November 17, 2017

Amazon offers truckers an app for expedited check-in at DCs

Amazon Relay could help drivers maximize hours of service under ELD regulations, analyst says.

By Ben Ames

Online retailing colossus Inc. has launched a smartphone app that offers truckers expedited check-in at its DCs, a service that could save drivers crucial time as the industry prepares to comply with the federal electronic logging device (ELD) mandate.

The Seattle-based e-tailer has not publically announced the product, but at the Google Play app store, the company said its "Amazon Relay" app was meant to help truck drivers save time at Amazon Fulfillment and Sort Centers by checking in online before they arrive.

Drivers who are either picking up or dropping off cargo at Amazon facilities can use the free app to pre-register their loads and get gate passes delivered to their phones, according to Amazon. Once they have generated that gate pass, drivers can display the quick response (QR) code, also known as a three-dimensional barcode, to quickly move through the warehouse gate and gain access to reserved lanes, the company said.

In a note to investors, the investment firm Baird Equity Research said the Amazon Relay app could be effective at streamlining inefficiencies in the pickup and delivery process. The federal mandate that most trucks use ELDs is scheduled to come online on Dec. 18, enforcing tighter accounting on how drivers count their hours-of-service availability behind the wheel. Under that increased scrutiny, carriers, brokers, and shippers will all be looking for ways to maximize drivers' productivity within that legal window, Baird said.

While Amazon describes the app as being merely a tool to streamline the flow of trucks to and from its DCs, industry figures have long been wary that Amazon may have greater ambitions. Some brokers worry that Amazon could develop an "Uber for trucking"-like app and open its vast logistics network up for use by external, non-fulfillment customers. That suspicion was reinforced in 2016 when the company referred to itself in a government filing as a "transportation service provider."

The Baird memo found that the Amazon Relay app in its current form could not supply such full-fledged truck brokerage capabilities, but that it still marked a potential threat to displace incumbent truck brokers. "The app seemingly stops short of introducing broader 'truck brokerage' capabilities, though such additional capabilities could be added to the application over time," Baird Senior Research Analyst Benjamin Hartford said in the note. "That said, we note that the functionality of the app at present, given initial reviews, appears to be very rudimentary."

About the Author

Ben Ames
Senior Editor
Ben Ames has spent 20 years as a journalist since starting out as a daily newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania in 1995. From 1999 forward, he has focused on business and technology reporting for a number of trade journals, beginning when he joined Design News and Modern Materials Handling magazines. Ames is author of the trail guide "Hiking Massachusetts" and is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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