With the Super Bowl in our rear view mirror, it’s time to look ahead to the beginning of a new season. That’s right, one week from today, pitchers and catchers report for spring training. This past Wednesday was a big day in the Boston sports scene. While we didn’t get to celebrate another Super Bowl championship, we did get to celebrate Truck Day. For those of you who don’t know, Truck Day is the unofficial start to spring training, when the truck is loaded up with over 23,000 items to make the trek down to Fort Myers, FL. Logistically, there’s a lot that goes in to Truck Day. Not only do the routes need to be finalized, drivers arranged, but those 23,000 items need to be loaded, secured, and delivered. And just what are those 23,000 items? Well, it’s 20,400 baseballs, 1,100 bats, 200 batting gloves, 200 batting helmets, 320 batting practice tops, 160 white game jerseys, 300 pairs of pants, 400 T-shirts, 400 pairs of socks, 20 cases of bubble gum, and 60 cases of sunflower seeds. With Punxsutawney Phil predicting an early spring, and the Red Sox truck leaving for Florida, I’m ready for some warm sunshine.
And now, on to the news.
- Amazon in the news:
- Google enters last mile fight with autonomous delivery trucks
- American Apparel testing UPS service for international delivery
- Doddle looks to harness the power of the sharing economy
- Retail imports to grow 4.5% in first half of 2016
- US truckload carriers see mixed results in Q4
Amazon announced via social media that its Treasure Truck was up and running in Seattle. The Treasure Truck is basically a store on wheels that carries a limited quantity of one product every day. Consumers can shop for that product via a mobile app and meet the truck at a pre-determined time and location to collect their order. The truck is the latest example of Amazon pushing the boundaries of connecting the digital and physical world. Thanks to a good amount of pre-launch hype, the Treasure Truck has garnered a lot of interest. The first item for sale on the truck sold out within an hour.
Looking at basically the exact opposite of the Treasure Truck, Amazon has received its Chinese shipping license. So while recent examples of new concepts for deliveries in cities shows the ingenuity of the company, this latest news shows its desire to become a global fulfillment company. The license was given under the name Beijing Century Joyo Courier Service Company Limited, one of the trade names for Amazon China and Amazon Global Logistics China, according to documents posted on the Ministry of Commerce’ website. Having licenses on both ends means Amazon can now buy space on shipping containers at wholesale rates and resell it at retail rates.
Google is jumping into the last mile delivery world with an autonomous delivery truck. According to a recent patent, Google is developing driverless vehicles made up of secure parcel lockers. The trucks will send SMS notifications to customers when their parcels are ready to be collected and retrieved from the roadside via the lockers. The driverless trucks will be equipped with technology to alert customers if there are delays with the delivery. While secure parcel lockers are nothing new, as UPS and Amazon have rolled them out in the past, this is the first step I have seen in merging the lockers with autonomous trucks to fulfill last mile deliveries.
American Apparel is testing i-parcel, a suite of services from UPS that helps retailers manage e-commerce across international borders. That includes adapting U.S. websites for local currencies and payment methods. American Apparel is working on back-end implementation of the service now, and plans to run tests in Australia and China this month. One major benefit is that i-parcel will determine an accurate shipping rate right at the time of check-out. In the past, the company has to estimate a cost, which could obviously cause some problems depending on how far off the estimate was. Items will still be packed and prepared by American Apparel’s distribution center in La Mirada, Calif. Under the partnership, UPS would pick up items and deliver into the Chinese and Australian markets.
Doddle is harnessing the power of the sharing economy as it looks to extend the reach of its parcel collections. Historically, Doddle stores have been set up around train stations across the UK, allowing customers to send, collect, or return parcels at a convenient time for them. Now, the company is recruiting individuals and small businesses in London to take in parcels for local people, as it launches Doddle Neighbour. Currently the model is being rolled out in west London areas including Richmond, Wimbledon, Paddington and Ealing. The idea is to remove traffic congestion from the street. According to Doddle, in the time a driver can make four home deliveries, it can deliver 50 packages to a Doddle store.
According to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates, import cargo volume at the busiest ports in the US will decline year-over-year for the next few months. However, even with these initial declines, import cargo volume is expected to increase 4.5% over the same time period last year. January was up 18.3% due to weak volume last year as a result of the union contracts, and February is expected to be up 16.2%, mainly due to the residual congestion last year. March, however, is forecasted to be down 22.4% due to the flood of backlogged imports finally getting in. An overall struggling global economy will make import volume an interesting one to watch the rest of the year.
And finally, US truckload carriers saw mixed results in Q4. Truckload rates were up very modestly in the quarter and at a much lower pace than earlier in 2015. The Cass Linehaul Index, which measures per mile truckload rates before accessorials, was up 1.9%, 1.6%% and 1.1% in October, November, and December, respectively, versus 2014 levels in those months. That compares with rate gains of more than 5% in each of the first three months of 2015.
That’s all for this week. Enjoy the weekend, Valentine’s Day, and the song of the week, Centerfield by John Fogerty.