There is a shift happening in the supply chain industry. According to trends and technologies presented at this years’ McLeod Software Users’ Conference in Birmingham, Alabama, freight transportation is going through a revolutionary change with emerging competition from companies including Uber and Amazon.
How exactly can these companies influence delivery?
Uber has shown what communication technology can do for the taxi industry. The company has always said it should not be regulated like a cab company because it is not a cab company—it is a communications service—its smartphone app helps riders and independent drivers connect with each other. Amazon is also trying similar models for delivery driving. But if Uber is not a cab company then it should have no trouble adapting its services to other markets and competing with delivery fleets, too.
We are looking at an entirely new business model where the traditional lines between industries might not apply anymore.
Just as radical a change could involve who receives deliveries of goods. Traditionally, most products have been shipped to retail shops where customers congregate to browse and to buy. Home delivery is not a new concept, but it has always been secondary. That is changing as more and more customers shop online—and as consumers get accustomed to shopping through a computer, the option of home delivery even from nearby stores has become appealing. It may be that in the future most retail stores will function primarily as mini-distribution hubs rather than as display spaces. What such a shift of emphasis will do to the trucking industry is hard to guess, but certainly the way shippers build their distribution networks will change, to the advantage of some trucking companies and to the detriment of others.
Finally, we could be looking at radical changes in what gets delivered. Three dimensional printing is now an established technology, but it is hard to predict exactly what these devices will do to the marketplace. It is certainly possible that many homes and businesses will have their own machines capable of printing a variety of goods that consumers used to have to go to the store and buy. In such a case, much of America’s shipping volume will shift over to various types of print stock, rather than finished goods. Of course there are some product that cannot be printed, such as food. Nevertheless, cargo that currently provides truckers with a lot of business may not exist in the coming years with the rising popularity of 3-D printing.
It is hard to predict the future because unexpected opportunities, technologies and challenges can always arise. But it is becoming clear that radical change is quite possible. And companies flexible enough to adapt may do very well.