How Shippers Can Use Data Visualization to Succeed in a Carriers’ Market

Over the first two quarters of 2018, carrier rates in Europe have increased. At the same time in the United States, an extreme driver shortage and resulting capacity crunch forced shippers to compete for carrier deals. Although the two major trading bodies have differences in the cause and severity of their transport trends, shippers from both the EU and US are seeking ways to improve their relationships with carriers, and that’s likely true for anyone engaging in transatlantic trade.

The problem won’t disappear overnight either. A strong economy, low unemployment and regulations like the Electronic Logging Devices (ELD) mandate in the United States are here to stay for some time, meaning that while trade is up, the number of workers and the hours they can work are down. However, when successfully contracted, carriers are in a position to offer better service than ever thanks to new technologies. Advances in truck platooning and autonomous vehicles, for example, are increasing safety and decreasing fuel cost and emissions, allowing carriers to offer more efficient and cost-effective service.

The playing field has therefore changed. For shippers to satisfy their distributors and customers with on-time delivery and intact products, they’ll have to sell carriers on why they would make a good partner with powerful evidence of how they can help their bottom line. To do this, shippers in both the US and EU are turning to data visualization and transportation managed analytics to reveal optimization opportunities and determine how to become a shipper of choice. They then communicate their data-driven advantages to carriers in a way that makes complex information clear and approachable.

Improve Data Comprehension with Visualization

To improve their partnerships with carriers and their own performance, shippers need to look beyond numbers to make connections between service levels, affordability and optimization opportunities. Because of its ability to turn abstract data into easily comprehensible insights, data visualization has become an increasingly important tool in getting shippers and carriers on the same page.

Visualization can present data as specific as the congestion of a particular roadway or as broad as the return on investment (ROI) of a multi-year project. It enables businesses to communicate from different perspectives, making it vital for complex business relationships like those of carriers and shippers.

The data can be acquired in-house, with a data-scraping program, or from the large databases of third-party logistics providers (3PLs), but no matter where you acquire the data, the presentation must be designed with a specific audience in mind to be effective. This means that:

  • Shippers should create data visualizations for internal use that demonstrate how they’re increasing efficiency and productivity to stay attractive to carriers.
  • Shippers should create separate visualizations intended for carriers that demonstrate how and why their operation makes for a rewarding partnership.

Once the intended audience is decided on, shippers have several visualization tools they can apply to best communicate their dataset.

Interactivity of Transportation Data

Designing visuals to engage an audience makes for better data communication, so when possible, create interactive visualizations that users can manipulate to hone in on points of interest. For example, if designing a national map of major choke points for carriers, allow them to click on their most frequently traveled routes to learn the effect that route has on travel time on a given day of the week.

Infographics and Personalized Imagery

If interactivity is not relevant to your data, try embedding a static visualization within an infographic with relevant imagery. An infographic can communicate a complete data story that gives context to key pieces of data, while making that data more human-centric with impactful visuals. The chart or graph that you use should have an intuitive relationship with your data — think of a bar chart depicting revenue rising over years of a successful carrier partnership. If properly done, multiple complex pieces of data can be communicated instantly in one clear relationship.

In addition to better decisions, well-designed visualizations create positive relationships between companies by making normally dry or obtuse discussions of data personal. For example, a graph that utilizes a potential contractors’ colors adds a personal touch that lets carriers know you think of them as a partner. When these design principles are taken together, visualizations improve communication within a company and create more trusting relationships with partners, leading to more efficiency and profitability all around. The only question remaining then is which programs are best suited for data visualization.

Optimize Carriers’ Profits and Yours

Data visualization reveals data trends that may be hard to notice in simple numbers, so it can be great for programs that have complex, but nevertheless substantial, ROI. Programs that often reveal optimization opportunities include:

  • Advance notice of shipping and making facilities open 24/7. This allows carriers to optimize their schedules.
  • Decreasing less-than-truckload (LTL) shipments and increasing backhauls, which helps shippers get the most from their miles. Decreasing dunnage and maximizing load space will help with this as well.
  • Off-peak shipping in the middle of the week, which allows carriers to offer lower rates.

Shippers can use visualization to depict how optimized cargo space saves on deliveries in the long term, or how allowing carriers to optimize their schedules saves them travel time, then create data visualizations for internal use that present how carriers’ increased profit also increases their own.

Help Carriers Help You

In today’s market, carriers can choose between jobs, so it’s up to shippers to communicate the advantages they offer to carriers. By making substantial changes in the ways they work and communicate with carriers, shippers are investing in their own performance in the short term and long term, as carriers perform more efficiently and pass savings along to them while also gaining a higher esteem for their business and look to work with them in the future. As technological capabilities increase and the availability of data grows, shippers that commit to clear communication of data and a strong relationship with carriers will quickly outpace their competitors in efficiency and satisfaction.

Photo of Tony BennettTony Bennett is Engagement Director at CLX Logistics, LLC, where his is responsible for the benchmarking team, customer relations and product development. His logistics-oriented work experience, his fluency in English, Dutch and German, and his desire to help companies understand data through visualization and help them become more efficient make him the right person for the job. Prior to his current role, Bennet was a Sales & Account Manager at CLX, worked in the marketing department of the Dutch-French airline Air France-KLM, and received additional international experience at DAKOSY in Hamburg, where he became responsible for the BeNeLux operations.