Transport Topics – Two Digital Freight Brokers Focus on Price Transparency for Shippers

Digital freight brokers Convoy and Uber Freight have separately launched new tools intended to make pricing options for hauling loads more transparent for shippers.

Convoy Shipper Platform 2.0 includes Market Outlook, which shows shippers current and future trends by region. Also, it adds a feature called Lane Network, which gives shippers real-time data about changes in their lanes. Convoy launched the initial platform in 2015.

“We are finally at the point where we have enough data and experience from shipping all across the country that we can roll out this product,” said Lindsay Watt, head of product at Convoy.

Watt said Convoy is trying to help shippers understand across any lanes they’re working on how pricing is going to fluctuate over an annual basis. With Market Outlook, shippers can see Convoy’s proprietary Market Supply Index, which indicates how easily a shipper can book a truck at the market rate; expert analysis of the factors currently affecting the market; and an overview of seasonal freight impacts currently influencing capacity, according to the company.

Lane Network aggregates data Convoy has collected across the thousands of shipments it services each week to show lane seasonality trends — so shippers can gain visibility in market rates at the lane level and help optimize their freight spend.

“Even if you ship zero loads with Convoy, you can still sign up and get this product. And we don’t mind that,” Watt said. “You can ship with anyone else out there. You can put all your loads into this product, all your lanes. You can check and see where all the pricing is going. We are comfortable with that.”

At the same time Uber Freight launched Lane Explorer, a machine-learning tool that enables shippers of any size to view real-time market rates on their lanes up to two weeks in advance — comparing the costs for each different day — and build loads that lock in those rates.

Machine learning has been defined as a type of algorithm that lets software applications — without being explicitly programmed — become more accurate in predicting outcomes. In this case, the algorithm creates predicted prices for each given day of the two-week period. If a shipper accepts the price for carrying the freight, the rate is locked in.

Lane Explorer is available to any shipper using Uber Freight, which is a business unit of ride-hailing pioneer Uber Technologies Inc. The parent company announced plans in August to double its investment in its Freight business.

“We haven’t stopped building over the course of the last couple of months,” since Uber Freight for Shippers was launched, said Stefan Sohlstrom, product manager at Uber Freight. “We have been working really, really hard on this feature in Explorer.”

Sohlstrom noted that larger shippers that may already be using more mature technology like transportation management software are using the program, “almost as a real-time benchmark for their existing carrier or broker relationship,” while smaller companies like that it provides a “simple way of getting a quote that is then guaranteed.”

The feature is available to shippers across the country, and more launches aimed at shippers can be expected in the coming months, he said.

Visibility and transparency enable more efficient transportation planning and execution, and this becomes more viable with new digital platforms, said Steve Dowse, senior vice president of product management at Blume Global, a supply chain management firm.

“Load boards and other emergent online brokerage services will appeal to smaller shippers with less complex transportation needs, and who wish to take advantage of spot market rates and pricing,” he said.

For enterprise shippers and logistics providers with global supply chains, though, the availability of reliable capacity is critical to optimizing their supply chains.

“These organizations will also benefit from a marketplace model to match demand and supply of services, but one that’s incorporated within more complete solutions that enable for collaboration and orchestration with their established partners,” Dowse said.

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