Convoy's Flex Loads seeks to better connect shippers and carriers while reducing empty loads – Supply Chain 247 – Jeff Berman

Seattle-based digital freight broker Convoy recently announced the official rollout of a new offering, entitled Flex Loads.

Convoy defines a Flex Load as a load that can be picked up or dropped off at a facility over multiple days. With this new offering, Convoy is focusing on providing a better way for shippers and carriers to connect, which, it explained, is key, given how poor appointment setting is a major contributor to wasted time and empty miles. That is highlighted by data Convoy cited by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), which noted that drivers are moving empty loads more than one-fifth, 20.7%, of the time they are on the road. And the company explained that even when a driver is able to find a shipment on the right route, timing does not often work, or sync up, schedule-wise.

The company is making an effort to counter this situation with its introduction of Flex Loads, which it said provides carriers with the flexibility to choose the perfect pickup and delivery date for their schedules and subsequently enable to transport more full loads, with shippers also seeing value adds in the form of on-time gains and a fall-off in rates and costs.

The concept for Convoy’s Flex Loads stemmed from work done by the company’s carrier experience team, whose focus is to figure out what are the things that are making the lives of drivers and carriers less attractive and what they can do to make Convoy the best possible company for them to work with, according to Ziad Ismail, chief product officer for Convoy.

“A lot of people in the industry have been talking for a long time about the problem of empty miles,” he explained. “A big takeaway was how much waste there was but what is even a bigger problem that people don’t talk about as much is the fact that carriers end up waiting around a very long time…which has been starting to get addressed with things like detention. But the other fundamental thing is appointment times are set very badly. Even if certain loads are attractive, the pick up time may be several hours later than what the carrier ideally wants and adds a bunch of waste into the carrier’s schedule.”

That is where the need for an offering like Flex Loads comes into play. Ismail likened it to option value, which is something provided to carriers by shippers but is destroyed in the sense that shippers keep a single appointment time that is then passed along to the carrier or driver to see if they are interested.

“With technology, we can take all that flexibility by being directly connected back to the shipper first and come up with a time that works, which directly impacts empty miles as there are now loads that would not be feasible or attractive and now are being moved,” he said.

That has helped smooth things out for carriers, too, with Convoy explaining in a blog posting that Flex Loads allows drivers to choose when they want to drop off or pick up a load based on what is right for their schedule.

In terms of how Flex Loads works on a practical basis, it explained Flex Loads appear in the Convoy app with flexible pickup or delivery dates, with carriers able to see a date range and then choose an appointment time that best meets their schedule and also enables them to fit more round trips and loads into their day and better address planning.

This represents a significant change compared to how these tasks were previously handled, which required brokers to make calls to carriers if an appointment time did not work or call the shipper to schedule a new appointment altogether, which may or may not work. This often became very complicated and expensive, said Ismail. 

“Understanding the flexibility of the shipper is key in making Flex Loads be effective,” he said. “Sometimes there may be an API integration where you can get direct access to what appointment slots are available or there may be a set of rules, which we agreed to with a shipper, for certain slots for a certain shipment. Whenever we have that kind of flexibility, we try to capture that and code it into our system. When those jobs are offered to a carrier and are on the app, we will indicate that those specific loads are now Flex Loads and are more likely to be flexible for carriers. If they think the load is attractive, they can then pick the appointment times, which are available often over multiple days.”

On the shipper side, Ismail said Convoy has a large and growing shipper base, with many enterprise customers, as well as small- and medium-sized companies.

“Whenever we can come to them with very direct numbers and say ‘look, this investment will lead to carriers preferring you and you will pay less than other shippers for equivalent loads because carriers are not wasting time at your facility,’ that really resonates,” he said. “We see very strong interest whenever we have concrete data that we share with them.”

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