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e-commerce

Shipping Challenges For The 2021 Produce Season

Volume increases in shipping can drive up rates and create challenging conditions in freight capacity. Under normal conditions, the strain on CPG shippers occurs tidally. Produce season causes disruptions, but occurs with a fair degree of regularity. Even if a carrier does not transport agricultural goods, the influx of produce to shipping can affect operations, capacity and costs. COVID-19 is a new factor in shipping volume. Therefore it is challenging to prepare already tight margins for additional freight volume.

Driver Shortages

LTL is estimated to be experiencing a shortage near 20,000 drivers. A lack of qualified drivers is one theory. Prospective employees deciding their pay is inadequate for the working conditions is another. HOS regulations, meant to keep drivers safe, have also eaten up revenue opportunities for the young and ambitious.

arriers, shippers and 3PLs will all have to work together to entice drivers back towards the industry.

Due to COVID-related closures, supply chain disruptions have increased driver detention, which costs both drivers and shareholders significant amounts of both time and money. The threat of infection has slowed enrollment for in-person training programs and made travel less appealing. Older workers may decide to retire rather than risk exposure as high-risk individuals. Currently, there is no standardized hazard pay for drivers working through the pandemic. Carriers, shippers and 3PLs will all have to work together to entice drivers back towards the industry.

Social Distancing And E-Commerce Sales

According to Zipline Logistics, “when carriers devote trucks to moving high crop volumes, the available capacity diminishes. This yearly phenomenon drives up rates and can affect your ability to book shipments in or out of affected and nearby states.” LTL freight has already entered 2021 with significantly higher demands. Quarantine has driven consumers to fill their carts online. Amazon remained ideally situated to support consumers during the pandemic with an efficient last-mile shipping model and obsession with customer service. Unfortunately, most other major carriers got caught in a capacity crunch. Border closures resulted in a bottle-neck of supply chains and forced some on-the-fly spot rate decisions. The shift from retail stores to individual homes for house-hold purchases put added emphasis on timeliness.

To stay ahead of the many challenges this produce season, freighters will avoid unnecessary losses by turning to 3PL providers for capacity foresight.

Carriers found themselves choosing between paying FTL rates for trailers that were not full and waiting on further LTL shipments. Companies that remain competitive with Amazon will have to change their operations to meet customer expectations amid the rising demands of e-commerce. Shoppers unable to go to a retail shop cannot absorb lengthy delays the same way as a box store can, and with Amazon offering same-day shipping in much of the country, they don’t have to. COVID-19 has exponentially accelerated a generational industry change that was already on its way. Amendments to a business model while running operations are a tall order for any company. To stay ahead of the many challenges this produce season, freighters will avoid unnecessary losses by turning to 3PL providers for capacity foresight.

COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

We’ve seen that COVID has put pressure on carriers due to its effect on e-commerce trends. Labeled “Operation Warp Speed” by the United States Government, vaccine distribution adds another layer of urgency to shipping logistics. Vials from all approved sources currently require handling without any breaks in the cold chain. Vaccines are a part of the solution to COVID-related slowdowns in the flow of goods, but they also compete for refrigerated capacity.  Security concerns and the unstable nature of the COVID vaccine require constant monitoring, which means two-driver teams. Doubling drivers puts further strain on staffing shortages coming into produce season.

High demand means high value. Carriers who lose or damage shipments will forfeit contracts, profits and industry standing.

The shipment of fragile medical supplies also requires additional training for all who will handle them. COVID-19 is a matter of life and death, so the vaccine has a high demand. High demand means high value. Carriers who lose or damage shipments will forfeit contracts, profits and industry standing. According to information gathered by Heavy Duty Trucking, “WHO estimates nearly 20% of temperature-sensitive healthcare products get damaged during transport, and 25% reach their destination in a degraded state because of breaks in the cold chain”. Refrigerated freight specialists will need impeccable capacity logistics, highly trained drivers, well-maintained fleets and smooth transitions at both load-in and load-out to compete in Operation Warp Speed.

Carriers who possess both the experience and equipment needed to handle the vaccine roll-out is a small percentage of trucking. These companies will find themselves highly sought after as a part of the solution to a virus projected to have claimed 1 million Americans by May 2021.

Investing In Support

Factors such as driver shortages and a massive overhaul in e-commerce are sure to confound already challenging conditions. Investing in 3PL support is the profitable choice for fleets distributing any kind of temperature controlled freight this produce season. BlueGrace is connected to both national and regional carriers with refrigerated capabilities ready to handle your next load. Contact one of our experts today to learn more.

Shifts in Consumer Trends and the Future of Retailers

Consumer behavior during the global pandemic of 2020 is proving difficult to absorb for many businesses. Fraught with the risk of infection, restricted business hours, and massive unemployment, the average shopper has reallocated their purchasing power online. The virus has impacted traditional brick-and-mortar retailers in the United States particularly hard and bankruptcies are on the rise as a result. 

How Will 2020 Impact Trends in 2021?

A popular theory has been that the retail world was already experiencing an overhaul based on demographics.  More people reside alone.  This leaves less time for shopping in person. With increasing connectivity and on-the-go attitudes, it is natural for shopping to gravitate towards handheld apps and home deliveries.

Consumers have become savvier about how they go about shopping.

Additionally, consumers have become savvier about how they go about shopping. Prices and online reviews are easily compared in a matter of minutes. This creates an opportunity for disruptors to undercut competitors in a range of categories, such as price, customer service, and speedy delivery.

According to a recent interview done by Harvard Business Review with Marc-Andre Kamel, a partner who heads the global retail practice at Bain & Co, these retail trends existed before the momentous events of 2020.  Rather than creating new trends, it is reasonable to conclude that recent events merely accelerated existing trajectories. 

Which Retailers Were Set Up for Success in 2020? 

Naturally, online retail giants like Alibaba or Amazon entered the tumultuous year with enough resources to weather the storm. But what about smaller retailers? Many haven’t fared so well, but what about the ones that have?  There are four prototypes necessary to maintain a sustainable position.

Regional Gems: These companies find their strength where their larger competitors are not prevalent.  Protected by their ties to the regional consumer base and culture, their business model is thriving.  Due to the relative novelty of online shopping in these areas, it is difficult to project how these companies may fare against emergent business models.  

Hitchhikers: With a flair for creativity, these companies rely heavily on branding status to appeal to consumers. While these retailers could not hold their own against a company like Amazon, they can profit by riding those coattails.  

Value Players: It seems simple, but keeping prices low ensures stability during a widespread financial crisis. Aldi, TJ Maxx, and Burlington are a few examples.

Scale Fighters: The final possible precursor to success in 2020 is size. Retailers like Walmart have the heft and established consumer base to fight other ecosystems. 

Which Retailers Lacked Positioning?

With cash flow reduced for most shoppers and a focus on buying online, many retailers found themselves at a disadvantage while simultaneously needing to change their business model to survive. Shifting shrinking resources is a challenge for any business. Trying to do that while restructuring a business during a global crisis borders on the impossible.

Legacy Laggers: Aptly named because they are often some of the more visible household names (and they’re falling behind). Facing immense pressure from both the market and shareholders when profits plummet, many of these companies choose to consolidate. Many doomed department stores could survive as something reinvented by re-imagining ambitions and joining forces. 

Unsustainable Innovators: These exciting new entities face a dead-end when it comes to profitability. They either perish during growth or gain the attention of a previously mentioned Scale Fighter who wishes to absorb their knowledge.

Is It Reasonable to Expect a Retail Rebound Post-Vaccine?

The trend from older to younger generations is a reduced emphasis on showy consumption and a shift towards sustainability and personal meaning. Data shows that COVID accelerated this trend and a percentage of older generations have adopted their children’s shopping habits. This is a sign that a retail rebound is not likely.  

These profits have exceeded any business lost during the quarantine.

Meanwhile, consumer data from the East suggests that shoppers are eager to buy. China, which had a more comprehensive response to the pandemic than the United States, has emerged from lockdowns and enjoyed a surge in retail activity. While this was seen mostly online, those who browsed were more likely to take their carts to checkout. These profits have exceeded any business lost during the quarantine. China did previously outpace the US in luxury purchasing, however, so this trend may not translate to an accurate projection for the Western market.  

Can the Ecosystems Fail?

According to Harvard Business Review, Amazon will invest $100 billion more than any other top 10 retailers globally. Add to that their history of successful innovation, and they’re more likely to drive consolidation than a stall in growth.

While Amazon has a robust consumer base relying on them for online purchasing, part of what made them so successful in the 2020 pandemic is the nearly doubling number of Hitchhikers that sell their products on its platform. In fact, one of the only major obstacles Amazon faces right now is keeping deliveries timely amidst such prolific demand.  

For smaller retailers, keeping pace with e-commerce giants will be a difficult task, but it is possible through innovation, creativity, and a weather eye on consumer trends. 

Retailers are not the only ones struggling with the new economy. If you are a shipper trying to overcome the impending obstacles of COVID-19, our team of experts are available and ready to help. Contact us today!

The Impact Of The Amazon Effect On Traditional Freight Transport

Before the e-commerce segment rose to mainstream relevance, the retail industry’s logistics part had seen little disruption over decades preceding it, sandwiched between opaque workflows and stifling inefficiencies. That said, the consequential impact that e-commerce has on the workings of the supply chain today would not have been possible without the online retail behemoth Amazon and the ‘Amazon effect’ that lies in its wake.

In essence, Amazon obsessed over its customers.

Put simply, the Amazon effect is the evolution of supply chains from looking at end consumers as ‘yet another’ part of the value chain to putting them at the center of their operations. In essence, Amazon obsessed over its customers, aligning its product offerings and services to ensure the highest standards in parcel delivery experiences.

Subsequently, the consistent efforts of Amazon to provide impeccable delivery fulfillment to its customers snowballed to create an environment where expedited shipping became a parameter that set businesses apart from their market competitors. Eventually, this led businesses to start looking at delivering faster and keeping their customers in the loop on last-mile parcel movement.

While the need for visibility and expedited shipping have long been an expectation within the supply chain industry, they are not possible without digitalization.

While the need for visibility and expedited shipping have long been an expectation within the supply chain industry, they are not possible without digitalization. In many ways, digitalization within the freight industry can be inferred as the direct consequence of e-commerce. Data in supply chains remains frozen within siloed operations, as companies continue to cut off their data streams and not gain insights by feeding them to data-driven algorithms.

Meanwhile, consumer expectations within e-commerce have overflown from its business to consumer (B2C) segment to the business to business (B2B) segment of freight logistics, where shippers are increasingly expecting better experiences while moving freight. Shippers often rationalize their visibility requirements, contending that when Amazon could show them precision location status of individual parcels, fleets could afford to track entire containers.


Amazon effect’s impact on inventory levels

The e-commerce segment differs from the traditional retail industry in the way the former reduces the number of intermediary nodes within supply chains connecting the manufacturer with the end consumer.

Traditional retail moves products through several nodes in the supply chain, including manufacturers, distribution centers, and retail inventories, before selling to end consumers in retail outlets. E-commerce compresses this value chain, cutting out the retail inventories and storefronts, and replacing it with a multitude of last-mile delivery models.

As e-commerce bites into the physical retail market, there is a steady shift in the size of inventories and the way they are held. The depth in e-commerce offerings has translated into an increase in the variety of products stocked in inventories, inevitably showing up as an expansion in overall inventory volumes.

However, the inventory volume increase is not proportional to the expected increase. Shortening of lead times can be one of the reasons for the inventory volumes to not increase to expected levels. That apart, while logistics stakeholders look to stock products that are in demand, they also opt to stock limited quantities and not worry about overstocking due to short lead times. This way, companies also reduce the risk of stocking product lines that have become obsolete. Obsolete product lines are a real possibility as product demand is an extension of consumer interest in a said offering, which can abruptly change in a matter of days.

This is especially true of electronics, where older versions witness a rapid fall in demand as improved versions hit the market. The ease of e-commerce makes it easier for manufacturers to approach the market without intermediaries, increasing the chances of entire product lines being trashed due to a better alternative mushrooming in the market.


Last-mile delivery disrupted by the Amazon effect

Amazon’s customer obsession has ensured that the last-mile segment is one of the primary differentiators for delivery fulfillment within the e-commerce market. The last-mile is expected to be nimble, with the gravity of consumer expectations making it one of the crucial parts of freight movement.

Retailers are reevaluating their supply chains, attempting to consistently improve their customers’ delivery experiences. Technology has come to the rescue, with several additions being made to the way the last-mile is handled, including automated delivery bots and VTOL drones. Dynamic route optimization is part of a last-mile delivery company’s arsenal, with delivery vans given routing instructions based on parameters like location, parcel specification, and delivery time windows.

or logistics at large, there are two main operational costs – inventory and freight.

For logistics at large, there are two main operational costs – inventory and freight. While expenses on inventory and freight are comparable, the Amazon effect has successfully pushed scales towards freight costs – courtesy, an inordinate increase in air freight movement due to expedited shipping options. However, with the last-mile almost exclusively fulfilled over the road, the trucking industry would inevitably continue being impacted by the ubiquitous Amazon Effect.

You Want To Be A Supplier For Whole Foods, Right?

While brick and mortar stores haven’t died out completely, the pandemic hasn’t done them any favors. Not being able to leave the house due to COVID-19, many consumers are realizing that it’s not only easier to shop online for their household consumables, but that it’s preferable to having to run out to the store when the pantry starts running low.

Whole Foods, for example, has done incredibly well, owing largely to its owner, Amazon. Much like Walmart, Target, and Apple, Whole Foods, and Amazon have seen some incredible growth in their grocery sector.

“During Amazon’s second quarter of 2020, the retail giant continued to see huge gains overall due to the impact of COVID-19, with online grocery sales alone reaching three times last year’s figures,” reads an article from SupermarketNews.

The second quarter, which ended on June 30, 2020, left Amazon with an overall net income at a staggering $5.2 billion, compared to the $2.6 billion during the same quarter last year. It should come as no surprise that net sales surged 40% from $63.4 billion in 2019 to $88.9 billion.

While the pandemic was at its full height and lockdowns were initiated, consumers took to their keyboards to go shopping.

Spending Money to Make Money

Of course, with higher than average sales comes higher than average operating costs. As Amazon conducted more business, it also had to increase its operating costs to keep pace with the influx of new orders.

Amazon created over 175,000 new jobs since March and are in the process of bringing 125,000 of these employees into regular, full-time positions

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO, noted in a statement, “As expected, we spent over $4 billion on incremental COVID-19-related costs in the quarter to help keep employees safe and deliver products to customers in this time of high demand — purchasing personal protective equipment, increasing cleaning of our facilities, following new safety process paths, adding new backup family care benefit, and paying a special thank you bonus of over $500 million to front-line employees and delivery partners. We’ve created over 175,000 new jobs since March and are in the process of bringing 125,000 of these employees into regular, full-time positions.”

Amazon’s Grocery Sales Continue to Grow. Rapidly

It’s hard to believe that Amazon originally started as a bookstore. Now it’s become a full-service virtual grocery store, which has been paying dividends for the once bookseller.

“Amazon’s second quarter was another highly unusual quarter,”says Brian Olsavsky, chief financial officer & senior vice president. “As I mentioned on our last earnings call, we began to see a significant increase in customer demand beginning in early March, and demand remained elevated throughout Q2. Strong early demand in groceries and consumable products continued into Q2, while demand increased during the quarter in our other major product categories like hardlines and soft lines.

Amazon, which owns more than 500 Whole Foods stores, said it increased grocery delivery capacity by more than 160% and tripled grocery pickup locations during the second quarter

It was only three years ago that Amazon bought out Whole Foods, which gave it the necessary oot in the door to begin selling groceries online. While this move garnered some criticism it turned out to be a smart move on Amazon’s part in the long run. “Amazon, which owns more than 500 Whole Foods stores, said it increased grocery delivery capacity by more than 160% and tripled grocery pickup locations during the second quarter,” says SupermarketNews.

“We’re reaching more customers with our grocery offerings,” said Olsavsky. “Online grocery sales tripled year-over-year.”

Getting in is the Easy Part

Obviously, being a supplier for a company like Whole Foods is ideal, especially when you can indirectly hitch your star to Amazon. However, becoming a supplier for Whole Foods is the relatively easy part. On the other hand, living up to their high standards and demands is where things get decidedly more difficult.

If you’re thinking of becoming a supplier for Whole Foods or want to understand better what it means to be a supplier and how have requirements and the business changed now that they are part of the Amazon juggernaut, read our Whole Foods white paper.

Walmart+ vs. Amazon Prime: How Different Are They?

Amazon delivered a swift blow to retailers with the introduction of Amazon Prime. Walmart is fighting back.

Amazon spent years building what was to be its competitive advantage in e-commerce, its formidable distribution network. By building distribution centers across the country, investing in algorithms to optimize pick-time, and hiring operational wizards from Walmart and other competitors, Amazon gets products to customers anywhere in the United States cheaper and faster than anyone else.

Walmart went in the opposite direction, taking a ‘build it, and they will come’ approach, building stores in rural areas and locating them close enough together to allow for shared warehousing and logistical resources. Walmart plays in the low margin discount retail arena, and they do it better than anyone else. Perishables such as bread and milk are extremely low margin products, but the wide range of offerings gets customers in the door more often and buying more while they’re there. This is their secret, money-making-sauce, the strategy that allows for a wide distribution of fixed costs and lowers their break-even point.

In 2005 Amazon launched a little thing called Amazon Prime, a membership program with perks which is now enjoyed by roughly 150 million global paying members.

In 2005 Amazon launched a little thing called Amazon Prime, a membership program with perks which is now enjoyed by roughly 150 million global paying members. At the time, Walmart was the giant, its profits being larger than Amazon’s revenue. A decade and a half later, however, and Amazon reigns supreme over online sales. In 2019, Amazon accounted for almost 40 percentof the US e-commerce market. Walmart lagged far behind with slightly more than 5 percent.

An ethos of sales is to make it easy for customers to do business with you. Prime aims to do just that. For $119 a year, Amazon Prime offers services such as music and video streaming, one-day shipping on more than 10 million products, and same-day delivery from Amazon Fresh or Whole Foods. It has its loyalty base hooked and has customers shopping more often and spending about twice as much as non-prime customers. 

Walmart, however, still reigns supreme in brick-and-mortar retail.

Walmart, however, still reigns supreme in brick-and-mortar retail. As reported by Recode, they’re now fighting back with an expansion to their grocery-delivery subscription service, which launched last year. Walmart will be using its 20% market share (of an $800 billion category) as a foothold to launch the introduction of Walmart+. To differentiate themselves, Walmart is looking to include perks that Amazon won’t be able to replicate and may offer discounts on fuel and prescription drugs. 

Walmart’s Delivery Unlimited service currently delivers groceries from more than 1600 US stores and costs $98 per year or $12.95 monthly and offers a free 15-day trial to lure new members. It also offers a per delivery fee for non-members and is testing a service that will take the extra few steps and deliver your groceries right to your fridge.

Widening the Customer Base

As we laid out in our Walmart and Whole Foods white papers, Millennials are outpacing baby boomers as the largest living adult generation, and their buying patterns are heavily focused on eCommerce. 

CEO Doug McMillon has given Chief Customer Officer Janey Whiteside the task of widening their customer base to include more upscale shoppers and create a seamless customer experience, whether shopping online or instore. Whiteside has also put together a product team, to be headed by Chief Product Officer Meng Chee and will focus on using advancements in tech to improve the customer experience.

Amazon is now also widening its target customer base to include lower-income shoppers and is hoping to lure them into Prime memberships with monthly membership rates.

Although both Walmart and Amazon deliver groceries to food stamp recipients, only Walmart currently offers a monthly membership fee option. Amazon is now also widening its target customer base to include lower-income shoppers and is hoping to lure them into Prime memberships with monthly membership rates. Customers may find more financially viable than a one lump sump yearly membership fee.

Walmart has had a bumpy road in its foray into e-commerce. In 2016 Walmart bought out Jet.com for $3.3 billion, but Jet failed to become a driver for online grocery sales and provide the boost into urban areas they were looking for. Walmart announced in June of last year that it would be folding Jet into its e-commerce operations and ended Jetblack, the AI-powered personal shopping service it rolled out in May of 2018.

Back in 2017, they tested a program called ShippingPass, a $49 per year two-day shipping membership, which was then discontinued, members were then refunded their $49 fee.

Both Amazon and Walmart are forerunners into e-commerce, struggles, and even failures are to be expected. Far from being out for the count, it seems Walmart is coming back swinging.

Do you ship to Amazon, Walmart, Target or other large retail or grocery store chain? The rules are changing and it is getting harder and harder to be able to adhere to them. This is where the logistics experts at BlueGrace Logistics can help your team! Feel free to contact us using the form below and set up a 15 minute chat to discuss how we can help you succeed!

The Fifty Shapes of Amazon Logistics

Digital and physical are reaching a point of total convergence, something that would have been unheard of 20 years ago. Companies like WholeFoods and Amazon are changing up their logistics goals in a big way, something that is likely to ripple through other similar industries.  

Amazon Tips its Hand to Logistics  

It’s unarguable at this point that Amazon has a knack for developing an in-house system and turning it into a massive profit generator down the road. We’ve seen it before with Amazon cloud computing when the company needed to boost its data handling capabilities. Now Amazon’s cloud drive, known as Amazon Drive has become a for-profit service that is used around the world.  

So what happens when the e-commerce giant turns its eye towards logistics?  

Amazon Logistics  

We’ve seen over the past few years that Amazon isn’t content to wait for packages to be delivered at someone else’s pace. With Amazon Prime, subscribers have grown accustomed to two-day delivery, a feat which has made smaller companies buckle under the weight of consumer expectation. Not content to rest on their laurels, however, Amazon is pushing the envelope again towards next or even same-day delivery. Banking on the fact that as more people realize they can get their items delivered even faster the more people will sign up for a Prime Subscription. And so far the gamble has paid off.  

“Driven by Prime Free One-Day Delivery and Free Same-Day Delivery, it was another year in which Amazon was able to set shipping records. That was rewarded with a 4% surge in its stock. It now sports a market capitalization of $927 billion,” says the MotleyFool. 

“For the holiday period, the tech giant set records for the number of people who tried Prime. In one week alone, Amazon said five million new customers either began a Prime membership or started a trial. The number of items delivered via Prime Free One-Day and Prime Free Same-Day Delivery nearly quadrupled compared to a year ago,” the Fool adds.  

This year, Amazon’s in-house logistics delivered more than 3.5 billion packages compared to FedEx’s 6 billion. Which isn’t terrible when you consider the fact that Amazon started as an internet book store. What’s more, is 60 percent of Amazon customers opted to ship to an Amazon drop point to pick up the packages themselves, further pushing back FedEx, UPS, and the United States Postal Service.  

It wants to control everything from shipping out of the warehouses to delivery to customers’ porches.

“It wants to control everything from shipping out of the warehouses to delivery to customers’ porches. That requires large upfront investments. In the second quarter of 2019 alone it spent $800 million to expand its one-day delivery for Prime Members. It’s also investing $1.5 billion to develop an air hub in Kentucky that’s slated to open in 2021 and will be home to fifty aircraft. Amazon announced its Delivery Service Partner program in May, enabling entrepreneurs to create delivery networks to handle last-mile deliveries for Amazon. The company is also investing tons of money into drone technology and, in June, debuted its Prime Air Drone design,” reads the Fool.  

Building their own in-house logistics network means less reliance on the now “competition” and giving their customers little reason to shop anywhere else. Amazon is also hedging a bet that by using its own logistics network, it can eventually cut down on the cost of packing and delivery.  

The Convergence of Digital and Physical and the Reimagining of the “Store”  

Amazon building its own logistics network is also changing the landscape for the traditional brick and mortar retailers. Within the past two years, we’ve seen the fall of some major retailers like Toys R’ Us and Bon-Ton. These companies are among those that lacked the ability to grasp the importance of a digital presence and the shape of consumer expectations. As we enter into a new decade, many traditional retailers are beginning to change the way they do business, which might be the only thing that keeps them out of Amazon’s massive shadow.  

“Shopping malls and physical outlets may have seen their best days for foot traffic. However, they have been given a new “lease” on life as fulfillment locations. Retail giant Target Corp. uses virtually all of its 1,900 stores as fulfillment locations, and about 80% of its online orders are fulfilled through a store. The new decade will see an increasing convergence of digital and physical operations as brick-and-mortar locations are positioned as hubs closer to the customer and e-commerce sites direct more package delivery to retail outlets, ABI Research said in a late December study,” reads an article from Yahoo! Finance. 

As e-commerce takes an ever-larger share of total retail sales, the strategy and execution of delivery networks will become the axis of success.

“As e-commerce takes an ever-larger share of total retail sales, the strategy and execution of delivery networks will become the axis of success. Regardless of the industry, logistics will increasingly be the difference between an enterprise’s success or failure,” the article continues.  

Even grocery stores are changing the way they serve their customers. 20 years ago, we never would have considered ordering our produce and perishables online, especially not for delivery, yet new startups like Misfits Market and Butcher’s Box are doing just that. Virtually every major grocery store chain now offers some form of digital grocery shopping where customers can order their items and have them delivered to their car in the parking lot.   

These are just some of the changes we’ve seen in the past few years, but some grocery stores are taking it to a whole new level.  

A True Change of Pace for Whole Foods 

Perhaps one of the biggest changes in the grocery scene is what we’re seeing from Whole Foods. The organic food market was purchased by Amazon in August of 2017 and under the titan of commerce’s influence has become a supplier for other retailers. How have they been doing so far and what does that mean for their logistics network? Download our White Paper about the subject and learn how you can establish processes and systems that are in line with supermarkets and retailers’ requirements, such as On-Time and In-Full (OTIF) or Must Arrive By Date (MABD). 

How Can SMBs Contend With Big Box Retailers?

Small and mid-size businesses are finding themselves in a difficult position in today’s market, courtesy of the Amazon effect. Consumers now expect free shipping and in most cases they expect it to be either two days, one-day, or even same-day delivery. That’s all well and good when you have a massive financial engine to throw behind it (having your own in-house logistics and distribution network doesn’t hurt either) but for smaller companies, that’s not always an option. Instead, SMBs are left with the choice of eating exorbitant shipping fees to meet customer expectations or stick with standard delivery and risk losing their market share.  

In 2020, SMBs are going to have to make some tough decisions on how they invest their shipping and logistics dollars,

Through 2019, this tension has been growing, complicated even more so by big-box retailers, Walmart in particular. In 2020, SMBs are going to have to make some tough decisions on how they invest their shipping and logistics dollars, when and where to invest in technology over team (or vice versa), and where they can go for reliable and affordable delivery options. 

The Ever-Growing Logistics Challenge

SMBs are going to have their hands full when it comes to figuring out the best route to go for logistics, especially when trying to keep up with Big Box Influencers. Walmart has put a tight fist on logistics with its MABD and OTIF policies. In an effort to keep products on the shelves exactly where and when they need them, the retail superstore has begun punishing carriers who don’t deliver everything they are supposed to, exactly when they’re supposed to deliver it. Given that Walmart is an incredibly lucrative contract for carriers they will, of course, oblige. Ensuring that Walmart gets exactly what it needs. 

SMBs don’t typically have that sort of clout, however. So what options do they have available to them? Understanding that their customers expect a new level of service that would never have been considered as possible 20 years ago, SMBs will have to look at alternative logistics strategies to ensure that their customers are happy while keeping profit margins in the black. 

Knowing where to Source Carriers

Knowing where to source carriers from is among the top challenges for SMBs. Sure, there’s a UPS store down the street, but is that the most cost-effective means of shipping out goods? There’s also a USPS in every town on the map, but will they get products there on time? These are just some of the questions that SMBs will have to be able to answer. 

All of these questions and variables make it incredibly difficult for smaller companies to come up with a stable plan for their logistics.

There’s also the matter of fluctuating shipping rates, and tightening capacity, which are subject to change with seemingly little or no notice. All of these questions and variables make it incredibly difficult for smaller companies to come up with a stable plan for their logistics. Most of them are resigned to the fact that they will have to increase their shipping and logistics budget and hope for the best. 

Investing in Technology

Tech is another difficult consideration for SMBs. On the one hand, many companies realize that it’s important to have the right technology solution in place. On the other hand, it can be expensive to the point of being cost-prohibitive. What technology should smaller companies invest in? What is going to help them the most to stay relevant and viable in today’s market? These are questions that don’t always have an easy or straightforward answer and that tends to make smaller companies more hesitant when deciding how to invest their logistics dollars. 

Taking a Lesson from the Big Box

If Amazon and Walmart have taught us anything it’s “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Amazon has taken several pages from their competitors’ playbooks and made it work for their own operations and the same can be said for Walmart.  Learn more about the supplier retailer relationship from our whitepaper here.

In addition to managing the relationship with shippers, it might also be time to involve the financial experts that are in your industry.

In addition to managing the relationship with shippers, it might also be time to involve the financial experts that are in your industry. Many businesses tend to compartmentalize their logistics and their C-Suite when ultimately, both have tools and skills that the other needs to not only survive but thrive. We’ve also got something to say about that as well.

Lastly, if you still have questions about how to compete with the big box stores or make your logistics dollars go further, let us know. The BlueGrace expert team is ready, willing, and able to answer your questions and to help turn your business into a lean, green, logistics machine it was always meant to be.  

Amazon’s Next Frontier: The Food and Grocery Business

Amazon has already proved its mettle in the e-commerce space and in the distribution sector. Earlier in the year the company also staked its claim in the digital freight brokerage industry. Now, it has set its sight on the grocery business.   

Amazon’s Grocery Connect 

Unlike its other ventures, the retail giant’s foray into the food and grocery business has not been profitable — at least not yet.

For the uninitiated, Amazon is not new to the food business. It has been operating in the food and grocery sector since it acquired Whole Foods in 2017; Amazon Go stores; and its fresh grocery delivery service. However, unlike its other ventures, the retail giant’s foray into the food and grocery business has not been profitable — at least not yet. According to an article published in The Motley Fool, Amazon’s CFO Brian Olsavsk speaks about the company’s latest quarterly results saying, its sales from physical stores, which are principally Whole Foods revenue, were actually down by 1.3% from the previous year — “this is the only major segment of Amazon’s net sales that didn’t show any growth”. 

This has not dissuaded the company from making further investment in the food and grocery business though. Early last month, it announced its plans to launch a new brick and mortar food and grocery store brand. The first store will be opened Woodland Hills, California in 2020.  This new business will be separate from its existing food and grocery business.  

With this announcement, one can say with certainty that for next year, one of Amazon’s major business goals will be to acquire a large slice of the global grocery and food retail market which is estimated to be worth USD 12.24 trillion by 2020

What will be different in the new venture?  

While Amazon has a presence in the food business, its reach has been limited. According to news reports, Amazon is aiming to reach a wider customer base. While Amazon’s Whole Foods business caters to the high-end customer, the new stores will be designed to cater to mid and low-income households. The new stores are expected to enable Amazon to offer their customers a range of products more in line with other large retailers like Walmart, Costco, and Kroger.   

In an article in Forbes retail expert Neil Stern, explores in-depth what the customer can expect from Amazon’s yet to be named new grocery venture: 

  • The new store will be omnichannel from the beginning 
  • It will have ample space for in-store picking and holding facilities 
  • The focus will be on mainstream products 
  • It will be more price-competitive than the Whole Foods business  
  • It may focus more on Amazon’s private label  

Will technology be a part of the new venture?  

Anything that Amazon does is powered by technology.

Anything that Amazon does is powered by technology. So it goes without saying that technology will be a large part of the newly announced grocery venture as well. In his article, Neil shares that the new store might not be as tech-savvy as the facilities available at Amazon Go stores. Further adding that technology in the new store might not be immediately scalable.  

Irrespective of the level of savviness, we can safely assume that technology will play an important role in the store, if not initially, then going forth.  

What’s in it for you?  

Business opportunities.  

Anyone associated with the business world knows, Amazon works on a large scale. The new grocery venture will sell a wide range of products. To run this operation efficiently and competitively, Amazon will need to source products from a variety of suppliers. And for this, the e-commerce behemoth will need to enlist a large number of suppliers.   

While working with a large scale operator like Amazon has its perks, it also has stringent requirements. Organizations like Amazon expect high quality, regular supply of goods, and adherence to delivery timelines from their suppliers. Given the fact that the e-commerce giant is a technology-driven company, it will also look for tech-savviness in its business partners.  

So, what are the qualities required to become a supplier for such a large scale venture? 

You need to have a rigorous inventory management system, a strong forecasting technique, and a well-managed distribution center. 

While the company will share what it would look for in a supplier, there are a few things that are usually expected from suppliers working with large scale multinational companies such as Amazon: 

  1. Quality products: There can be no compromise on this ever. The product, packaging, and delivery all have to follow a set standard. Any deviation from the standard can lead to losing the contract.  
  2. Technology: Technology is gradually taking over the retail space. Data transfer, reports, and invoicing are all done electronically, usually with the help of specialized software. Suppliers need to ensure that their organization is not only able to transfer required data in a systematic way electronically but is also connected internally through technology. This will help ensure both accuracy and speed in work and data exchange.  
  3. Strong supply chain: A robust supply chain with end-to-end visibility is an essential requirement to do business with large scale organizations such as Amazon. For this, you need to have a rigorous inventory management system, a strong forecasting technique, and a well-managed distribution center. 
  4. Reliable transporters: Another important factor in successfully servicing a large retail store chain is a reliable transporter/carrier with a well-connected network and a good track record of on-time delivery.  

To know what other factors come into play for qualifying as a supplier for a large, food and grocery retail chain, download our whitepaper  Whole Foods: Thriving as a supplier in the complex supermarket supply chain.  

The food and grocery retail landscape is set to change with new technologies being adopted by the retail leaders. To cater to them and work alongside them, their suppliers will also have to deploy modern technology in their business.  This is where we can work with you to make your supply chain – Amazon ready or any food and grocery retail business ready.  To know how we can assist you in getting there, connect with our team at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below.

Time Definite Freight & Positive ROI

The saleability of a product is not only dependent on its quality and features, but also on how it is delivered and how soon it can reach the customer. In other words, delivery has become a crucial part of a business’s success. If it’s managed effectively, it can positively impact the bottom line and help build a stellar market reputation. If not, then it can have a negative effect on both. 
 
In our March webinar, titled Time Definite Freight and Positive ROI, Brian Blalock, Senior Manager Sourcing Strategy, and Eric Chambers, Vice President, Field Performance at BlueGrace Logistics, discuss the delivery method that is redefining the logistics landscape.

What is Time Definite Freight?

What is time-definite freight and how is it different from the normal freight delivery mechanism? How does it benefit the business and its customers? These and other such questions tend to arise when we discuss why this delivery trend is quickly becoming an integral part of an organization’s logistics strategy and customer service offering. 

Time-definite freight is precision delivery. It’s not on any given day or any roundabout day. It’s on a particular day, a particular time – morning, afternoon, AM, PM. It can be any time of the 24 hour day.

To address these questions and provide context to the discussion, Eric explains “time-definite freight is precision delivery. It’s not on any given day or any roundabout day. It’s on a particular day, a particular time – morning, afternoon, AM, PM. It can be any time of the 24 hour day.”
 
This definition provided not only answers the “what” but it also gives an insight into “why” shippers and logistics service providers need to know about it and make it a part of their organization’s logistics strategy. It is important because it puts the customer’s requirements at the center of logistics planning, ensuring that goods are delivered according to the timelines given by the customer.

Is Time Definite a New Logistics Solution?

The life sciences industry, e-commerce, cross border express providers like UPS, FedEx; last mile solutions by truckers, Amazon Prime’s free 2-day delivery, and disaster recovery institutions like the Red Cross are all using time-definite transportation.

No, it is not. Certain industries are already leveraging this delivery mechanism to optimize their supply chain and provide better service to their customers. The automotive industry started using just-in-time (a form of time-definite delivery) years ago. The life sciences industry, e-commerce, cross border express providers like UPS, FedEx; last mile solutions by truckers, Amazon Prime’s free 2-day delivery, and disaster recovery institutions like the Red Cross are all using time-definite transportation.

What Are the Benefits of Time Definite Delivery? 

“There are many many benefits of time-definite, it really depends on the individual working in a company or its customers”, says Eric. To provide an insight into how time definite can help improve the bottom line, he shares that it can help reach end customers faster and reduce handling points in a delivery.

When multiple handling points in a delivery are eliminated, the handling costs go down and it also reduces the probability of the shipment getting damaged. 

Both of these things have a huge impact on the bottom line. For example, if you are able to take your product to the market faster, it not only helps improve the cash flow but also ensures that you are a step ahead of the competition. Similarly, when multiple handling points in a delivery are eliminated, the handling costs go down and it also reduces the probability of the shipment getting damaged. 

Technology & Optimizing Time-Definite Freight

Given the fact that technology is being leveraged to improve and optimize different aspects of logistics, it is but natural to ask if time definite can be further improved with technology? Yes, it can.

Speaking about how technology is making time definite a complete logistics solution, Eric shares that: 

  • Technology can be used to improve response time and on-time delivery.
  • Technology can provide real-time visibility of the shipment.
  • If the shipment requires certain transit conditions, they can be arranged with the help of technology. For example, temperature monitoring and reporting to FDA for compliance for pharmaceutical products.
  • Technology can improve inventory forecasting and replenishment, thus minimizing loss of sales due to stockouts.

Success factors and a Real-Life Use Case

It’s not enough to just deploy new systems and processes. It is also important to know if they are working for you and your customers and how they can be further improved.

To know the success factors of Time-Definite Delivery and how we at BlueGrace collaborated with a pharmaceutical company to handle a critical business situation with the help of technology-powered time-definite delivery watch the webinar here
 
Questions regarding Time-Definite Freight, or want to explore how you can make it a part of your logistics strategy? Connect with our team by contacting us at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below.

Why e-Commerce is now “Talking Shop”

Retail has undergone a radical evolution over the past few decades. When Amazon first appeared online, it was little more than an online bookstore which then piggy-backed toys for now extinct Toys-R-Us.

As e-Commerce began to gain ground, sites like Amazon were a good place to shop for a wide assortment of things you might need around your house. As the e-Commerce disruption to the brick and mortar store continued, you could launch Amazon from your phone, to shop or compare prices on the go. Now, e-Commerce goes a step further with voice-driven shopping, otherwise known as conversational commerce.

“The past year has been a decisive year for voice-driven Conversational Commerce – consumer purchase of products and services via voice assistants such as Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri. While earlier restricted to chatbots accessed via messaging apps for shopping, the definition of Conversational Commerce has significantly expanded with the arrival of voice-based personal assistants, presenting brands with an opportunity to build greater intimacy with their customers,” according to an article from Capgemini.

The Growth of Conversational Commerce

Being able to shop from the comfort of your home on a computer or a smartphone is certainly a convenience. Being able to build a shopping list just by talking is even easier. That’s probably why Capgemini’s survey concluded that 40 percent of consumers would likely be using a voice shopping method over visiting a website or using an app within the next three years. Additionally, 31 percent will likely choose to use a voice assistant over physically visiting a shop or a bank branch.

When you consider the wide array of functionality, it makes sense that we’ll be seeing an uptick in voice assistant.

As the system is fairly intuitive, simply speaking what you want added to your shopping list. Given the ease of use, it’s no surprise that 51 percent of consumers are also voice assistant users for things such as purchasing. A voice assistant can also perform a wide array of other functions such as calling for a ride on Uber, making payments or sending money, or even ordering takeout for dinner. When you consider the wide array of functionality, it makes sense that we’ll be seeing an uptick in voice assistant.

A Personalized Customer Service

Typically, having to interact with a robot when you’re calling customer support can be an irritating process at the best of times. Interestingly enough, 1 in 3 respondents of the Capgemini survey said they’d be willing to replace customer support or in-store shop sales support with a personalized voice assistant to enhance their in-store shopping experience. While that might seem like a negative aspect for retail stores, it’s shown to actually increase brand loyalty as well as average spending by an additional 8 percent per order.

With this new wave of technology, retail stores are being presented with a truly unique means of increasing both their customer service and customer satisfaction. Companies that can create a dynamic and positive voice shopping assistant experience will be better able to serve their customers while increasing business at the same time. That’s not to say that human-based customer service will be completely phased out in the near future.

While a personalized voice assistant might be great for helping a customer look for specific items, they will perpetually fall short of the mark when empathy is required, specifically when things go wrong.

While a voice assistant is nice, it’s human empathy that can really make a person feel at ease when they have a problem. Many retailers are focusing on customer service as a means of increasing their business. This becomes increasingly important as many industries are turning towards automation to boost efficiency. While a personalized voice assistant might be great for helping a customer look for specific items, they will perpetually fall short of the mark when empathy is required, specifically when things go wrong.

This will certainly be something to keep an eye on as time and technology progress.

Logistics is a perfect example of this. When a shipper is having an issue trying to find a shipment, an automated call menu might be the last thing they want to hear. Having a human operator or customer service representative close at hand to help troubleshoot issues has always been vital, perhaps even more so now with the abundance of new technology. Because of this, retailers will have to learn to navigate the line between multi-platform digital solutions and good-old-fashioned human interaction. Voice assistants will be able to bring a lot to the table, connecting both companies to other companies and consumers to everything in new and exciting ways. This will certainly be something to keep an eye on as time and technology progress.

BlueGrace Cares

BlueGrace provides world class customer service and makes it easier than ever to reach your markets in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Their expertise and processes provide clients with the bandwidth to operate efficiently and drive direct cost reduction, backed by procurement and dedicated management. For more information on how we can help you analyze your current freight issues and simplify your supply chain, feel free to contact us using the form below: