New report from Kearney and CSCMP paints a picture of a resilient industry that’s increasingly turning to technology and automation to help navigate the COVID crisis and subsequent economic downturn.
Coming off a very strong year in 2019, the logistics industry is proving itself to be both adaptive and resilient in the face of major adversity in 2020. Impacted by the convergence of a global pandemic and economic downturn, the industry is in the process of shaking off these negative impacts and learning how to operate in the “new normal” business environment.
These and other insights were recently unveiled in the 31st Annual Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) State of Logistics Report. Developed by Kearney, CSCMP, and a team of industry leaders, the annual report covers the macroeconomic factors affecting logistics, insights from industry leaders, discussion of important trends, detailed analysis of each major logistics sector, and a strategic assessment of the industry.
“Globally, countries are grappling with halting recoveries of supply, ongoing demand destruction, and secondary waves of infection—and the U.S. is no exception,” Kearney points out. “This painful and chaotic period is causing logisticians and all who depend on them, to adapt and evolve. As they fight to survive, to operate, and then to win anew, both shippers and carriers will depend on more quickly adapting logistics capabilities.”
In 2019, U.S. business logistics costs (USBLC) rose 0.6 percent to $1.63 trillion, or 7.6 percent of 2019’s $21.43 trillion GDP. “Yet in mid-2020, that all seems like history,” Kearney points out. “The pandemic, and global measures taken to reduce its further spread, have decimated supply chains, scrambled logistics capabilities, and destroyed huge swaths of demand. The size, shape, and timing of a recovery remain in question.”
According to Kearney, the pandemic has also highlighted the value of the logistics industry. “Whether it’s delivering critical medical supplies or allegedly hoarded toilet paper, logistics is essential to national security and wellbeing,” it says. “Many of its employees were rightly labeled as essential workers.”
Some signs are optimistic. E-commerce continues to boom, amplified by the online shopping of those sheltering at home, Kearney reports. And, some carriers maintained profits despite declining volumes in 2019, suggesting a commitment to pricing discipline that may help them survive the bigger drops of 2020.
Going forward, it says supply chains will need to become more resilient, better able to adjust to, and recover from future difficulties. “The shift away from single-source, cost-focused supply functions may pose new challenges to logistics,” Kearney cautions, “which itself is having its resilience tested in this crisis.”
Warehousing is a Bright Spot
According to Kearney, the warehousing market continues its growth. In 2019, rents kept rising and vacancy rates stayed near historic lows. E-commerce continued to drive growth, especially in smaller, high-amenity urban warehouses. “The fourth quarter of 2019 represented the highest square footage completed in a single quarter on record,” it says, “and the vacancy rate barely budged.”
In 2020, the disruption of consumer supply chains caused by the coronavirus pandemic is expected to drive a new surge in warehousing demand, especially for temperature-controlled warehouse space, as more consumers order food online. “Pandemic e-commerce is leading to an expected increase in adoption of warehouse automation solutions to keep costs and operational complexity in check even further,” it says.
For example, sales of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are estimated to double to $27 billion by 2025. Overall, it is estimated that a 5 percent bump in safety-stock inventory will require about 750 million square feet of industrial space as companies soften their lean-inventory strategies.
“The rise in stock levels should spur industrial activity,” Kearney predicts, “given the expectation that the warehouse construction pipeline will remain full and warehouse availability will remain tight.”
Agility Trumps Forecasting
In a recent article by Supply Chain Dive entitled Unilever CSCO: Agility beats forecasting when the supply chain is stressed, Chief Supply Chain Officer Marc Engel emphasizes the need for an accelerated digital transformation during these challenging times. He comments why
“Agility does trump forecast[ing],” the CSCO said. “At the end of the day, every dollar we spent on agility has probably got a 10x return on every dollar spent on forecasting or scenario planning.”
Unilever is working toward automating processes and leveraging the data collected to become more agile and accelerate its supply chain.
Technology Drives Logistics
The implications of the COVID-19 crisis have reemphasized the value of technology in logistics. Even providers previously hesitant to invest in digital yard management solutions, shipment location tracking, or electronic signatures, claiming such digital technologies were unnecessary, are now embracing them as table stakes.
With rising labor costs, and despite the COVID-19-induced recession, shippers and 3PLs are looking to automation to make logistics more efficient. While a serious uptake of autonomous trucking is still five to 15 years away, legions of mobile robots are already working alongside humans in warehouses and automated systems for yard and transportation orchestration are enabling those organizations to gain agility.
“In general,” Kearney says, “winners will emerge from this crisis with more digitally savvy logistics operations, especially in the areas of creating transparency and interfaces while reducing needs for physical labor across modes and nodes.”