This Week in Logistics News (March 20-24, 2017)

Our hearts and prayers go out to the people of London following this week’s terrorist attack. So sad, so senseless. May the days ahead be filled with peace and healing, for all the injured and mourning, and for all of us.

Moving on to this week’s supply chain and logistics news…

If you can imagine it, no matter how dumb or farfetched, patent it.

That seems to be the rule of thumb Walmart, Amazon, and others are pursuing with regards to drones. The latest example: Walmart was issued a patent for “A Method to Carry an Item within a Retail Shopping Facility” — that method being a drone. Here’s an excerpt from the description:

In a modern retail store environment, there is a need to improve the customer experience and/or convenience for the customer. Whether shopping in a large format (big box) store or smaller format (neighborhood) store, customers often require assistance that employees of the store can provide. Unfortunately, there may not always be enough employees available to assist customers in a timely manner as the customer might wish…When there is not an associate immediately available to accomplish this task [such as fetching an item from the back room], the customer experiences delay. That experienced delay, in turn, can contribute to reduced customer satisfaction.

I don’t know, call me old-fashioned, but if I’m actually going to take the time to go buy something at a store (instead of just ordering it online, which is what I mostly do these days), I can walk the aisles myself, thank you very much, to find what I want to buy, and if I can’t find it or I have questions about the product, I’d rather speak to a friendly and knowledgeable human being instead of interacting with a kiosk and drone. So if brick-and-mortar retailers are going to invest in anything, invest in hiring, training, and retaining friendly and knowledgeable associates, people who will smile and welcome me when I walk into the store and thank me for coming in instead of staying home and ordering online.

But I digress…

There was a lot of shipping-related news this week. On Monday, eBay announced that it will “roll out Guaranteed Delivery in the United States, providing faster and more precise delivery dates for shoppers. At launch, eBay will guarantee delivery in 3 days or less on 20 million eligible items – millions of which will offer free shipping. In addition, shoppers will also be able to search for and filter items by 1- and 2-day delivery.”

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that “Deutsche Post’s package service DHL will deliver goods for Amazon’s AmazonFresh service in Germany, several people close to the matter said on Wednesday. The two companies have signed an exclusive deal, and a trial will start in Berlin, they said.”

Delivery: fast, reliable, affordable (which means free in most cases). This is no longer a competitive weapon but table stakes in the game.

Shifting gears to technology and transportation management systems, MercuryGate announced its new Logistics Integrator Program, which combines “the demonstrated power of MercuryGate’s TMS technology with the proven design, delivery and execution best practice capabilities of select, pre-approved logistics services providers (LSPs) that have demonstrated competence in meeting the evolving needs of shippers today.” MercuryGate also announced that Redwood Logistics is its first Logistics Integrator. Check out my post from earlier this week for my takeaways about this announcement.

Speaking of 3PL-TMS vendor partnerships, Lineage Logistics, a large temperature-controlled warehousing and logistics company, announced a strategic partnership with BluJay Solutions (formerly Kewill/LeanLogistics). According to the press release:

The partnership designates Lineage as the exclusive third-party logistics provider to manage customers’ food and beverage supply chains using BluJay’s Transportation Management solution, formerly LeanTMS, powered by its Global Trade Network.

The strategic partnership enables customers in the food and beverage industry to outsource the management of their transportation network by leveraging BluJay’s highly scalable TMS with Lineage’s diverse network of facilities that spans more than 100 locations across North America with 609 million cubic feet of temperature-controlled capacity. Lineage will also work to transition all of its current customers from existing transportation platforms to BluJay’s Transportation Management solution, using its robust capabilities to deliver increased value to their supply chains.

Does this partnership mark a strategic shift for BluJay Solutions and its managed transportation services (MTS), which originated with LeanLogistics? The company is now using the term Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) instead of MTS, which suggests the focus moving forward will be different than it has been to date. Something to keep a pulse on in the weeks and months ahead. But as with MercuryGate’s announcement this week, this is another example of how 3PLs and software vendors are moving their chess pieces around to provide shippers with what they really want, which is the right mix of technology, services, and consulting to help them achieve their desired outcomes.

Finally, as talk of renegotiating NAFTA continues, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics reports that U.S.-NAFTA freight totaled $88.0 billion in current dollars in January 2017, a 6.7 percent increase from January 2016. This was the largest year-over-year increase since the September 2014 increase over September 2013, and it was also the third straight month in which the year-over-year value of U.S.-NAFTA freight increased from the same month of the previous year.

Looking at U.S.-Mexico trade, the value of U.S.-Mexico freight flows increased by 6.3 percent to $43.0 billion from January 2016 to January 2017. The top commodity category transported between the U.S. and Mexico by all modes in January 2017 was electrical machinery, of which $7.4 billion, or 91.4 percent, moved by truck.

The bottom line: if you’re going to tinker with something of this scale and scope, be very careful with what you do and how you do it; you don’t want the fix to be worse than what’s broken today.

And with that, have a happy weekend!

Song of the Week: “When I Start to (Break It All Down)” by Erasure