Category Archives: Logistics

Is WalMart Going to Force Logistics Scheduling Optimization Mainstream?

Recently, Spend Matters pointed out that Retail Mega-Giant Wal-Mart is stepping up its pressure on suppliers to get fulfillment perfect or pay a fine. According to Bloomberg, the goal is to add 1 Billion to revenue by improving (desired) product availability at stores (as the average stock-out rate of 8% costs a mega-retailer like Wal-Mart an awful lot of money).

But it’s not just stock-outs costing Walmart money. It’s deliveries that don’t happen when they are expected to happen. If a delivery arrives late, then warehouse workers have to stay overtime to get the truck unloaded, and that costs Walmart at least time and a half for every hour the workers have to stay late (plus any hours they had to be paid to wait around, probably doing nothing, for the delivery). If a delivery arrives (a day) early, then regularly scheduled deliveries have to be pushed ahead, possibly contributing to overtime and payment for empty hours (when workers show up for their shift and there is no work to be done for two hours).

And if trucks are waiting in winter, the drivers are not only being paid to sit to wait, but are probably also idling their trucks to keep warm, burning fuel, bumping up costs. So, the supplier is paying more to deliver, and passing that cost onto Walmart. When you think of how many early and late deliveries a mega-retailer like Wal-Mart must get, and you add up all the OT costs, empty hour costs for warehouse workers and drivers, and additional fuel costs, that costs a lot of money even before you take in the potential losses from stock-outs.

Bravo for Wal-Mart for trying to force more perfection into the supply chain and eliminate the considerable losses that come from imperfect orders. But how will the average supplier and/or carrier comply? Logistics scheduling can be a nightmare and be way too much for the average scheduler, or spreadsheet to handle. But as we’ve indicated before, not too much for an appropriately defined optimization solution. It’s about time optimization got more respect, even if it starts with scheduling.

And while optimization needs to be more universally applied, once a supplier or carrier gets comfortable with scheduling optimization, they’ll get more comfortable with optimization in general and move onto the adoption of decision optimization for logistics, and that’s just one step away from the application of decision optimization to high value / strategic events. And that’s, hopefully, only one step away from the universal application of optimization across all sourcing events.

So while this isn’t the most critical application of optimization for an average organization, it’s a great start and bravo to Wal-Mart for forcing suppliers and carriers to perform better in a manner that should force the eventual adoption of optimization.

And if you don’t like it, get over it. And if you don’t like Wal-Mart, remember, their dominance is all your fault.

Walmart: Still Running on a 56.6 baud Modem …

Walmart recently released a statement that it plans to use employees to do home deliveries, presumably to fulfill online orders, as recently reported on The Washington Post. the doctor couldn’t believe it at first … convinced it was an article from the Onion misposted on a real news site, but apparently it’s real.

Overlooking all the things that could go terribly wrong with this, and all of the new legal liabilities this could cause them to incur (which would give your average risk manager and Chief Counsel nightmares for months), this makes absolutely no sense from a supply chain perspective where the name of the game is cost control (unless, of course, Walmart is looking for a way to actually lose money as a tax avoidance scheme).

There’s a reason even Amazon uses third party carriers for its prime service, and the reason is that, as stated by the article, last mile logistics are costly. Very costly. And they can only be minimized by maximizing the number of packages delivered per hour by a driver. An employee who can only deliver a few packages due to space limitations in their car can’t maximize deliveries compared to a Fedex or UPS van driver that has a van built to maximize the number of packages that can be carried at one time and that is making deliveries determined by software that minimizes the delivery radius of all assigned packaged and delivery time using route optimization software (that eliminates left turns and backed-up routes).

Now, maybe Walmart is thinking that they can introduce a new kind of package assignment algorithm that minimizes the distance from an employee’s home route, and then just pay that employee for additional distance and time required (using google map calculations, etc.), but you still have the problem that the closest employee(s) may not be working that day, may not be able to do deliveries that day, or may not be able to fit the packages in their vehicle. Most of the time the software will have to re-assign and re-assign again until a viable sub-optimal match is found, and at the end of the day the cost would be more than just having a full time driver deliver everything according to route optimization software at a cost that is still more than negotiating a good volume-based outsourcing agreement with the dominant local carriers who can increase the delivery density even more.

The reality is that just because something sounds good (as in 90% of all customers live within 10 miles, where most employees are also located), does not mean it is good — and that’s why you need to perform analytics and optimization before embarking on major initiatives such as this. Because even if Walmart could get near-optimal assignments, it still needs volume, and as long as it takes 3 times as long to do anything on their site as it does on Amazon (and that is definitely true in Canada, where the outsourced development organization prefers to benchmark against sites for other real-world retailers and not Amazon from an online retail perspective), and as long as they continue to ship 6 (light) items on the same order across 5 boxes, their online volume growth is not going to be fast enough to make this idea anywhere as efficient as they hope in the next few years. This is one case where the doctor hopes their trials flop and they see the error of their ways and go back to investing in more hybrid vehicles, more efficient warehouses and inventory management methods, and other initiatives guaranteed to increase efficiency and sustainability.

What’s the Future of Just In Time for Consumer?

It’s the holiday season, which means retail is in overdrive. This means on-line retail is in overdrive, and this means shipping is in overdrive.

Shipping which relies on postal services or private carriers. Postal services which are in dire straits and which are getting costlier by the year and private carriers which are also getting costlier. The USPS recently announced yet another round of price increases for 2017, just six months after it raised prices almost 10% (which followed price increases barely six months before).

Costs just keep increasing, and it’s hurting small retailers who can’t negotiate Amazon and eBay bulk shipping rates (and offer free shipping @ 35 or low cost shipping on individual orders). People aren’t going to pay a $20 shipping fee to ship a $10 product. And they’re not going to buy from retailers where this is the case.

So, we’re entering the age where the Amazons and their ilk are going to do in the online world what the Walmarts and their ilk did in the offline world — kill the little guy unless the little guy falls in line. Prepare to see even more Amazon and e-Bay storefronts popping, piggy-backing off the already in place infrastructure in exchange for a small piece of the profit. And prepare to see the closure of even more independent storefronts that wanted to compete without having to give a cut to the new digital mafia, as they just won’t be able to compete.

This means that sales will centralize, but shipping rates won’t necessarily standardize. The Amazon resellers also use the Amazon warehouses will be able to take advantage of the lowest shipping rates, and the rest, like the e-Bay storefronts, will be subject to reduced rates, but not the Amazon warehouse rates. And these rates will keep increasing as fuel goes up, labour goes up, and the carrier rates go up even more. Stores were invented for a reason — it’s much more cost effective to ship a pallet to one location than 100 items to 100 locations. Even with route optimization, right turns only, last-leg optimization with the local post, and so on — package delivery costs can only go so low. As long as a human is involved.

This says that the future of just in time for the average, cash-strapped consumer, is likely one of two futures. The past where physical stores regain their supremacy. Or the pre-SkyNet future where drones rule the skies.

However, the best future for just in time consumer delivery might be one where the old mail order model is modernized for the e-Commerce world. Back in the day, if you were in a rural community or small town, and you wanted something from a big box store (like Sears) you’d go to a local mail-order outlet where you would hand over some money (which could just be a deposit or the entire amount) to order something from a catalogue. Then, a few weeks later, you’d go back to pick it up. Amazon has revived this with the Amazon locker where you can get faster delivery and pick up by agreeing to pick up at a nearby locker, which is essentially a digitized bus locker system where you scan a code which opens a locker with your package.

The best future is one where a third party opens a lock location that can be rented by any online merchant that wants to use a locker for delivery where carriers offer lower rates to ship to the locker location. It would require at least USPS to agree to offer lower rates to ship to a locker location, which would require a large number of locker locations for the locker owner to negotiate better rates. This means that, in the short term, for this concept to take off, Amazon will have to go heavy into it, offer not only faster shipping but significantly lower shipping rates to get them to take off, and then offer these rates to their resellers at cost, or a loss, to get everyone using them. But it would then be able to capitalize on yet another revenue stream, as it could allow third party non-Amazon storefronts to ship to these locations for a small fee, and get an even bigger footprint in the physical world — which would allow it to create Amazon stores with “best sellers”, the same way Apple was able to create Apple Stores.

In summary, the future of just in time for consumer is still a bit cloudy, but it should be a hybrid locker / storefront model where costs can stay down, but customer satisfaction can stay high. Thoughts?

Freightos: Still Flippin’ Freight Quotes Faster than a Fleet-Footed Feline on Guarana

When we last checked in on Freightos a year ago, they were serving up real-time freight quotes for global shipping and were just launching the marketplace where buyers could search by “lane”, see public freight quotes from shippers serving those “lanes”, compare them, and book quotes. (And a buyer can define a lane by zip code or city, and the software will automatically identify all relevant [air]ports.) Since then, the Freightos marketplace has been growing, and a few noticeable improvements have been made:

More, and bigger, carriers.

Now that big global companies have publicly announced their adoption of the platform — including Sysco, Marks & Spencer, and Panasonic US — bigger forwarders and carriers are signing up and there are a plethora of good, competitive, economical options for all major lanes between Asia and North America — which includes complete multi-modal options from just about any zip code to any zip code in the regions of interest (and almost all major ports and major distribution centers are covered).

More refined cost tracking and rate comparison. 

Upon launch, Freightos provided buying organizations the ability to upload all of their contracts and associated rates. The UI has been improved and it’s easy to compare the contract rate against the current market rate of a carrier as well as the market rates of other carriers side-by-side and to see the relative delivery times that correspond to the rates. (The models break down the cost and delivery time component of each leg of the journey. Truck to port, ocean or air cargo from port to port, truck to distribution center, etc.)

The detail provided on quote breakdown is incredible compared to most platforms that simply collect an all-in-one delivery free for each segment and the government tariff rate(s). If relevant, the platform will break out delivery fee (per unit), fuel surcharges, messenger charges, e-document charges (at origin and destination), lift gate charges, manifest system charges, customs charges, each export and import tariff, SOLAS administration fees, docking fees, temporary storage fees, freight station fees, pier pass fees, cleaning fes, chasis fees, handling fees, and local charges.

Immediate Online Payment with Booking

Since Freightos can now collect payment immediately upon booking through the marketplace, this provides two major advantages over the initial version of the platform where a buyer requested a quote, a supplier replied, and then a booking was made at a later time. The buyer gets the booking they need when they need it, no fear of the lowest cost or preferred carrier maxing their quota (and the option disappearing because someone else selects and pays first). Secondly, since all marketplace payments flow through the platform, Freightos is able to offer the service free for buyers and at a low cost to service providers, who pay a small transaction fee (which should cost them much less than it does to hire multiple sales people to respond to offline RFQs all day with the same quotes cut-and-pasted into multiple Excel sheets of various formats).

More Powerful and More Responsive Drill Down Filters

Not only can you select/deselect ports, modes, forwarders/carriers, intermediate routings, and intermediate ports/distribution centers, you can also include or exclude additional requirements such as lift gate, cross-docking, etc. in your search and comparison. The platform is effectively doing hundreds of searches across (potentially) thousands of carriers with dozens of options in real-time.

Streamlined Document Management

The platform can store, index, and cross reference all contracts and documents (such as insurance certificates, compliance certificates, etc.) related to all carriers used by an organization and they can be easily retrieved when a quote is accessed or easily managed through a carrier management interface.

A Full Featured API

You can include the power of their marketplace in your sourcing application. You don’t have to use their web-interface, you can embed the search functionality in any platform you are currently using to get worldwide shipping estimates and available carriers in real-time.

Freightos is getting very close to becoming the powerful freight management solution that will not only be Supply Management’s best friend but the default platform for all logistics tenders and spot buys performed by the organization. Stay tuned. We’re sure we will be hearing more from Freightos in 2017.

One Hundred and Twenty Eight Years Ago Today …

While Constantinople may have fell 563 years ago, it was remembered 128 years ago today in the The Convention of Constantinople which guaranteed free maritime passage through the Suez Canal during war and peace. Connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea through the Isthmus of Suez, it provides seagoing vessels with a short route between the North Atlantic and North Indian oceans, reducing the journey (which used to go through the South Atlantic and South Indian oceans) by 7,000 kms. Without this treaty, global logistics could have been brought to a halt with canal blockage.

And LOLCats everywhere rejoiced!