Digitalisation of logistics

Empty shelves, sold-out petrol stations: What happened in the UK in autumn is also threatening Germany. At the same time, the just-in-time principle has massively changed the logistics industry. The digitalisation of logistics is becoming a survival factor. by Dirk Mewis

The German Freight Forwarding and Logistics Association (DSLV) estimates that the industry is already short of 60,000 to 80,000 truckers. And the gap is growing rapidly because baby boomers are retiring and there are hardly any new recruits.

Years ago, the just-in-time principle already changed the logistics industry massively, with many industrial companies reducing their inventories to a minimum; at the same time, trucks now serve as rolling warehouses. Drivers have to deliver materials and components from suppliers in the right quantities on time: ideally at the time the factory is processing them. In addition, the triumph of digitalisation and e-commerce has further transformed the business model of many freight forwarders.

The consignments are now becoming ever smaller, the distribution of the goods ever more complex. “In the past, a truck with 1,000 pieces of toys drove from the manufacturer to a large toy market, and people then picked up their toys there,” explains Çetin Çelik, the managing director of M + F. “The toys are now distributed in small lots. “Today, four trucks with 250 pieces go to four online retailers, and they then ship one piece each to 250 customers’ homes. Often with a guaranteed delivery date.” The promises of the retailers and the expectations of the customers to have the goods delivered the next day or the day after, if possible, increase the pressure on the truckers.

Capacity limits of manual scheduling

Transport logistics is undergoing a profound transformation due to the shortage of skilled workers in virtually all areas of the industry and rising energy prices combined with growing awareness of green logistics, analyse logistics sages the changing requirements in their forecast for this year. In addition to the competitive pressure from new digital freight forwarders, there is also the pandemic-driven increase in shipment volumes. This is exceeding the capacity limits of manual scheduling for many freight forwarders. The digitalisation of dispatching is therefore no longer just a matter of optimising business management, but is becoming a survival factor.

Because there is a clear winner of the corona pandemic: online trade is booming. The growth is expected to continue this year. Every seventh euro that people in Germany spent on food, electronics, furniture and clothing last year ended up in the tills of online retailers. Leaving groceries aside, Amazon and its rivals even secured a fifth of the turnover, according to the industry association BEVH. “E-commerce is increasingly perceived as the normal and usual. Its growth is stabilising at a high level,” sums up BEVH President Gero Furchheim. In the state of emergency of the pandemic, digital trade with the secure supply of goods conveys a piece of normality. “Trade without e-commerce is already unthinkable, neither for consumers nor for retailers.”

Online trade also popular in old age

The old rule that online trade is mainly used by younger people no longer applies since the beginning of the pandemic. Shoppers aged 50 and over were responsible for at least half of all online purchases in 2021, the association reports. And the proportion of ‘satisfied’ and ‘very satisfied’ online shoppers had reached a record 96.3 percent. No wonder, then, that the online trade expects the boom to continue this year. The association expects sales of goods to grow by another twelve percent to more than 110 billion euros. And the industry also expects growth rates of over ten percent in the years thereafter.

However, the survival of traditional retailers is also made more difficult by the fact that more and more manufacturers are using online trade to bypass retailers and sell their goods directly to customers. According to the BEVH, manufacturers’ mail-order volume rose by 25.4 per cent to 3.4 billion euros last year. According to a study by the management consultancy Capgemini, buying directly from the manufacturer is particularly popular with young people.

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