Social freight

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by Emily Atkins
Emily Atkins has been editor of MM&D Magazine since 2002.
Emily Atkins has been editor of MM&D Magazine since 2002.

Often at the end of the year we look at patterns in our industry, hoping for a glimpse into the crystal ball that will tell us the future. This is a useful exercise, as it makes you look back at what has changed and emerged over the past year, and what is about to burst from latency into a full-blown trend.

This issue of MM&D has brought one topic to the spotlight—the so-called ‘Uberization’ of logistics or freight services. It’s mentioned three times in our news section—in our coverage of the CITT annual conference on page 6, in a report on its growth on page 14 and in our story about an Ontario-based package delivery service on page 11. Learning Curve columnist Tracy Clayson also discusses it on page 31.

But really, there is not much new in this concept, which relies on removing the middleman from the purchase of transportation services, theoretically making it simpler and faster to find capacity to move your goods—just as an Uber ride moves you cheaply from point A to point B by facilitating direct contact with private drivers.

Freight-matching websites have been around for a long time, with varying degrees of success. What’s different here is the technology being used to make the match.

The ubiquity of mobile technology is what makes these new services viable. There is no delay when you ask for a pickup and the driver is using a smartphone-based app to respond.

It seems plausible that this type of service will work for small shippers with limited volume. The entrepreneur sending a couple parcels a day might opt to try it out, especially if it’s cheaper than the mainstream options, and can offer some guarantees of shipment and payment security.

But it seems a stretch to expect larger organizations with high volumes, corporate mandates or shareholders to engage in relatively casual and risky transportation procurement. There’s too much at stake, and besides, they don’t need it if they have enough volume to negotiate rates.

It will be interesting to watch and see if these services gain traction with the small shipper over the next year.

As I look back over 2016, I’d like to thank all the contributors who helped make MM&D great this year, along with our team at Newcom Business Media. As the editor of this uniquely Canadian magazine, I am really proud to work with such creative and industrious folks, covering a dynamic and endlessly fascinating industry.
I hope to hear from you with your ideas for stories in the new year.