UPS Freight, the less-than-truckload (LTL) unit of UPS Inc., said today it has launched an online pickup notification service for LTL shippers, a significant leap for a segment of the transportation industry not known for its technological savvy.
Under the free service, UPS Freight shippers will receive near real-time information confirming when a pickup is scheduled, telling them when a UPS driver is en route to the pickup location, and notifying them when the pickup is made. Pickup notifications can be transmitted to up to five different e-mail addresses per transaction, said UPS Freight.
UPS Freight said it is the first LTL carrier to offer shippers such a high level of electronic visibility of their shipment pickups. Traditionally, shippers seeking status updates on their pickups would either have to call UPS or send an electronic data interchange (EDI) message if they were set up to do so.
Although the traditional process was widely seen as inefficient and burdensome, shippers didn't have an alternative if they wanted to stay in touch with their carriers to manage shipment pickups. Adding to the confusion was the fact that many companies ship from multiple locations, and that LTL, unlike the small-package segment, does not have regular pickups and deliveries with drivers making daily scheduled stops even if there aren't any packages to pick up.
"The number of missed pickups on the LTL side is larger than you think," Tod Webster, UPS Freight's senior vice president and chief operating officer, said in an interview today with DC Velocity.
Webster said the new service would benefit shippers by eliminating the hassle of making phone calls or sending multiple e-mails to check on the status of their pickups. UPS Freight itself will gain because the service enables dispatchers and drivers to plan their routes and schedules, no easy task in an unpredictable business where carriers already struggle to meet shipper deadlines while ensuring there is enough space aboard a vehicle to accept the freight. "It's a juggling act for dispatch to determine how much room is on the truck" before it arrives at a shipper's dock to retrieve the freight, Webster said.
The new system will also identify so-called exceptions—situations where the carrier may not be able to meet its service commitment—and alert shippers to the change in plans. In most cases, the shipper will appreciate the heads-up and reschedule the pickup for the following day, Webster said.
In a statement to DC Velocity, FedEx Freight, the nation's largest LTL carrier, said it provides customers with confirmations that a pickup has been scheduled and supplies a 90-day history of pickup requests. FedEx Freight, the LTL unit of FedEx Corp., added that its customers' pickup request notifications can be transmitted to as many as three e-mail addresses.
FedEx Freight said that on Friday it was added to the various FedEx platforms that customers can access to better manage their online transactions.
UPS Freight said that, unlike the FedEx service, it can provide notifications while the shipment is en route, as well as alert the appropriate parties to shipment exceptions. In addition, any party included on the UPS Freight shipment notification list can request changes or adjustments to the shipment status, UPS Freight said.
Pushing the IT envelope
Charles W. Clowdis, managing director, transportation advisory services for the consultancy IHS Global Insight, called the UPS service a "very clever innovation" and said he expects other carriers to follow to suit. Clowdis said shippers will find it useful in managing pickups of highly time-sensitive shipments and carriers will see value by being better able to schedule a range of tasks from production timetables to planning the labor needed on a receiving dock.
David G. Ross, transport analyst at Baltimore-based Stifel, Nicolaus & Co., said UPS Freight is "trying to bring more sophistication to a traditionally unsophisticated segment of transportation. It will be interesting to see how quickly and widely this is adopted by UPS Freight's LTL customers and whether or not this pushes competitors to provide a similar service offering."
Webster acknowledged that the "LTL sector is not too technologically oriented" and that it is "far behind the small-package and the air-freight industry" in its use of online tools for shipment visibility. However, he said that more LTL shippers are climbing the IT curve and that the service was developed partially in response to customer feedback.
UPS Freight also leveraged technology in use by the small-package and air-freight segment to build the platform, Webster said, adding that the technology was customized to fit the unique needs of LTL shippers.
UPS said the new service is now available to shippers who log on to the company's website, ups.com, to schedule their pickups. It will be expanded in January to shippers who use other UPS platforms to schedule pickups, the company said.