We’ve all felt the immense impact of the COVID-19 pandemic both in our personal lives as well as in business, and the transportation and logistics industry is no exception. In 2020, we witnessed an 18-month freight cycle take place in the span of a few short months.
In the middle of March, at the onset of the pandemic, there was a lot of panic-buying of certain commodities, creating a freight bubble. In the second half of March, we saw elevated truckload volumes and tight market conditions with high spikes in prices. By the first week of April, the bubble passed, and the reality of businesses being cut back or even shut down set in. We saw shipping volumes decline significantly in the first two weeks of April, but things began to improve in the following weeks as businesses that were shut down reopened and started to ship freight again.
From the summer through the end of the year, transportation was in high demand, resulting in tight capacity. Cargo ships that were held up overseas began to arrive in the United States, creating a backlog of shipments that needed to be transported. This was compounded by Peak Season, the busiest time of the year for shippers as they planned for the holiday season. Another factor that caused tight capacity was a decrease in carrier workforce as some transportation providers stopped operating for various pandemic-related reasons.
In 2020, there was also a shift in consumer spending habits. Because many consumers spent more time at home to prevent the spread of the virus, there was an overall increase in the purchasing of products as opposed to services and a surge in e-commerce versus brick-and-mortar shopping.
To adapt to these sudden changes caused by the pandemic, shippers and carriers have had to quickly make major adjustments to their operations. Under normal circumstances, some of these changes would have taken place over years, but these shifts were greatly accelerated due to the virus. Overall, we’ve seen businesses become more flexible by building in more lead time for shipments, exploring new ways to operate, and increasing communication and transparency.
Technology has also played a key role in transportation management during this time. For instance, at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, we at Echo Global Logistics had to quickly transition our 2,500 employees to a remote work setting and equip them with the tools and technology they needed to continue to fully carry out their job functions while away from the office. Because our technology was built to be used from anywhere, we never missed a beat. EchoAccelerator, our flexible and robust system built on our proprietary architecture, has allowed us to continue to support our network of 35,000 clients and 50,000 carriers on a single platform with no disruption of service.
In addition, many shippers and carriers alike leveraged technological solutions that helped streamline their workflows. Self-service platforms like EchoShip allow shippers to book freight online in just a few simple steps. Likewise, web portals and mobile apps, such as EchoDrive®, give carriers real-time access to find and book loads. These freight management tools also provide simplified quoting, booking, tracking updates, payment tools, and custom integrations.
As COVID-19 continues to have a substantial impact on the consumer behaviors of those in the U.S. and around the world, it will be critical for businesses to continue to enhance their operations, remain vigilant to shifts in the market, and be prepared to react immediately should the need arise. Shippers should also consider partnering with a third-party logistics provider (3PL) like Echo that can provide customized solutions to meet their unique needs and help them navigate the ever-evolving freight market.
Although COVID-19 sparked rapid change for most who operate within the transportation and logistics industry, the advancements that businesses make during this time will pay dividends as these improvements will not only help them manage through the pandemic but will also continue to benefit them in the years to come.
A version of this blog originally appeared on Toolbox.com.