It stands to reason that when assessing the current state of many supply chain-, freight- and logistics-related trends and themes, that, in many cases, there is more uncertainty than certainty.
That is somewhat of a blanket statement to be sure, but it does not lessen its credence either.
Going back over the last three years or so, that has been readily clear, given how different each year was, with that situation clearly remaining true today. What reminded me of that was a conversation I had last April with Mark Yeager, Redwood Logistics CEO and Senior Advisor with CI Capital Partners.
During our conversation, Yeager explained that there was high demand in 2018, low demand in, and a crazy 2020, with each year providing some logistics lessons learned.
“If you cannot learn from all three environments where supply chain strategy works and where it does not, you are missing a huge opportunity,” said Yeager. “We may never again see this kind of condensed microcosm of three different economies at three different times.”
In my opinion it is hard to disagree with Yeager’s analysis. And that leads to this question: what will be learn from the 2021 environment?
Clearly, it is way too early to effectively answer that, due to calendar reasons alone. But, at the same time, it is not too early to gauge what could be in store, with more than a few things that need to be assessed and monitored over the coming months.
I touched upon some of these things in a recent column, but I do think that there is more to the conversation.
The reason for that is, if you think about it, there are more issues and challenges than actual solutions that are needed across multiple modes and sectors.
One thing that comes to mind is our nation’s ongoing export challenges, with comes with a significant amount of baggage, to be kind. The U.S. export outlook remains muddled and really still largely lacks significant vision to remedy that outlook. Given that we import so much more than we export, it clearly is, and remains a hard habit to break, especially when labor and sourcing costs are factored in. There are miles to go to right this ship, no question about it.
What’s more, with U.S.-bound import levels as robust as they are, it has led to major port congestion, coupled with a container shortage that remains exasperation for both carriers and beneficial cargo owners, among other industry stakeholders.
Another top-level issue is what happens next for e-commerce logistics, in tandem with the last-mile and reverse logistics, which are incredibly interconnected more so now than probably any other time. The reasons for that range, but the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that the valve for more consumers opting to shop online is fully open, with no visible signs of closing.
Related to that are the major price gains we saw implemented parcel integrators in 2020, which show no signs for letting up. With the pandemic pushing up the start of Peak Season by several months, the writing was on the (pricing) wall, with elevated rates expected to remain in place, at least for now.
These are just a few examples, there are many more that we will explore over the course of 2021. But, regardless of how things play out and what may or may not happen next, it is likely there will not be many dull moments, and logistics and the supply chain will continue to be front and center through it all.
About the Author
Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman