Jennifer Sidis, international logistics manager for the seed producers Wilbur Ellis Nutrition, said that shippers face many challenges — carrier consolidation, higher freight rates, obtaining equipment and space on vessels, tariffs and the higher cost of fuel because of the global cap on the sulfur content of bunker fuel that will go into effect on Jan. 1.
Sidis complained that customer service is a “dying art form” in shipping and talked about the inability to get straight answers or prompt responses from carriers. She expressed bewilderment at the unwillingness of some companies’ employees to speak with customers on the telephone, saying that she has learned at some customer service centers, phones actually have been removed from desks.
Lori McGinty of the seed company Barenbrug said that while there have been some improvements, shippers frequently find it takes several hours for truckers to get in and out of terminals in Seattle and Tacoma when delivering containers.
International Paper’s Hamilton said customers are asking for shorter lead times, lower inventory liability, just-in-time delivery and no safety stock.
She asked carriers to work collaboratively with shippers and “provide the basics well. Don’t punish the shipper and my customer for the wrongdoings of the industry. Care about my cargo. If I am paying to move it, what’s in it matters. I don’t care if it is paper, produce, poultry. If we are paying to move it, it would be really great if somebody cared as much about that box as I do.”
Hamilton said that problems can start even before ocean voyages begin, with 10% of the company’s cargo departing out of U.S. ports more than three days late.
“It’s much more difficult to get there on time if you don’t leave on time,” she said. When her company does not have visibility to those delayed departures, it can create additional costs and challenges upstream for the company’s drayage providers that must deliver large numbers of containers in a short period of time.
Hamilton said delays incurred during transshipment can be a particularly difficult issue and mentioned that her company has seen cases in which cargo sat in a transshipment port for 30 days.
Overall, she said just half of International Paper’s cargo is delivered within one to three days of the estimated time of arrival, but that 35% arrives nine to 13 days late.
Still, she said her company is “scorecarded” by its customers on on-time performance and they attribute delays to her company and not the carrier.
Hamilton said shipments that arrive 14 days late or more are an even bigger problem. “Our supply chain is not built with the flexibility to adjust for two weeks,” she said, explaining it creates operational problems for customers and translates into 3,000 containers per month and about 75 customers that customs service teams must manage — “begging, pleading, apologizing, trying to save the sale for the next month.”