Ugly freight eCommerce – How to manage online consumer expectations and maintain cost-effectiveness

We’ve just concluded 2020, a year in which we’ve seen dramatic change across the business landscape in Australia.

Australia, unlike many other nations had been comparatively slow to adopt online shopping. With lockdowns sweeping much of the country, consumers were pushed to shop online, increasing the demand on last-mile shippers. Australia Post maxed out their operations, creating severe disruptions in their delivery chain, ultimately being forced to create overflow distribution centres and bring on third-party carriers to help cover the workload (no doubt you felt the impact of this at some point).

In April 2020 alone, Australia Post saw over 200,000 new households join the online shopping space, it can be assumed this number continued to grow throughout the latter half of the year and is expected to maintain well into the future.

If the goods you are shipping are lightweight (<16kg) and easily handled, then you are blessed with a range of last mile shipping choices – the big daddy of them all is clearly Australia Post!

That said, consumers ordering a dog kennel, a bed, gym equipment, white goods etc. still have the same delivery expectations as the consumer ordering the latest in fashion. Unfortunately, the last mile carriers for light packaged goods generally cannot handle what we call ‘ugly’ freight.

Packaged ‘lightweight’ carriers rely heavily on barcode driven high volume, high speed conveying and automated sorting systems. Ugly freight does not fit these environments and thus have much higher costs associated with collection, sortation and delivery – many deliveries requiring specialised equipment such as tailgate lifts and/or 2 people.

Consumers purchasing ‘ugly’ freight do not understand the logistical differentiators between light and ugly freight – that said, they are not ignorant of the fact that these are ‘larger’ items and will generally be quite considerate to plain, upfront messaging regarding delivery expectations.

When it comes to deliveries, TIME is the key factor in maximising cost efficiencies. If the expectation is immediate or ‘next day’ – there are absolute costs associated with such. If delivery is around 3-5 days, shippers and carriers can benefit from efficiencies associated with consolidation and scheduling of deliveries into ‘milk-runs’. This can in fact be a customer benefit, as agreed delivery schedules can be of benefit to both the consumer and the carrier when it comes to large items.

Building flexibility into your shipping commitments for these ‘ugly’ items is the first step in setting your business up for success in the most cost-effective manner.

Our next article will focus on carrier selection for ‘uglies’.