Top Logistics Stories – 2017 in focus

We want to start by wishing all our readers a Happy New Year!!!

At whichwarehouse.com we watch our industry eagerly to find out what the emerging trends are, and to explore how we can best help our customers fulfil their logistics, haulage and warehousing needs.

Over the past year we’ve brought you lots of meaty stories, so here’s our roundup of the most interesting logistics developments in 2017…

Drones for logistics

In theory, but not in practice, 2017 has been was the year of the drone. Amazon and Google have invested massive amounts of research money in drone research to try and win the race to succeed in last mile delivery via drone. So far, no retailer has managed to get a viable drone delivery system in operation although there have been several small-scale pilot tests in the USA and UK. The drone wars took a step forward in the USA as FAA regulations were relaxed under Donald Trump’s presidency, which means that last mile delivery by drone is in sight – we can definitely expect to see it, if only in limited locations, by 2020.

Sea Freight in perspective

At the opposite end of the spectrum to drone delivery, sea freight has been in the news consistently over the past year, mainly due to consolidation activity which has had a lot of knock-on effect in supply chains generally. In spring 2017 a huge ocean freight reorganisation led to three major alliances working together to improve the efficiency of vessels, particularly on the East to West trade routes which are the most congested, and the ones with the tightest margins. It may have worked for the carriers, but ports found themselves dealing with congestion and container vessel stacking outside popular terminals, an unexpected side effect of an apparently entirely logical industry rationalisation. There are warnings that consolidation may continue in 2018, so it’s important that supply chain managers consider their options, including using less popular ports and focusing on hub warehousing for simpler delivery logistics.

Uberising freight with digital freight matching

While this is much more developed in the USA and mainland Europe than the UK, the concept of digital freight matching services was a hot topic in 2017. Where it’s worked well is in last mile delivery – with Deliv and uber Freight demonstrating that crowdsourcing home delivery can work. Uber Freight is interesting because it’s an app based freight matching service which works at the driver level, linking drivers with space in their vehicles with companies that need to move freight – at present it’s running in the US only and Amazon, hot on the heels of Uber, is planning to roll out a ‘trucking app’ that will streamline delivery to its warehouses. As a next step, Amazon plans a digital system that streamlines delivery from warehouse to purchaser.

Big data and logistics

Yes, 2017, like 2016, claimed to be the year of big data, but it’s definitely still proving difficult for supply chains to access the value of big data. While may new data start-ups have claimed to have the solution to processing big data to provide the answers required by logistics managers but few have delivered. Plenty of organisations have all the data required but whether this should be considered a tool to aid decision making, a process of the supply chain itself or an outcome of good logistics management isn’t clear. What supply chain managers desire is help in making decisions and so far, while high volume, high-quality data is available, the systems to turn it into better decisions clearly aren’t. Where are we with the big data debate? A good analogy would be the fitness tracker which moved from a computer programme where users had to input data and the system calculated useful metrics, to a pedometer that allowed the user to access wearable information through to the current manifestation – apps that use passive information to give the wearer a wide range of usable data to improve their health. Logistics uses of big data are currently around the pedometer level…roll on the supply chain Fitbit!

Warehouse Automation

Robotics have been the big news of 2017, with a wide range of warehouse robots being trialled around the world and with intense competition within the robotics industry to create an autonomous warehouse SKU picker that can be applied in a wide range of circumstances. While robots have taken up most of the bandwidth in automation, there’s another development that might have earlier, if more limited applications in the UK. The use of wearable exoskeletons to improve worker safety and to deliver greater efficiency in item picking has been quietly building momentum in the USA and also in specific industries across Europe, particularly automotive components, which is major news for warehouse logistics users.

The Amazon effect

The butterfly effect is said to change the world, but Amazon is guaranteed to change logistics. Many other retailers have tried to match their free 48-hour shipping promise but there are twin complicators:

  1. absorbing delivery costs in-house
  2. getting items warehoused within delivery reach of consumers.

Both have proved to be huge problems. But they are not problems for everybody except Amazon – they feel the pinch too. Geekwire claims that amazon.com lost $7.2 billion in shipping costs in 2016, a future that can only have increased in 2017. Where Amazon wins is through having economies of scale, benefiting from the sales of its cloud computing services and applying corporate profits to its shipping deficit. Most retailers can’t afford to offset this level of costs, nor can they match Amazon’s supply chain success, warehousing 90% of their products within 90 miles of customers, which gives them lower delivery costs.

Concise warehousing and distribution planning by transport and logistics companies can save costs considerably.  

Last mile deliveries

Few topics loomed larger than last-mile deliveries in 2017 – from white glove logistics to localisation in groceries, where even Amazon found themselves floundering – last mile delivery has proven to be an issue. The big development in 2017 was third-party logistics management, especially in food retailing where Deliveroo dominated the market and established standards for many last mile delivery services to aim at.


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