Larger companies have an advantage - they are more able to afford the cost of developing web-based services. But among the 250 logistics dotcoms Braxton Vick found on the web are many who offer such tools as shipment tracing and status reports, proof of delivery, bills of lading, rate quotes, customer reports, claims filing, inquiries and transit time maps. Coming soon, Vick said, are online bidding, logistics support, freight optimization, Electronic Data Interchange over the Internet and Internet-based invoicing and payment.
Smaller truckers can tap into these services to customize their relationships with shippers, said David Edmonds, senior vice president of FedEx World Wide Services.
"Customization will breed loyalty, but the e in ecommerce has to mean easy," he said.
Unfortunately, it also means easier said than done. In the world of ecommerce, the traditional lines of communication are broken. Competitors become allies, allies become competitors. How do you choose your allies and partners among the dozens of new names that show up on the Internet?
Paul Karvois, president of Jevic Transportation, believes that it comes down to control. In the traditional supply chain, management is based on ownership, while in ecommerce, management is based on control of the digital knowledge within the supply chain. For truckers to advance their relationships with their customers in the ecommerce marketplace, they will have to build alliances based on trust, commitment, collaboration and mutual investment.
And they will have to make mistakes, Karvois said. Trial and error go hand-in-hand with exploring new territory.
And, said Carl Asmus, vice president of global product marketing at FedEx Corp., don't expect to understand the implications of every move.
"Just pick something and go with it."
One Northeast trucker, A-P-A Transport President Armand Pohan, warns that, with or without ecommerce, truckers are finding it hard to keep costs down. Everyone knows what fuel prices and labor costs are doing to truckers' balance sheets, but there's another cost that goes directly to the issue of inventory - the cost of real estate.
On Madison Avenue in New York City, retail space has gone from $250 to $1,000 per square foot in four years. It's not as bad in suburban shopping malls - but still, rates have doubled in the same period. And warehouse space has gone up 50%.
"There are consequences for transportation," Pohan said.
As real estate costs rise, truckers are pressed to extend the area in which they offer overnight, expedited, time-definite service - warehouses close to the city are no longer the best use of property. That in turn leads to empty space on trucks and greater costs per hundredweight.
Shippers who want to turn a trucker's terminal into a warehouse must expect higher rates, including storage charges, Pohan said.
Monday: Part 3 - How Viking Freight Is Coping