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Competing in a Consumer-Focused Age with an Agile Supply Chain

From a new couch to a week’s worth of groceries, shoppers can summon nearly anything to their doorstep, local store or delivery locker with just a few clicks. Some of the most significant consumer changes impacting supply chains include:

  • Shifting demographics. While in-store purchases still dominate among shoppers of all ages, younger consumers are continuing to migrate to e-commerce, underscoring the importance of a strong omnichannel supply chain.
  • Shifting buying patterns. Emerging trends, including subscription boxes and purchasing large-scale items like furniture online, are creating complexity and forcing businesses to reexamine their last-mile strategies.
  • Shifting technology. In a role reversal from the last few decades, consumers are pulling ahead of businesses when it comes to technologies like artificial intelligence. These tech-savvy customers expect connected yet frictionless experiences from their brands – forcing many businesses to play catch-up.

Increasing agility through technology

Faced with these pressures, business leaders recognize that agility will be the key to success in the coming years. A KPMG survey found that 68% of CEOs believe that being slow to adapt to change will lead to obsolescence, while Gartner revealed that 82% of CEOs intend to change their business models by 2020 to stay relevant.

For supply chains, a technology-enabled approach is essential to drive agility and keep up with consumer demands. According to a World Economic Forum analysis, digital transformation will generate $1.5 trillion in value for the logistics industry over the next five years. Among businesses that adopt digital supply chains, executives report a 3.2% average increase in annual earnings – the highest ROI of any business function.

As supply chain executives recognize the importance of technology investment, an analysis conducted by AGL and Logistics Trends & Insights found that total logistics IT spending will rise 17% to $87.8 billion between 2017-2022. Yet a data-driven, agile supply chain remains a dream for many businesses, with a significant number of organizations still relying on Excel and email to manage complex supply chain functions. For organizations that master digital transformation in the supply chain, the benefits are big – faster time to market, increased efficiencies and better customer experiences.

Improving Supply Chain ROI in a Tough Tariff Environment

After duties on $200 billion in Chinese goods jumped from 10% to 25% earlier this month, businesses barely had time to blink before receiving news of yet another tranche of tariffs. These duties would cover $325 billion in goods, hitting the price-sensitive apparel sector particularly hard and taking a significant bite out of business’ bottom lines.

While no timelines are available yet for the new tariffs, NRF is expecting “unusually high” import levels in the coming months as shippers scramble to beat the duties. In its latest Port Tracker report, the organization estimated that TEUs would hit 1.9 million in May – the first time ever TEUs have risen to that level before July. That surge in shipments could lead to another chaotic peak season and higher prices for shippers, who are already paying 20% higher ocean contract rates than last year.

Some businesses may also turn to more expensive airfreight to get high-profit merchandise like electronics into the country faster. And once goods cross the border, tight warehouse capacity on the West Coast could push up prices as well, creating additional supply chain pain. For businesses grappling with these issues, a focus on optimization is increasingly critical. Here’s how combining a technology-enabled supply chain with the right logistics expertise can help deliver ROI that carries you through whatever comes next.

  • Find cost-effective capacity. With ocean spot rates already 40% higher than they were a year ago, sourcing affordable spot capacity to beat impending tariffs is likely to be a challenge once again during peak season. A centralized supply chain platform makes it easier to compare carriers and routes to find the most cost-effective solution, while an experienced supply chain partner with a deep logistics network can give you extra leverage in negotiations.
  • Shift your sourcing. As the cost of doing business in China continues to climb, many of AGL’s own customers are weighing the pros and cons of moving to neighboring countries. A supply chain platform that offers an end-to-end view, from production to final destination, lets your business compare suppliers and make the right choice based on production and logistics costs, vendor reliability, and more.
  • Check your classifications. For businesses that haven’t reviewed their classifications recently, the latest round of tariffs is a good reminder to keep current. A centralized platform makes it easier to review classifications in one spot to avoid penalties and identify opportunities to substitute products not subject to duties, if possible. A partner with customs expertise can help find additional ways to save time and resources, such as improving auditing procedures.
  • Automate routine activities. A more efficient supply chain starts with understanding all the touchpoints across your operations and seeing where there’s room for improvement. By managing every shipment in a single platform, you can uncover those efficiencies more easily. Technology that enables management by exception, rather than reviewing every single shipment, can also free up significant time for large global importers.
  • React faster to disruptions. Supply chain disruptions are inevitable, but being able to make adjustments on the fly can help keep issues from ballooning into disasters. For example, when faced with fast-approaching tariffs, a technology-driven supply chain can help you decide whether shipping via airfreight or paying additional duties will ultimately be less costly.

As shippers prepare for more tariffs and a potentially wild peak season, investing in effective tools, people and processes can help offset the impact to their operations and their bottom lines.

Winning the Tariff Waiting Game

The last few months have forced many global importers into a holding pattern as they wait for the latest round of tariff headlines. The March deadline has come and gone for 25% tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods, and the U.S. administration has said that talks are going well with China, putting additional increases on hold indefinitely. The 10% increases imposed last year are still in effect, however, and the U.S. has hinted they may stay in place, even if the two countries make a deal. Meanwhile, trade tensions continue to flare around the world, with news of $11 billion in potential tariffs on European Union products surfacing earlier this month.

These ongoing uncertainties are having a definite impact on the $6.5 billion in goods that come through U.S. ports each day. After breaking import records in a rush to stockpile inventory last year, businesses have slowed their pace so far in 2019. U.S. ports handled 1.62 million TEUs in February, down 14.3% from January and a 4% year-over-year decrease.

While import volumes for April and May are expected to top 2018 levels, much will depend on the ultimate results of U.S.-Chinese negotiations. If tariffs do rise to 25% on some goods, many shippers will need to make major adjustments to their sourcing and transit strategies to stay afloat. No matter where duties land, however, the current environment is making businesses more aware of the power of tariffs to shape the economy – and the importance of customs compliance. Whether you have an in-house brokerage team or rely on external support, these strategies can help your business stay strong amid tariff uncertainty.

Go to the source. If your business has global production facilities, running what-if scenarios now can help you hit the ground running if massive tariff spikes require a shift in sourcing. An experienced supply chain partner can help you assess alternate transit routes and associated costs for moving production from China to Vietnam or Malaysia, for example. In addition, some shippers are turning to their vendors to handle clearance to mitigate the bite of tariffs – whatever those duties might be in six months.

Double-check classifications. While many classifications, like tires, don’t leave much room for interpretation, businesses should still review all their harmonized tariff classifications if they haven’t done so recently. A customs brokerage expert can help confirm all classifications are correct, so you’re not paying tariffs unnecessarily or putting yourself at risk for fines for missing duties. Depending on your goods, there may also be opportunities to adjust your sourcing to items that aren’t eligible for duties.

Stay on top of customs paperwork. Regardless of what the future brings for tariffs, the increased scrutiny on all U.S. imports is likely here to stay. Establishing a thorough auditing system can help your business avoid errors and fines, while cutting back on time-consuming post-summary corrections. Trading paper-based processes for automated systems can also help you improve compliance and overall efficiency.

While only time will tell whether more tariffs are in store, businesses that invest in a strong customs compliance program now will be better positioned to handle whatever comes next.

3 Strategies for a Smoother Ocean Shipping Season

Efforts by ocean carriers to prop up rates by reducing sailings last year came at the exact wrong time for importers, coinciding with President Trump’s announcement of additional tariffs on Chinese imports. As shippers raced to beat the effects to their bottom lines, imports hit a record 21.6 million TEUs in 2018 – and spot rates skyrocketed accordingly.

Just a few months into 2019, several factors are already keeping spot rates at higher-than-normal levels:

  • High import volumes: Demand for cargo space has remained elevated among shippers looking to beat additional tariffs, with January imports rising an estimated 4 percent over the previous year.
  • Trade uncertainty: While the March 1 tariff deadline has come and gone, continued back-and-forth between the U.S. and China make it unlikely that rates will drop anytime soon.
  • Bunker fuel costs: With carriers facing rising fuel costs and an impending 0.5 percent global sulfur cap on fuel content, shippers will undoubtedly see the effects reflected in their rates.
Navigating contract season effectively

As shippers enter contract negotiations, they will need to work with carriers to find a middle ground that balances cost with capacity to keep their supply chains moving. These strategies can help businesses lock in the capacity they need without compromising their budgets.

  1. Focus on total spend, not on rate. Trying to negotiate contract rates at the lowest possible level will ultimately wind up costing you more. Rather than trying to nickel and dime contract rates, focus on choosing a reliable carrier who will keep your shipments on time and on budget.
  2. Map your supply chain. Truly optimizing your ocean freight spend requires taking a critical eye to your supply chain. A centralized technology platform offers insight into every mode, carrier, shipment and more, so you can spot opportunities for improvement and make informed decisions during negotiations.
  3. Be ready for the unexpected. A provider with a deep network of relationships can be invaluable in accessing affordable capacity when disruptions inevitably arise. A little logistics creativity, such as changing the port of discharge, can also help lessen the impact of disruptions.

Want additional tips on managing ocean freight season without sinking your budget? Read our recent article in the Journal of Commerce, “Navigating 2019 ocean contracting.

The ABCs of ACE

For large importers and exporters, improving customs efficiency and compliance is a constant goal. In today’s global economy, 28 percent of U.S. GDP is now related to trade, which means businesses need a solid strategy for moving goods across the border. The customs process is known for being time-consuming and expensive, and any breakdowns or errors along the way can impact businesses with shipping delays and regulatory penalties. In 2016 alone, CBP collected $57 million in fines for non-compliance.

ACE aims to help businesses eliminate redundancies, reduce paperwork and work faster through a consolidated, electronic filing system. The platform has automated 269 forms required by CBP and 47 partner agencies, slashing the amount of time once required to file manually.

Establishment of ACE represents a larger trend toward streamlining cumbersome customs requirements by digitizing and consolidating processes, and interest is growing. A number of other countries are looking to implement similar “single-window” systems, including Canada, Mexico and Brazil, opening up new opportunities for shippers to enter markets where customs processes have been onerous and difficult to navigate traditionally. CBP also recently announced a new electronic process for exporting vehicles from Port Everglades, the first program of its kind in the country.

Steps for success

While businesses have been migrating to ACE gradually as portions of the system become available, many are still working to bring operations online. As ACE becomes the new filing standard, implementing the system can not only help speed up the filing process, but yield powerful information to shape more efficient business practices. ACE allows you to:

  • Make decisions based on historical data. What documentation was required the last time you imported a dresser decorated with seashells? Which ports have asked you to take entry exams? ACE offers information on all your filings in one place, which you can use to spot trends that help you plan more efficient routes.
  • Take your information with you. Right now, many shippers have filing information housed with brokers or by port. By implementing ACE, they can start building a portfolio of information that stays with them through any brokerage or route changes, minimizing the time it takes to search for data

While ACE promises to reduce importing and exporting hassles in the U.S., businesses still have to contend with foreign requirements, security issues, classifications and other customs requirements. can offer customs expertise, technology and end-to-end logistics solutions to ensure your goods make it across the border.