due to reasons cited as “labor unrest” at U.S. West Coast ports, ocean carriers have implemented Port Congestion Surcharges for cargo entering and exiting the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.  The effects of the slowdown are already being felt by U.S. importers, but in addition to the delays in transit times there is also a cost impact and shippers must be aware of what surcharges they are actually liable for and at what point in time those surcharges could actually apply.  The FMC has provided some insight with this announcement on November 17, 2014: http://www.fmc.gov/congestion-surcharges-11-2014/.  Additionally, we’ve provided this opinion below from our friends at FMC Compliance Services who specialize in tariff filing and compliance issues for shippers, carriers and 3PL’s:

Dear Customers,

As a shipper, please be aware of the fact that the surcharge CANNOT be applied by the Carrier for cargo received PRIOR to the date on which the surcharge became effective.  This means that if cargo was tendered to the carrier at RAILRAMP Dallas, TX (for example) for routing via the port of LONG BEACH, CA and was received at the origin railramp PRIOR to the date on which the U.S. Port Congestion Surcharge became effective, then the surcharge does NOT apply for the account of the cargo.

As a carrier, please be aware of the fact that you may NOT apply the surcharge without first filing it in your freight tariff.  The U.S. Port Congestion Surcharge can be filed either as a general rule (Rule 1.100) or as a note attached to an individual rate filing.  If your company has filed a general rule (Rule 1.100) which will apply to all rates, without requiring mention of the Rule, then the surcharge will automatically be “attached” to each rate as of the effective date of the rule.  In this case, if you do not wish to have the U.S. Port Congestion surcharge applied to a particular rate, you MUST amend the rate to exempt the USPCG.  Conversely, if you have no general USPCG rule, or if your Rule 1.100 requires specific mention of application or exemption within each rate filing, then you MUST annotate each individual rate filing accordingly to indicate whether or not the USPCG is to be applied and if so, at what rate level(s).

I realize that the situation on the West Coast is very frustrating and the application of the surcharge as it applies to your sell rates and filing of same in your freight tariffs only serves to compound the aggravation.  Please do not hesitate to call me if you should have any questions on this subject.

Sincerely,

Laurie Olson

FMC Compliance Services

 

Exporting to Mexico

Exporting to Mexico

MexicoContinuing our series of reports on emerging markets, we now focus our attention on Mexico as the first member of the MINT group of countries whom many believe offer the strongest growth prospects and opportunities for U.S. exporters in the years to come.

Bolstered by the existence of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), U.S. exports to Mexico reached $226 billion in 2013 making it the 2nd largest export market for U.S. goods. The leading products exported from the United States to Mexico included electrical machinery, vehicles and plastics. However, significant trade opportunities exist in sectors such as agricultural products, professional services and mineral oils and fuels.

Mexico also serves as an excellent source of imports for U.S. businesses as the country has a very strong and developing industrial base. These capabilities, combined with Mexico’s proximity to the United States have allowed it to become the country’s 3rd biggest supplier in 2013. In this respect Mexico is unique as a country that offers large export sales and import sourcing potential. Only China is similarly positioned as a vital source of two way trade with the United States.

One of the biggest beneficiaries of this two way trade is the country’s logistics and transportation infrastructure. Trucking, in particular, accounts for the largest share of U.S.-Mexico trade and as a result the country offers excellent options for overland shipping to and from the United States. Due to the substantial volume of traffic between both countries, the Mexican market can even provide very creative logistical solutions such as consolidated shipping across various industry segments resulting in a more favorable logistics cost structure.

Despite the well-developed logistics capabilities that Mexico has, there are some parts of the cross-border shipping process which can cause problems for U.S. exporters. For example, when cargo crosses the border by truck, there may be multiple intermediaries (transporters, customs brokers, etc.) who are involved in the clearance and handling of your cargo. As a result, it can be difficult at times to obtain proper tracking & tracing information on cargo entering Mexico. Working with a logistics service provide that not only has the tracking tools in place, but also maintains a system of careful oversight can help mitigate this problem considerably.

An additional source of trouble for U.S. exporters can arise in working with Mexican customs. Mexican customs brokers face significant regulatory compliance standards and the entries they submit are subject to scrutiny long after a shipment has cleared the border. In fact, Mexican customs can request data on shipments going back up to 5 years. This is significant because any mistakes in classification of cargo or improper filing of a customs entry can result in future shipments being held at the border due to past non-compliance. The upside to this is that a high quality, reputable Mexican customs broker is absolutely invaluable and U.S. companies who are required to arrange customs clearance should ensure that they hire the right parties or work with a logistics provider who has collaboration with a strong Mexican broker. Proper attention to this detail will ensure long term success in terms of export sales and profitability in the Mexican market.

Shippers of small lots of cargo will continue to find the Mexican marketplace to be challenging. While large, full truckload (FTL) shipments are easy to coordinate cross border, or even within Mexico, the market for less-than-truckload (LTL) is considerably underdeveloped and as a result service levels are spotty at best. In order to offset some of the risks posed to your freight by this dearth of service options, U.S. companies should consider working with specialists in the Mexican market who often have larger volume and can combine loads into a dedicated full truck. This practice is used by some of the largest companies doing business in Mexico and it allows multiple companies to access the safety and reliability of a full truck while also offsetting the hidden costs of wasted space and underutilized capacity.

Insurance liability is another key attribute of the export process to Mexico that can pose significant challenges. Mexican insurance regulations are extremely favorable to the transporter of goods, and as a result, relying solely on a carrier’s coverage is not likely to offer sufficient protection to a U.S. company in the event of loss or damage of goods. Additionally, collecting insurance compensation within Mexico is not an easy process and is often unsuccessful. Companies who currently have a global insurance coverage in place are advised to utilize it for their trade with Mexico. Smaller companies who may not have a global policy should consult with an insurance broker to make sure that their exports to Mexico are properly covered for loss, theft or damage.

Mexico offers excellent opportunities for U.S. exports and imports due to its proximity to the United States, its strong manufacturing and transportation sectors and a good labor and consumer market. Companies should consider this market as a source of growth opportunity in years to come and prepare for the challenges and rewards that it offers accordingly.

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