Looking back at the 2015 holiday fulfillment period, there were two significant supply chain and Omni-channel fulfillment trends that made their presence. These trends will continue to unfold in 2016 and beyond with significant implications for industry supply chains.
The first was Amazon, and from a number of dimensions. As noted in our Supply Chain Matters commentary earlier this month reflecting on the online retailer’s latest financial performance, Amazon will increasingly play an industry disruptor role in 2016 and beyond. Certain sectors of B2C / B2B online fulfillment, parcel logistics and transportation are ripe for process innovation facilitated by more innovative Cloud-based technology. We believe that Amazon is showing all of the tendencies to be that disruptor and existing industry players should be prepared. Just like Amazon Web Services (AWS) provided a new model for utility based information technology services, Fulfilled by Amazon will continue to be the next disruption. Yesterday, a report published by Bloomberg reinforced this disruptor trend in its headline: Amazon Building Global Delivery Business to Take On Alibaba. The article discloses a far bolder plan originally conceived in 2013 that outlines an aggressive global expansion of Fulfillment By Amazon services that includes a global delivery network capability that controls the flow of goods from factories in China and India to customer doorsteps throughout the world. A profound statement included in the report was: “The ambitious strategy promises to turn FedEx and UPS into Amazon rivals, but also pit the Seattle giant against Chinese counterpart Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.” The report goes on to describe a strategy that places Amazon at the center of a logistics capability that today controls legions of middlemen who handle transnational world trade, and is ripe for a new model. Through its control of large amounts of online volumes, the online retailer can acquire transportation and logistics capability at lower wholesale rates while transforming Fulfilled by Amazon into a virtual online fulfillment and delivery services platform.
The second compelling trend reinforces the first in some respects. This week, the United States Postal Service (USPS) reported its financial performance for the holiday quarter and recorded its first quarterly profit since 2011, earning $307 million Included in this reporting was a compelling statistic. During the 2015 holiday period, the USPS surpassed UPS in total delivered packages. Letter carriers delivered about 660 million packages, up from an initial anticipated volume of 600 million packages. In contrast, UPS reportedly delivered 612 million packages as compared to its initial forecast of 630 million. The postal agency offered the equivalent of as many as 25,000 Sunday delivery routes, up from a normal 4000 pattern. In essence, the USPS became a go-to carrier for Amazon’s needs for Sunday deliveries.
Just before the start of the 2015 holiday fulfillment period, Supply Chain Matters railed on both FedEx and UPS regarding their announced added rate hikes for both 2015 and 2016. Our commentary reflected on whether both global parcel logistics and delivery carriers were inching closer toward upsetting the “golden goose” of their current growth strategies, that being their participation in the boom in online B2B/B2C fulfillment. We opined that these pricing scenarios threatened Free Shipping options for online consumers and opened the door for new industry disruptors, either larger online retailers, or other transportation and parcel services providers to serve as an alternative parcel delivery mechanism in 2016 and beyond. Our belief was that retailers would have to find alternative methods to leverage localized inventory. If readers had not guessed at the time, we had Fulfilled by Amazon in-mind.
Earlier this month, UPS reported its financial performance and the Wall Street headline was a near tripling of reported profits. Deliveries to consumers accounted for roughly 60 percent of all U.S. deliveries, up from 45 percent in the prior quarter. Why, because 35 percent of Sure Post packages were transferred back into the UPS network. UPS executives set upbeat expectations for 2016 including a potential 5 to 9 percent increase in earnings per share.
As B2B customers and B2C consumers are now aware, during the 2015 holiday quarter it was a lot more expensive to ship parcels via the traditional parcel carriers, and ground delivery times were extended to compensate for lower overall amounts of temporary workers. Fuel surcharges remained in-effect despite unprecedented reductions in the current cost of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. The USPS in-essence became the go-to carrier for shipping options while UPS and, to some extent, FedEx networks struggled to manage peak volumes.
We now believe that both outlined trends are indeed the prelude to pending disruption. Established parcel delivery firms have elected a strategy that will preserve profitability. Amazon is moving aggressively forward with its far reaching Fulfilled (and Shipped) by Amazon strategic plan. Alibaba will not sit idle and indeed is working on broader elements of global logistics and fulfillment capabilities that stretch beyond China. The third-party logistics sector is already undergoing merger and acquisition activity and, as Amazon’s plans continue to unfold, international freight and small package brokerage will be under attack.
Online fulfillment events are changing rapidly and there are definitive signs of pending industry disruption.
Industry supply chain teams need to pay closer attention to these evolving trends, especially those residing in small or up and coming businesses or in organizations that ship a large amount of packages. If your business has a growing online presence, you know how compelling a Free Shipping option is to online consumer’s motivation to buy.
Up to now, it was more attractive from an overall cost and resources perspective to outsource customer fulfillment to an established logistics provider. There is now a cost vice underway that is setting the stage for change and it is important to understand the short and longer-term implications and be able to inform and navigate the business through pending changes.
Now, more than ever, industry supply chain teams need to have the tools and capabilities to be able to quantify and model total customer fulfillment costs under various channel options. It is no longer an option to assume that an online presence is the sole key to growth. Rather, online is a compelling opportunity that comes with its own set of unique profitability challenges. Supply chain teams must be prepared to avoid being the scapegoat for not educating lines of business on cost vulnerabilities or cost saving opportunities.
For our part, Supply Chain Matters will continue with our market education and advisory efforts since there are, by our lens, few independent and objective voices concerning logistics and transportation.
© 2016. The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group and the Supply Chain Matters® blog. All rights reserved.