In 2020, the world sneezed, and scattered shipping options to the winds. For many businesses, the pandemic has since ushered in a new, chaotic order when it comes to ensuring the reliable transportation of goods.
The past two years have brought two major changes. First, because of the growth of e-commerce, shippers who were typically sending one large shipment in a truck to Walmart, say, are instead breaking that shipment up into hundreds of packages and sending them directly to consumers, who have come to expect nearly instant delivery. Second, the carrier market has tightened, in part because of higher demand, but also due to an ongoing shortage of staff, either through attrition or illness. In other words, shipping operations have become enormously more complex and difficult to manage.
At first, retailers, manufacturers and their supply chain partners simply scrambled any way they could to adjust to the new shipping and shopping landscape. That meant deploying ad hoc, piecemeal solutions that cost more and often gave unsatisfactory results — hardly a sustainable approach.
“Risk mitigation efforts often come at the expense of higher supply chain costs," analyst Steve Banker wrote last month for Forbes. "There is typically a trade-off between greater efficiency or greater responsiveness." He goes on to advise that companies use supply chain design solutions "to fully understand the costs and tradeoffs associated with multi-sourcing strategies."
"There is little downside to using these tools," Banker says.
Now is the time to take a deep breath and determine the best strategies and solutions going forward — especially when it comes to e-commerce fulfillment. In short, businesses need to go beyond traditional fixes in the form of application programming interfaces (APIs) and into the realm of comprehensive carrier management systems. Here are five reasons for deploying multi-carrier management technology:
Stay competitive amid rising challenges. Retailers and e-commerce companies are facing higher customer expectations, along with rising costs and increasing complexity. The old approach was to either deal with individual carriers’ APIs, or use a single API that gives access to those multiple APIs. That worked before same-day and next-day shipping demands from consumers became the norm, and when companies had reliable capacity from a handful of carriers. Now delivery windows are tighter, and companies are dealing with dozens, possibly hundreds of carriers. An API, even one that plugs into all of them, doesn’t get you very far, because you still have to determine your own internal workflows, protocols and quick fixes that minimize expenditure while maximizing speed to market.
Meet carrier expectations. The capacity crunch is driving up costs as carriers shed less-profitable shipments while also adding fees. You don’t want to be the customer that makes your carrier groan at the best of times. Clunky integrations, incomplete paperwork, fumbled compliance: these are all things that make carriers’ tasks more difficult. In the past, they might have put up with it. Now, it’s a freight capacity seller’s market, and many carriers are dropping customers they’ve served for years, in favor of others that offer a smarter, more streamlined interaction. That can leave you out in the cold on the spot market, where rates are much higher.
Focus on the customer. Employing a multi-carrier parcel management system will allow you to focus on delivering the end solution and not get mired in the complexity of carrier, international and dangerous goods compliance. Your core business isn’t figuring out which form to submit with a shipment of golf clubs or gas canisters. Even 3PLs can’t afford to get distracted by all the tiny complexities of compliance. Whether you’re a retailer or service provider, your competitive edge comes from consistently delivering results that impress your customers. Deploying a smart, seamless carrier management system that stays on top of compliance requirements means you can focus on doing exactly that.
Personalize your systems and workflows. Gone are the days when you could afford to wait weeks for your internal IT department to figure out how to make your shipping technology actually match your ongoing business protocols. Now, if fulfillment associates come up with a new fix to an emerging (or even old) problem, that needs to become real, fast. And it needs to be disseminated across the entire enterprise so that anyone can deploy it. For example, when rate shopping across multiple carriers, there’s rarely time to write the code that allows you to ask each carrier for a rate and then compare. The same goes for facilitating return label requests on your website. It takes time to build and manage that. Low-code, pre-generated tools remove the burden of doing so, and they’re fully road-tested to ensure success.
Support a global omnichannel strategy. International shipping is a headache at the best of times, and businesses have tended to rely on steady relationships across borders where the form-filling and compliance protocols are unchanging. That’s all different now, as companies have to flex and redirect where and with whom they do business. Essentially, you need to be ready to ship from anywhere to anywhere, and often do it next-day using “gig” carriers such as Uber Freight. There’s also pressure to be more carbon sensitive in fulfillment — shipping an item from a local store instead of from a distribution center across the country. Many retailers are now making the effort to ship much closer to the consumer. All of this introduces complexities that require a sophisticated multi-carrier management system that can seamlessly work with inventory management.
Pierbridge Offers Solution With Comprehensive Carrier Management System
Pierbridge Inc. has been working since 2004 to solve parcel carrier management complexities for some of the largest retailers, manufacturers, distributors and 3PLs worldwide. Its flagship enterprise multi-carrier parcel management solution, Transtream executes more than 10 million transactions monthly, powering supply chain applications and solving critical business problems.
Mike Graves, vice president of product management and operations at Pierbridge, explains that the system works using the clever deployment of code snippets and widgets. These are prepackaged parcels of code that allow shippers to easily implement workflows and shipping protocols, so they don’t have to figure them out from scratch. Pierbridge offers a set of standardized, full applications that facilitate common workflows. Customers can either deploy these out of the box or customize them. “That means you can rapidly deploy the system and start shipping today,” says Graves. “But then you can also build custom workflows any way you want.”
Mark Picarello, managing director at Pierbridge, says shippers typically save 3%-10% on shipping costs after deploying the Transtream solution. Crucially, the system helps them address the top two emerging challenges: speed to market and capacity. “Our customers get better control, whether it’s the route they choose or how they’re shipping, so that product gets to the end-customer fast,” he says. “Secondly, for many large retailers and 3PLs, they’re used to dealing with the major carriers who now have constrained capacity.” Picarello points to one customer in particular that discovered, after its business had doubled, that its main carrier would only commit to taking 110% of prior volume. Using the Transtream system, that customer was able to quickly get access to additional carriers, often by connecting to 3PLs who, in turn, were able to get extra capacity.
“We differ from the competition because we offer not just APIs, but also very flexible, configurable drag-and-drop user interfaces. This provides active improvements in shipping operations efficiency across the organization,” says Picarello. “Then, once they start getting all that managed in a single system, they can start to identify systemic inefficiencies and make improvements. They can ask: Why does this one group always ship expedited? They’re able to recognize patterns and change behaviors for a better result all around.”
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