The growth of the parcel consolidation sector can be seen in one simple statistic: over half of the companies listed in our survey entered the parcel consolidation business in 1997 or later. Clearly, the USPS rate reclassification provided the initial impetus for some of these companies. Yet, they continued to expand to more locations, solidifying bottom-line benefits for the shipper.
Perhaps, the biggest news in the parcel consolidation business in 1999 was the increase in the number of shipping locations served. If you�re located within 300 miles of one of the major metropolitan areas, it�s now possible to choose from two or more consolidators. This trend seems likely to continue in 2000 with some consolidators announcing ambitious plans for new facilities, although most of these will be in the same major metropolitan areas. This situation is likely to increase competition in areas such as Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver and Los Angeles, which have the most current or planned facilities.
Coverage in other areas is still spottier, but the overall trend is clearly towards national availability, and we may well see other regional consolidators spring up in the coming year.
The entry of Airborne@home, in partnership with the U.S. Postal Service, theoretically makes it possible for anyone, anywhere to use the services of a consolidator. Airborne clearly believes that eliminating the last mile from its delivery routes makes it possible to leverage its existing long-haul infrastructure cost effectively, without having to invest heavily in additional ground delivery vehicles and personnel. Whether this option provides competition in all areas is yet to be seen, but it shows one possible scenario for home delivery in the future. As e-commerce expands, there will be increased demands on the home delivery infrastructure and we may see interesting combinations of existing long-haul services and new final mile delivery services (as Christopher Smith et al. suggest in their article on page 26).
Another interesting change over last year is the overall increase in the availability of barcode tracking of individual parcels as well as in the options for identifying parcels. An increasing number of consolidators now offer more options on parcel tracking, most notably the inclusion of the UCC/EAN-128 carton identification number. For companies with a retail component in their customer bases, this means that a single parcel tracking numbering system can be used regardless of consignee. For those shipping to industrial customers, the continued popularity of the DUNS number as a shipper ID conforms to many industry barcode-labeling standards.
Online parcel tracking is also on the upswing, both made possible by and necessitating greater flexibility in barcode parcel tracking. To facilitate online tracking by the consignee, the tracking number has to be known. Consolidator-assigned numbers have to be transmitted after the fact to consignees, whereas shipper-assigned numbers, whether UCC/EAN, USPS or DUNS-based, can be assigned at the time of an online purchase.
Compared with last year�s numbers, there has not been as large an increase in the number of DDUs served as might have been expected. This may not reflect actual practice since we changed the way the question was phrased. This year, we asked for the number of DDUs visited on at least a weekly basis. Last year we made no such distinction. Therefore it�s possible that there has, in fact, been a significant increase in DDU deliveries but they do not occur on at least a weekly basis.
The bottom line on this year�s survey is that consolidators are a healthy and expanding sector in the logistics mix and they�re an increasingly valuable weapon in your war against ever-increasing transportation costs.
Bert Moore is the editor of Parcel Shipping & Distribution and an independent consultant on barcode and related technologies. Formerly the director of Technical Communications for AIM, the international trade association for AIDC technologies, Bert is a recognized expert on barcodes and helped craft many of today�s barcode and 2D symbol shipping label standards as a member of ANSI MH10 subcommittee 8. Bert can be reached by calling 412-341-4982 or emailing at