They have been every year since at least 2016, according to e-commerce company Pitney Bowes. To date that loss has largely gone to Amazon as the ecommerce giant steadily moves delivery in-house.
But a slew of new players, juiced by millions in venture capital funding, is entering the package logistics fight to see if they can’t can’t change a decades-old power dynamic.
It’s more than just 32% e-commerce growth in 2020 that’s driving new players into the space. FedEx and UPS have spent the last year or two taking a hard look at their own businesses. The resulting changes are upsetting the status quo.
Apart from the USPS, nobody matches the national reach of UPS and FedEx. Existing alternatives are largely regional players. So e-commerce logistics startups, many with Amazon alumni at the head, are looking at the problem in a different way.
Instead of creating national networks of facilities, trucks, and drivers, they’re using technology to stitch together the smaller logistics operations already in play. Some are making tools and launching services so retailers can more seamlessly use this patchwork of smaller carriers as a national solution. Some are reorganizing the vast number of crews of workers and fleets of vans that contract out delivery services to the traditional players in a new way.
All are looking to offer flexibility and speed while attempting to build what e-commerce has yet to prove it can deliver for almost anyone: profit. Meet the new players in package delivery in these stories.
From the gig economy to small delivery companies, delivery resources are reorganizing with speed as the top concern
Transportation and logistics company Ryder has seen notable growth over the past year and a half.
Ryder EVP and CMO Karen Jones told Insider that growth has stemmed from technological developments.
Jones revealed three ways marketers can boost technology innovation at their organization.
This article is part of the “Innovation C-Suite” series about business growth and technology shifts.
Ryder, the Miami-based transportation and logistics leader, has several primary businesses. These include truck leasing and management, dedicated transportation services for clients, as well as supply chain management and fulfillment solutions. Over the past year and a half, all areas of the company have seen exponential growth, Ryder EVP and CMO Karen Jones told Insider. Jones attributed the progress to a strong focus on developing new technology products that meet customer needs, such as e-commerce, electric vehicles, an asset-sharing platform, and digital supply chain capabilities.
“Of course, nobody wanted a pandemic, but it did serve as an inflection point as far as changing the way we operate and responding to shifting consumer habits,” she said. “It spurred the growth of many innovative technology capabilities.”
At Ryder, Jones was the C-suite leader who volunteered to lead an executive team charged with identifying, evaluating, deploying, and investing in emerging technologies. But she says all marketing leaders can help drive the development of innovative technology products.
“For CMOs, it’s a great time to spread your wings and do things that are different because they are customer-facing, technology-oriented and future-focused,” she explained.
These are three ways Jones suggests marketers can take action to boost technology innovation at their organization:
1. Help the organization focus on the customer and technology.
“Marketers are able to think about what customer needs are not being met,” Jones said. “If you start there, it’s really hard for other parts of the organization to talk you out of things because, at the end of the day, marketers build and develop things that improve the customer’s experience and ultimately lead to greater revenue.”
Marketers that want to get closer to technology and understand their industry’s digital disruption may consider connecting with technology accelerators that work with startups. “A CMO might see a customer need that could be solved by a cool technology available through a startup,” she said. As long as marketers are looking out for the best interest of where things are really headed in the industry, the CMO can be the right leader that isn’t just focused on day-to-day operations, she added.
2. Help hire marketing product owners who understand business and technology.
Who are the right people to develop innovative technology products? “Everyone thinks that’s IT,” Jones said. “But you need someone who can sit with the business and with IT, who really understands the customer requirements, the business requirements and translates that to IT so what you need gets built.” That person, she explained, might be in marketing.
“Marketing product owners bring a level of understanding of what the market and the customer requires,” she said. However, the required skill sets aren’t easy to find, even within marketing, which was traditionally about making great ad campaigns and brochures.
“Today, you need someone who has a business, customer, and IT background, as well as a deep level of understanding of the company, and can stitch that all together,” she said. “That’s difficult to find.”
3. Help choose the right areas to focus on.
In a constantly-changing industry landscape, it’s essential to choose the right areas to focus on in terms of technology innovation, said Jones. However, it’s also important to be agile: “We could wake up tomorrow and there could be another area we hadn’t really anticipated or an offshoot of an area we’re working on,” she explained. That means staying on top of what is happening in the industry so you can build the right capabilities and deliver appropriate solutions.
“For Ryder, I think you’ll continue to see e-commerce grow, so it’s important for us to build in that area around customer experience and the fulfillment side,” she said. “Also, the world of electric vehicles and autonomous cars is certainly on a rapid pace, and I think the asset sharing platform we’ve built is going to continue to be a huge priority for us.”
Overall, Jones said, the opportunities for new revenue streams and business models in the transportation and logistics space show no signs of slowing down. “I don’t think it ever stops,” she said. “We are going to continue to find the right applications and develop those technologies that give customers even more insight into the movement of all their goods.”
Depending on whom you ask, the pandemic accelerated e-commerce adoption by somewhere between three and 10 years. Naturally, venture capitalists followed the consumer demand. But, rather than just pouring cash into direct-to-consumer brands and online marketplaces, they flooded startups building the infrastructure e-commerce needs to run.
The funding crush comes alongside an increase in awareness of the workings of supply chains, which has only bolstered the investor community, said Victoria Sun, principal at logistics-focused VC Playground Global.
“People are talking more about supply chain now,” Sun told Insider. “Suddenly they’re realizing this is important to our day-to-day and how we get our toilet paper and food and groceries.”
Up and down the supply chain, startups landed millions in funding to advance their work: helping online retailers manage multiple package shipping companies, bolstering same-day delivery networks, streamlining how trucks are hired and ocean freight is tracked, and more.
The world woke up to supply chains in 2020 and that led investors to get busy in 2021. Here are some of those rounds and the technologies benefitting from the wave of recognition.
The pandemic bolstered a segment of startups already picking up steam
Dollar Tree fired off a warning flare on skyrocketing freight delays and costs during its Thursday earnings call, shining a light on the turbulence within the world of international maritime shipping.
Dollar Tree executives blamed the rising prices on spiking demand, cramped capacity, and countless delays. Other major factors include equipment shortages, misplaced equipment, port delays, COVID-19-induced labor shortages and closures, and “the lingering effects of the Suez Canal blockage.”
Dollar Tree’s vice president of investor relations Randy Guiler told analysts that the retailer is especially sensitive to rising chaos in the world of international freight. Guiler cited a report from the Journal of Commerce ranking the company as the fifth-largest importer among retailers, and said that the company brings in 90,000 40-foot container ships per year.
“We believe the Dollar Tree banner imports more containers per $100 million in sales than other large retailers,” he said. “We have an outsized impact from freight costs.”
The spot market rate for freight has spiked 20% since Dollar Tree’s last earnings report on May 27. According to the Shanghai Containerized Freight Index, that’s a 28% year-over-year increase and a 400% spike since 2019. All in all, the rising rates have cost Dollar Tree an additional $185 million to $200 million since May 27.
Guiler said that a San Francisco-based freight forwarder said in a recently transportation webinar that “the transit times from Shanghai to Chicago had more than doubled to 73 days from 35 days,” while another carrier executive estimated “that voyages are now taking 30 days longer than in previous years due to port congestion, container handling delays, and other factors.”
“To give you a real-life example of the kinds of challenges we’re seeing, one of our dedicated charters was recently denied entry into China because a crew member tested positive for COVID, forcing the vessel to return to Indonesia and change the entire crew before continuing,” Guiler said. “Overall, the voyage was delayed by two months. With the current pressure on carriers, once disruptions in the supply chain occur, there is not enough capacity to make it up.”
In response to a question from Goldman Sachs analyst Kate McShane, Dollar Tree executives noted that air freight was not a viable option, due to its high costs and high demand.
Edward Jones analyst Brian Yarbrough told Insider that international shipping could take until the summer of 2023 to normalize, but that some retailers are in a “delusion” that things will settle by this upcoming holiday season.
Dollar Tree executives also estimated that the situation wouldn’t improve anytime soon. In the first quarter of 2021, Dollar Tree’s outlook assumed that the company’s regular ocean carriers would fulfill 85% of their contractual commitments. That number has dropped to between 60% and 65%.
“Industry experts expect the ocean shipping capacity will normalize no later than 2023, when many new ships come online,” Guiler said.
In the meantime, Dollar Tree’s leaders said the retailer will rely on charter vessels for the first time. One such ship has been contracted with the company for three years. The dollar store’s supply chain team is also setting priorities based on seasonality, and working to optimize port selection based on shipping availability. Guiler said that seeking out “alternatively sourced domestic product” helped Dollar Tree and Family Dollar prepare for “back to school season.”
“We’re adding alternative sources of supply, both domestic and international that do not rely on Trans-Pacific shipping,” Guiler said. “We expect some of this shift could become permanent.”
Walmart is offering a new platform that allows businesses to arrange local deliveries with the retail giant. The announcement came as the company continues to attempt to leverage its logistical capabilities and expand into e-commerce-related revenue streams.
The new commercialized delivery platform will be called Walmart GoLocal.
Walmart first launched its delivery and express delivery services in 2018, and the offering is now available for 160,000 products at over 3,000. The retailer estimates that its delivery program covers nearly 70% of the US population. According to Walmart executives, Walmart GoLocal is a move that can help local businesses capitalize on those delivery capabilities.
Executives also tied the new service to other commercial offerings from the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company, including its ad business Walmart Connect and its rival to Amazon’s e-commerce enterprise, Walmart Fulfillment Services.
Walmart also recently announced that it would partner with Adobe to release technology products for small businesses.
Speaking during a press call on Monday, Walmart US CEO John Furner and SVP of last mile Tom Ward said that the new service, which debuts Tuesday, would be a “white-label” provider, meaning that the client’s branding will take precedence, as well as an alternative revenue stream and profit pool for Walmart.
Ward also said that the platform will be available in suburban and rural areas where “other delivery providers” struggle. “Through Walmart GoLocal, any merchant from national retailers to small town shops can use Walmart’s growing delivery platform to power their local delivery efforts,” Ward said. “The service is white-label, in that our clients brands are front and center.”
Ward explained how the service would work, noting that Walmart will get a “ping” whenever a customer places an order with a business using Walmart GoLocal. The service will dispatch a driver to deliver the item, and Walmart will “capture any delivery experience feedback.”
Walmart GoLocal has been contracted with several retail clients, although Ward and Furner did not expand on which businesses have signed on so far.
“Our strengths lie in our local footprint and our digital connections,” Furner said.
This business is an important part of the company’s overall strategy, which includes diversifying its revenue streams and profit pools with initiatives like Walmart Connect and Walmart Fulfillment Services. Its launch comes weeks after the retailer announced plans to begin offering technologies and capabilities to help other businesses navigate their own digital transformation.
Karen Jones has been EVP and CMO of transportation and logistics leader Ryder since 2013.
Marketers bring outward-facing customer perspectives to tech innovation efforts, Jones told Insider.
Jones has helped Ryder identify, evaluate, deploy, and invest in a variety of emerging technologies.
This article is part of the “Innovation C-Suite” series about business growth and technology shifts..
Karen Jones, the executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Ryder, knew she could play a critical role in helping the 87-year-old Fortune 500 company transform in a transportation and logistics sector ripe for digital disruption.
After all, the company – which is known for its commercial truck fleet leasing and management dedicated to transportation and commercial supply chain solutions – still used many processes that relied on manual work. Even fax machines were commonplace as recently as eight years ago. When, four years ago, the company’s CEO issued a challenge to explore and examine innovations ranging from 3D printing and asset sharing to automation and blockchain, it was clear that someone in the C-suite needed to step up.
The organization required a primary driver of innovation across the company – someone who could lead an executive team charged with identifying, evaluating, deploying, and investing in emerging technologies.
It was Jones, the CMO, who immediately raised her hand.
“I think what I bring to the table is more of an outward-facing customer perspective around technology,” Jones told Insider. “Organizations can get lost in their own internal processes, forgetting the voice of the customer.” With 14 years of previous experience marketing technology products at Hewlett Packard, she said, “I know how to develop and bring products to market, so I said I’d love to take this on and lead this for the company.”
Ryder’s priorities for driving tech innovation
Jones and her team quickly prepared to tackle four top priorities. The first was e-commerce, which, though growing fast before COVID-19, exploded during the pandemic. The growth required even more efficient supply chain and fulfillment capabilities. “We knew we needed to add those technologies in a big way to our portfolio,” Jones said.
Next, with 235,000 trucks in Ryder’s fleet, the company had to figure out how to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to the future of electric and autonomous vehicles. “We had to think about what kind of impact that would have on our business,” she said.
Asset sharing was also a growing trend, which led Ryder to launch COOP by Ryder in 2018, a first-of-its-kind, Airbnb-like commercial truck sharing platform that connects truck owners with idle trucks and shippers in need of vehicles. Today, COOP has more than 6,000 vehicles on its platform and operates in nine states.
Finally, Jones made sure the company focused on digitizing many internal processes and building out supply chain and logistics capabilities to track shipments. “These were the areas that clearly gave us the long-term growth capability we needed to stay relevant in a market that was changing pretty rapidly,” she said.
The launch of RyderVentures
Most recently, the company went to the next level of finding and funding innovation by launching RyderVentures in October 2020. The venture capital fund is actively investing $50 million over the next five years in next-generation applications.
“Any business leader now in the C-suite needs to be thinking about technology innovation,” said Jones. “I think CMOs play a critical role when it comes to impacting the customer experience through data – I always say marketers were into data and analytics before it was cool.”
Collaborating with the C-suite network to continue transforming technology
Yet, Jones is quick to point out that no C-suite executive works alone. When it comes to technology innovation, the role of the chief information officer becomes even more important, she explained. “Having a great CIO to work with, who can help the organization understand the foundational, architectural requirements is really important,” she said. “Sometimes there can be a little bit of a tug of war between marketing and IT, but we have a great relationship and partnership.”
Jones said her team is always learning. “I think we’re off to a healthy start, and in the last five years, our company has matured greatly on customer-facing technology,” she said. But, she added, the company is not finished “by a long shot.” “While we’ve chosen several areas to focus on, we could wake up tomorrow and there could be another area of innovation to explore that we hadn’t really anticipated,” she said.
UPS shares dropped to a three-month low Tuesday as investors keyed in on cooling in package deliveries in the US during the second quarter as the logistics heavyweight turned in profit and sales growth that were ahead of expectations.
The company late Monday said consolidated revenue rose by 14.5% to $23.4 billion, higher than the $23.2 billion expected by analysts polled by FactSet.
Revenue in the US climbed by 10% to $14.4 billion, aided by a price per piece increase of 13.4%. But the report also said US average daily package volume fell by 2.9% during the three months ended June 30.
UPS stock fell as much as 9% to $190.27, the lowest price since April 27. The stock pared the loss to 8.3% during the session during which trading volume was heavy with more than 7.8 million shares exchanged by midday.
The company also posted a 15.8% decline in average daily volume shipments from business to residential locations.
UPS experienced a boom in package deliveries a year ago as the COVID-19 pandemic forced millions of people into lockdown, prompting them to have items they purchased delivered to their homes.
The company’s adjusted earnings of $3.06 per share beat the FactSet estimate of $2.81 per share. The latest quarter also showed a 30% rise in international revenue to $4.8 billion.
UPS backed its estimate of $4 billion in planned expenditures for 2021.
To expand its reach, Nestron is now in the process of preparing its debut in Northampton, UK, a little over 65 miles from London.
Toh says Nestron will close about 10 deals before the homes actually debut in Europe …
… but estimates that by the end of the year, it’ll sell over 100 units in the UK.
“We believe with the increase in marketing activities upon our debut, there are nearly 100,000 potential users in the UK, which will bring explosive and continuous growth to our local distributors,” Toh told Insider in an email statement.
Like other companies that ship products internationally, Nestron has struggled to move its tiny homes in the face of jammed ports and shipping delays.
But before we dive into how the company is overcoming these issues, let’s take a look at the two futuristic tiny homes that will debut in the UK: the $34,000 to $52,000 Cube One and the $59,000 to $77,000 Cube Two.
These prices vary widely due to a list of possible extra add-ons, such as solar panels, heated floors, and additional smart appliances.
The Cube One is more popular with solo occupants, while the larger Cube Two has been a hit with families, couples, and as a backyard unit.
Nestron debuted both units well before its UK plans but has since made sizing changes ahead of its overseas delivery: the Cube One’s size was boosted about 16.2 square-feet, while the Cube Two was expanded by about 25 square-feet.
Let’s take a closer look at the Cube One, which stands at about 156 square feet.
This square footage holds the living room, bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen space (which comes with cabinets, a sink, and a stovetop, according to renderings of the unit).
Like any typical home, the living room has a dining table and sofa, while the bedroom has a side table, closet, and of course, a bed.
Moving towards the bathroom, the tiny Cube One comes with a shower, towel rack, and sink, all in one enclosed space.
The little living unit also has built-in necessary amenities like lights, storage units, electric blinds, and a speaker.
There’s even room for a modern-day must-have: air conditioning units.
Now, let’s take a look at the larger Cube Two, which can accommodate three to four people with its two beds, both of which sit on opposite ends of the tiny home.
Like its smaller sibling, the almost 280-square-foot Cube Two has a living room, two beds, a kitchen, and a bathroom, all with the same furnishings as the Cube One.
However, the dining table in the Cube Two is noticeably larger, and there’s a skylight for added natural light and stargazing.
Both models come insulated and have smart home capabilities using Nestron’s “Canny,” an artificial intelligence system.
Canny can complete tasks like brewing your morning coffee or automatically adjusting your seat heights.
Everything is “smart” these days, which means the Cube One and Two can also come with motion-sensing lights and smart mirrors and toilets.
You might be wondering how Nestron plans to move its Cube One and Two tiny homes overseas in one piece. Well, let’s move on to everyone’s favorite topic: logistics, and how the company managed to ship its tiny homes despite global delays.
According to Toh, Nestron has had a “solid foundation built in the industry … allowing it to have a good relationship with experienced and professional forwarding partners.”
Despite this foundation, like other companies, Nestron has experienced delays related to the global supply chain jam, specifically congested ports in the UK.
As a result, the company’s forwarding charges were tripled what it initially expected, according to Toh.
But instead of charging its clients extra money for immediate shipping, Nestron decided it would pause shipping until costs were lowered.
To bypass these congestion issues, Nestron also decided to reroute its original plan to ship straight to the UK.
“In the end, [we] decided to travel over to Antwerp, Belgium, and then land in the UK,” Toh said. “This way, by the time we reach the UK port, the congestion would’ve been clear.”
Despite this detour, shipping costs were still higher than expected, in part because the company and its distributors still wanted to make the debut timeline.
“Since the demands are growing and people want to experience touch and feel with Nestron, we took the chance and sent the units off earlier this month, expecting them to arrive late July [or] early August,” Toh said.
To aid in the transportation process, the tiny homes have built-in retractable hooks to help make it compatible with cranes.
The homes’ structures are also stable enough to withstand the stress of moving, according to Toh.
And all the little living units are also packaged in waterproof fabric to both avoid rusting and to allow for easy inspection.
Being in the UK will allow potential consumers to “engage with Nestron units directly,” Toh said. “The experience will definitely influence the market interest and purchase power.”
Amazon is the second-largest US employer and still one of the fastest-growing in the country. It offers income and benefits to well over 1 million people, and it’s been a source of jobs and shopping convenience during the pandemic.
With that level of influence, Amazon’s operations have come under intense scrutiny, which has prompted a nationwide unionization effort. The following covers everything you need to know about what it’s like to work at the company.
How Amazon culls its workforce
Insider is investigating Amazon’s system for improving, or ousting, employees deemed underperformers. Once managers label workers as struggling, they are put on a “Focus” coaching plan. If they fail there, the workers are moved to another program called “Pivot,” and then finally to an internal company jury that decides their fate at the company.
The system has been criticized by some current and former employees, who say it is unfairly stacked against them and can encourage managers to give bad reviews to good staff. Amazon says it gives managers tools to help employees improve and advance in their careers. “This includes resources for employees who are not meeting expectations and may require additional coaching. If an employee believes they are not receiving a fair assessment of their performance, they have multiple channels where they can raise this,” a company spokesperson said recently.
There’s been a rash of lawsuits filed against Amazon alleging gender and racial bias. In May, five current and former female employees sued the company Amazon, claiming “abusive mistreatment by primarily white male managers.”
In February, Charlotte Newman, a Black Amazon manager, filed a suit alleging gender discrimination and sexual harassment. And last year, a high-profile female engineer called on the company to fix what she saw as a “harassment culture,” Insider reported.
An Amazon spokesperson said the company investigated the cases, found no evidence to support the allegations, and doesn’t tolerate discrimination or harassment.
The company’s fulfillment centers employ hundreds of thousands of people, offering pay and benefits that are competitive versus other retail-industry jobs. But the work can be grueling, some staff don’t stick around long, and there are growing efforts to unionize this modern blue-collar workforce.
Amazon warehouses are partly automated, using robots that zip around the shop floor fetching pallets of merchandise and bringing them to employees who pick the correct items and pack them for shipping. The company hires thousands of extra temporary workers each year to support a surge in orders during the holiday shopping period.
During the pandemic, online orders have jumped at an unusual time for Amazon. It prompted an unprecedented hiring spree last year but caused tension with workers concerned about entering warehouses that could spread the virus. These issues came to a head earlier this year, when employees at a fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama, voted on whether to form a union. The effort failed, but there’s a bigger union push gathering steam.
Amazon’s delivery network relies on thousands of drivers
The company partners with UPS, FedEx, and the US Postal Service, but it also operates a massive fleet of in-house delivery vehicles. These vans are driven by a combination of employees, third-party courier services, and contract workers.
Amazon is known for imposing strict time constraints on drivers and tracking how many times they stop and how fast they drive. While the company factors in break times – a 30-minute lunch and two 15-minute breaks – some drivers say they either can’t or don’t want to take them.
Earlier this year, a US lawmaker tweeted that Amazon workers have to pee in bottles. The company denied this, but multiple drivers confirmed it was part of the job. Amazon later apologized and said drivers have trouble finding restrooms because of traffic and being on rural routes, adding that the issue has been exacerbated by closed public bathrooms during the pandemic.
Amazon remains an important employer that is growing quickly. Unlike some of its Big Tech rivals, the company offers a range of positions, from highly technical roles to blue-collar jobs. It’s recruiting methods range from massive job fairs to tough one-on-one interviews.
The company ranks among the top employers among technical students. In a survey published last year, Amazon came 10th in a survey of engineering students, beating out Intel and IBM but trailing Tesla and SpaceX.
FedEx fell on Friday by as much as 5.6% after its latest earnings report revealed labor and logistical pressures eating away at margins, even as the company slightly beat analyst earnings expectations.
The stock slid as the market opened on Friday, immediately falling by over 3%. It continued to fall to an intraday low of $286.52 before paring some losses.
The US labor shortage has cost the courier on wages and shipping efficiency, pushing up labor costs and depressing on-time shipping rates. In response, FedEx said it would boost capex by 20% and open 16 new facilities by the end of the year. In spite of the reopening pressures, the company’s sales rose 30% in the fourth quarter of 2020, as delivery demand remained sturdy.
Thursday’s reported earnings came in just cents above expectations, leading some analysts – who had become accustomed to consistent overperformance – to describe the results as a disappointment.
FedEx CEO Fred Smith expressed optimism for future quarters, saying that continued strong sales in conjunction with ongoing investments in the firm’s delivery network would soon result in better margins.
Shares of FedEx were trading at $291.46 at 2:08 p.m. ET, down 3.79%.