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The Inner Workings of Overnight Shipping

E-commerce has radically changed the way we look at shipping. When Amazon first got off the ground back in 1997, waiting a week or two for a book was par for the course, and that was assuming that the item was being shipped domestically.

Now, waiting a week or more is almost inconceivable. The modern consumer expects rapid deliveries that border on the level of impossible back in the inception of e-commerce. Even now, the two-day delivery is breaking way for the next or even the same-day delivery.

Warehouses and order selection are being automated. Deliveries are being made by ride-sharing companies, drones, and delivery robots. Parcels are moving through the stream from start to finish at break-neck speeds, and all the while e-commerce continues to push the envelope for delivery times.

While this means that there has been considerable growth and evolution of the supply chain, there are certain aspects of the old school methodology which are still in play even now.

How Overnight Shipping Actually Works 

Package delivery is kind of like a race. When a customer places the order, the starting gun is fired and the clock starts ticking. But rather than a marathon or a cross-country run (even though most packages are, in fact, going cross country), it’s more like a relay race.  

As it stands, most major packaging companies use what’s known as the hub-and-spoke method for deliveries. A package gets dropped off at a drop point (Post office, FedEx or UPS locations, etc.) and is transported to the nearest cargo-shipping airport. From there, the package is flown to the nearest hub where it is unloaded, sorted, and reloaded back onto the next plane to continue its journey. Once the package reaches the target airport (sometimes requiring a third and final flight for truly rural locales) it’s loaded onto a truck and either sent to a sorting facility, or straight on to the last mile of the delivery.  

While it all seems fairly standard practice at this point, we have to consider that this hub-and-spoke method really only came about in the 1970’s when FedEx founder, Frederick W. Smith proved the efficiency behind the concept.  

Memphis: The Super Hub 

Interestingly enough, the biggest hub in the United States is Memphis, Tennessee. So much so that Memphis is home to the second busiest airport in the world, second only to Hong Kong. This is due largely to the fact that FedEx has set up shop for their super hub in Memphis. With 30,000 employees, the super hub is able to process and ship about 3 million packages a day with an average air traffic flow of 150 planes taxiing and departing nightly.  

Cargo departing Memphis can reach just about anybody in the United States in the optimal shortest amount of time — making it the perfect sorting site for overnight shipments.

So, why Memphis, with a population of 650,000? “Because it’s just a short jaunt from what’s called the mean center of the United States population (located in eastern Missouri). In other words, cargo departing Memphis can reach just about anybody in the United States in the optimal shortest amount of time — making it the perfect sorting site for overnight shipments.

For packages making the trip across the pond, Anchorage, Alaska is the chosen hub of departure for packages going to and from Japan, making it the fourth busiest freight hub in the world.  

What makes Overnight Shipping so Affordable? 

As the idiom goes, a plane in the sky is worth two on the tarmac. Simply put, airlines make money from planes that are in use, but that actually only works for passenger flights. To that end, commercial planes are in constant use.  

Domestic overnight cargo flights, on the other hand, don’t need to be in constant use. Why? Because carriers use much older planes.  

“Many cargo planes fly just one dedicated route every night, basically like a bus in the air. Sometimes they spend just a couple hours in the air each day, and the rest of it they sit around at one end of the spoke or the other. It sounds inefficient, but in fact, the economics of this work out for cargo couriers because they haven’t shelled out huge investment in the first place. They’ve bought retired commercial aircraft—basically a fleet of used cars,” says Quartz.   

The savings alone from repurposing retired aircraft is considerable. According to Avitas, an airline consulting firm, a brand new 767-300ER can run upwards of $200 million. The same model of the plane after 20 or so years of service? Around $9 million. That savings alone means that a cargo plane can be used as needed, waiting to be loaded with cargo to make the run back and forth, and causing considerable less wear and tear in the process versus a passenger plane that has to keep moving for the airline to recognize a return on investment.

Creating a Strong Foundation 

The transition of point-to-point delivery systems into the hub-and-spoke have brought e-commerce a considerable distance, but much in the same way that we don’t want to reinvent the wheel, there’s no sense in getting rid of the things that do work. As the future of the supply chain continues to evolve through this new industrial revolution, we will see more advancements. 3D printing taking the place of manufacturing for on-site building and delivery. Drones that can make drops to your own personal location, be it a park or a parking lot.  

 The demanding future of shipping will be built on the scaffolding created in the past.

The demanding future of shipping will be built on the scaffolding created in the past. As it continues to evolve, the elements that withstand the test of time will not only be evident, they will become foundational for your supply chain. BlueGrace’s freight specialists work with you every step of the way to understand your requirements and set up a solution that’s tailored to your needs. For more information on how we can help you prepare for the future and simplify your supply chain, contact us using the form below: 

The Rise of Dropshipping

While the concept of dropshipping is nothing new (it’s been around since the 70’s) it’s starting to increase in popularity thanks to the e-commerce boom. Dropshipping itself is a simple concept. Rather than shipping goods to a retailer, they go from the manufacturer directly to the consumer. The earliest forms of dropshipping came in the form of radio and television ads. Even certain brick and mortar stores used dropshipping as a means of selling bulkier items like furniture that would typically take of a great deal of storage space or that cost more to transport.

Drop Shipping Is On The Rise

Now, with ad space available virtually (read literally) everywhere, drop shipping is on the rise. Companies like Zappos, and Wish are taking advantage of advertising through social media sites like Instagram and Facebook and are able to reach millions of potential consumers with next to no effort. Shopify, in particular, is an interesting company to look at when it comes to dropshipping. The total amount of money to go through Shopify over the course of 2017 was an astounding $27 billion. This was a 70 percent increase in revenue from the 2016 sales figures. Yet in all the years that Shopify has been in operation, it has yet to turn a profit. That’s right, Shopify has yet to see anything in return for its massive revenue streak.

When you look at it in that light, it kind of makes dropshipping seem like a scam. But in reality, there’s a bit more to it than that.

Dropshipping as a Business Model

As a business model, there’s something to be said for dropshipping. It eliminates the need of heavy capital investments in both inventory and warehousing space. Because there’s no need to buy bulk inventory, there’s no inventory risk (shrink, damage, unsold merchandise) which further reduces the financial burdens for a burgeoning business. While it does mean slimmer margins, a savvy entrepreneur with the right items and a good logistics setup can make a successful entrance into an otherwise tough market.

Additionally, dropshipping is also great for existing stores to test out new products without the need for a heavy purchase. By listing a product on their website and seeing what sells, a company can gather enough market data to determine whether or not it’s a worthwhile product to invest in. It might cost a little more upfront with extra shipping fees, but it’s better than having an excessive amount of stock sitting around and taking up valuable warehouse space.

To give an example of how widely spread the dropshipping business model is now, here are some of the stats on dropshipping compiled by Quartz:

2 million: Advertisers on Instagram per month

$10.9 billion: Projected Instagram ad revenues this year

500,000: Number of merchants on the e-commerce platform Shopify, up 74% in the last five years

$1 million: Sales per minute facilitated by Shopify around big shopping days like Thanksgiving

The Uneven Field

While dropshipping has merit as a business plan, there is a certain unevenness to the playing field. Many of the companies that advertise on social media sites are actually overlaps for much bigger Asian wholesale companies. In this “accuracy by volume” method of advertising, these companies are able to list a multitude of different products to the same target audience with little effort. However, the disadvantage doesn’t stop there. Shipping from China is, in many ways, cheaper and easier than it is to ship within the United States.

“Under the terms of a 2010 treaty, postal authorities get a set fee from their foreign counterparts to deliver a package within their borders,” said Adam Pasick of Quartz.

“If a company from China wants to ship something to a US consumer, the USPS gets no more than $1.50—which often makes it cheaper for Chinese merchants to ship a package up to 4.4 lbs from Shenzhen to Des Moines than it costs to ship from, say, Seattle,” he added. This is why low-cost goods from Alibaba go for little more than a $10 shipping charge.

Bigger Players in the Field

It isn’t just Asian wholesalers that are taking advantage of this business model. Large retailers like Macy’s, Home Depot, and Pier 1 Imports are also using dropshipping as a means of increasing their online market presences. This stands to reason, as omnichannel and online shopping are beginning to gain popularity over the strictly brick and mortar experience.

While most of the goods that come from these dropship based web-stores are more than lackluster, there is still a great deal of potential for the business model, especially for businesses that already have a physical presence. Not only can it cut down on warehousing costs and inventory risks but it can offer a great deal to the customer experience as a whole. Expanded product lines combined with easy to order and easier to receive goods is in keeping with the change in consumer expectations and the shift in market conditions.

Preparing for the Future

Combining dropship marketing with a well-developed logistics system might have some merit in the near future as e-commerce continues to grow and develop. If you don’t believe us, just remember that Amazon started as a dropship company before it became the e-commerce titan it is today. At BlueGrace, our freight specialists work with you every step of the way to understand your requirements and set up a solution that’s tailored to your needs. For more information on how we can help you prepare you for the future and simplify your supply chain, contact us using the form below: 

A Bright Future for Intelligent Logistics

The transportation and logistics industries are perhaps one of the most vital industries in the United States, if not the entire world. On average, trucks haul approximately 70 percent of all consumer goods across the country, and that number is only expected to grow as the global economy continues to grow and change. However, while it is the most vital of all industries, it has also remained the most stagnant, with very little about the industry changing over the past several decades.

The potential for these digital changes is immense, allowing companies to work smarter by lowering operation costs while boosting efficiency.

Yet, we’re beginning to see what can be described as an age of enlightenment for the transportation industry, a digital renaissance. Something in which logistics planners and trucking fleet owners alike are beginning to dive into. These changes are covering everything from ridesharing, “smart” logistics, and even automated vehicles. The potential for these digital changes is immense, allowing companies to work smarter by lowering operation costs while boosting efficiency. Even going so far as increase environmental sustainability as truckers, planners, and shippers all learn to connect on a broader level.

The Growing Web of Interconnection 

In short, the digital age is built on the concept that just about anything is possible, including a sort of omniscience that is vital to running a highly efficient supply chain.  

One of the biggest advantages of this digital age is how interconnected everything is. The Internet of Things (IoT) is providing more data and more accessibility to that data than ever before. New software systems are able to track where freight is during every stage of its transportation and the condition of it during its trip. 3PLs and other intermediaries are developing digital platforms that can connect a shipper to a carrier with a few clicks, rather than an exhaustive list of phone calls, emails, and faxes. Customs documents can be uploaded and transmitted to mobile devices,  less demurrage and detention fees when a paper document gets lost in translation. In short, the digital age is built on the concept that just about anything is possible, including a sort of omniscience that is vital to running a highly efficient supply chain.  

Building On the Infrastructure 

Digitization within the transportation industry also has another, less obvious benefit. It gives developing countries easier access to the global market. As these countries haven’t built up their logistics capabilities to that of the U.S. or the E.U. attempting to break ground on this front is often both cost and time prohibitive. Having access to a digital platform allows them to “leapfrog” directly into digital and mobile solutions for logistics.  

“According to the All India Motor Transport Congress, there are close to 12 million trucks in India. The road freight volume in India is forecast to be 2,211.24 billion freight tonne-kilometer, growing at 4.7 percent,” according to a recent article from YourStory.com 

Market research from Novonous, ‘Logistics Market in India 2015-2020’ shows that India is a prime example of a country that can benefit from new, digitized logistics platforms. The report shows that the logistics sector for India approximately $300 billion, and expected to grow by 12.17 percent by 2020. Factor in that 90 percent of trucks in India are operated by single truck owners, and you can see the potential for connectivity and digital platforms.  

The Growth of E-commerce and Digitization 

E-commerce, of course, is at the heart of much of this digital growth as many consumers begin to veer towards a digital shopping cart, rather than brick and mortar stores. As E-commerce companies such as Amazon, Alibaba, and Flipkart begin to grow and attract more customers, the potential for higher logistics costs also increase. As it stands, India spends about 13 percent of its total GDP on logistics, versus China at 18 percent and the U.S at 8.5 percent. Even a drop of 4 percent in logistics spending could save India upwards of $50 billion.   

The visibility and scalability of a digital network will undoubtedly be vital for the growth of the global economy.

The visibility and scalability of a digital network will undoubtedly be vital for the growth of the global economy. Not only does it help to level the playing field for new players making the market more accessible, but it also helps veterans and legacy companies to operate more efficiently.  

Real-time visibility solutions can help tackle delays, productivity issues, accidents, diversion, theft, and damage.

“Mobile operators are uniquely poised to offer regional and global connectivity solutions for the logistics sector. These real-time visibility solutions can help tackle delays, productivity issues, accidents, diversion, theft, and damage,” says the Yourstory Team.   

“Governments can also improve the quality of logistics via measures like budgetary outlays, foreign direct investment regulations, clarity in classification of logistics players, tax structures, and requirements for open data sharing. This covers truck fleets and the warehousing sector,” they added.  

The logistics sector is heading towards a new digital era, that much is certain. Tech startups, along with forward-thinking incumbents, are bringing innovations and insights into the field and is shaking up the old ways of doing things. As this new era grows in years, it’s likely that we’ll be seeing the logistics and transportation industry in a wholly different light.  

Offering Intelligent Logistics To All Customers 

BlueGrace Logistics offers complete, customized transportation management solutions that provide clients with the bandwidth to create transparency, operate efficiently, and drive direct cost reductions. For more information on how we can help take your hard to understand and complicated data and turn it into easy to read and well calculated decisions data, feel free to contact us using the form below:

Turning Returns into Return Customers: How Reverse Logistics Defines e-Commerce

The way to succeed at e-commerce is to think like your customers. But how do they think?

A decade ago, retailers were responsible for the in-store experience and the quality of their product. That was pretty much it. Today, online retailers are held accountable for everything that happens in-between, in transit, and a lot more. Traffic used to annoy shoppers on the way to the mall, but today, those same delays are the retailer’s problem as well. Online retailers picked up the legwork in exchange for access to a booming market. With those extra responsibilities, you might be obsessed with the complexities of your fulfillment and returns operations – like everyone else in e-commerce – but that’s not what’s important to your customers. They want reliability and they don’t want to pay for it.

To put it another way, the e-commerce experience starts the moment a customer navigates to a platform and ends either when the product arrives at the purchaser’s address, or when their returned purchase is processed, and the refund is deposited into their bank account or refunded to their credit card. In between those moments, a complex web of interactions brings dozens of different companies together, and the failure of one link can reflect poorly on the whole chain.

More Returns Than Ever

It’s a chicken and egg question whether e-commerce is driving returns, or if the increasing ease of returns is turning more consumers on to online purchases. One thing is for sure though, there are more returns than ever.

This is especially true for apparel shopping, where the widespread adoption of free returns has turned the internet into a virtual changing room. Some fulfillment experts estimate that the return rate for online apparel purchases is close to 40 percent. That’s because, as of yet, there really isn’t an online equivalent to trying on an article of clothing in person. There’s a similar dynamic at play with other online purchases. Those free returns induce shoppers to buy online because they know if it doesn’t work out, they can ship it back.

Without free returns, few shoppers would risk buying an article of clothing that might not fit.

Without free returns, few shoppers would risk buying an article of clothing that might not fit. So now that we’ve established the importance of returns, the challenge is to make returning an online purchase a positive experience for customers.

Why Returns Matter

It’s quite simple. Returns matter because the moment your customers decide – for any number of reasons – that they want to return their purchase in exchange for a refund, the clock starts ticking. The moment they make that decision, they are holding a product that they don’t want and they are short the amount of money they spent on it. It’s a delicate situation and keeping the customer on your side is a complex interaction of logistics and customer service.

At the same time, every one of us has retailers, restaurants, or other corporate entities that we love. For many of us, that attachment comes from their customer service experience, friendly interactions with the staff, or some other interpersonal experience. With e-commerce, those opportunities don’t exist and retailers must make up for that with flawless logistics, as customers swap brick and mortar familiarity for online convenience.

This challenge will be won or lost based on your company’s logistics

This challenge will be won or lost based on your company’s logistics, so having that in mind, here are a couple of points to consider as you evaluate your e-commerce strategy:

Make it easy – From your customers’ perspective, returns should be easy to handle and seamless. At this point, prepaid return labels and flexible return shipping are commonplace, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. You need to make sure that you communicate the best return options to your customers, such as where they can drop off the packages, pickup times and other important information. You should communicate this automatically, in advance, so that your customers know that they have options. This will help them feel in control of the experience at all times.

Make it visible – with the right track and trace technology, it’s easy for logistics companies to know where a shipment is at any given time. That information should be communicated to your customer. Online shoppers might not even know about the option, but proactively letting them know how their return is processing improves the retail experience and converts customers into return shoppers.

Make it fast – Nobody wants to wait for their refund, so your returns policy should take that into account. A smart return policy should be able to dispense refunds in advance of their final processing when they arrive back at the warehouse. Regardless of how your company processes the return, the customer should be taken care of first and not held up by logistics constraints.

Make it scale – Every holiday season there are at least several articles about bottlenecks in the returns policy and that’s because millions of more customers turn to the internet every year for their gift purchases. Check with your logistics provider in advance of busy periods to ensure that they can scale to your needs.

How BlueGrace Can Help

You should be focusing on your core strengths in retail, not logistics, and that’s where we come in.

You want your logistics partner to embrace these values and to have a sophisticated enough approach to accommodate a data-intensive e-commerce operation. At BlueGrace, an experienced customer support team manages the entire returns and claims process to ensure a high customer satisfaction rating. BlueGrace uses its strategic relationships with their carriers to get great pricing with a mix of quality carriers. At BlueGrace, we work with new customers to understand their businesses and engineer the most seamless delivery and returns process possible. You should be focusing on your core strengths in retail, not logistics, and that’s where we come in.

With the logistics experts at BlueGrace reviewing past data at the beginning of the relationship, our partner e-commerce customers can increase their profits, save employee time and most importantly keep the online customers they spent so much to acquire. Feel free to fill out the form below for a free analysis today!