What is the middle mile and why is everyone talking about the challenges today!

Keeping freight moving throughout its journey is critical to reducing a shipper’s freight cost per mile. Using the right LTL carrier for middle-mile shipping—that stage of the journey where goods travel between two facilities for temporary storage before final delivery—can reduce the amount of time shipments are en route.

In recent years, the middle mile has been lucrative for shippers and freight companies, which have been the beneficiaries of exponential e-commerce growth. According to the US Census Bureau, during Q2 2016, e-commerce was responsible for 7.5% of all retail sales, not seasonally adjusted, bringing in more than $91 billion. Fast forward to Q2 2021, that number is 12.5%, representing just over $211.7 billion. With numbers like this, shippers and transportation providers cannot afford to miss out on this lucrative opportunity.

This article looks closer at middle-mile shipping, the service options and challenges within this segment, and how visibility and innovative, optimized shipment tracking can help shippers and freight transportation service providers deliver excellent customer experiences.  

What Is Middle Mile Shipping and Why Shippers Can’t Overlook It?

Middle-mile shipping consists of transporting goods from a port, warehouse, or distribution center into a fulfillment center where they stay until purchased by a customer. Some shippers use middle-mile service delivery options as an avenue to eliminate extra miles and ship directly to the consumer, cutting time and costs in the process. Middle-mile shipping uses LTL to ship on-demand, with customizable loads for the shipper.

How Does Middle Mile Delivery Service Options Impact End-Delivery Success?

The middle mile directly affects the downstream shipping modes, like the last mile, as the shipment moves towards its final destination—the consumer in some cases, a retail store in others. For instance, if shipments between two facilities fall behind schedule, customer deliveries will likely be delayed.

Minor issues can lead to big problems within service delivery options for the middle mile, such as:

  • Delays in unloading items at the warehouse slow down the next leg of the shipment. Delays add up when it comes to  on-time shipping   Delays can result in profit loss
  • Issues with warehouse inventory or flow cause delays elsewhere. Delays in shipping at any supply chain point affect the end customer directly. Ineffective inventory practices and stock discrepancies will cause shipping problems if the product is not accurately tracked. If issues in the middle mile persist, it will impact end-delivery success.
  • Problems with loading and unloading at docks and ports push back firm ETAs. Port dwell time for vessels, delays in loading and unloading, carrier capacity, and other economic factors can result in delivery delays, loss of profits, and a higher freight cost per mile.
  • Potential product loss between facilities. Issues in the middle mile can foster product loss between facilities if not adequately tracked with the right freight software.
  • Poor software integration creates barriers to visibility. The lack of visibility from warehouse to warehouse makes it more difficult for shippers to track their shipments.  Most warehouses still rely on manual counting of inventory which can result in human error and product loss.
  • Lack of optimization creates delays. The lack of optimization of freight moves increases delays because shippers cannot attain complete visibility for their shipments. As well as this, the lack of route optimization can keep trucks on the road longer, increasing the total cost of goods sold.
  • Increases expenses for everyone. The bottom line: delays create excess costs for everyone.

Possible Obstacles Facing Effective Middle Mile Upgrade and Innovation

Consumers’ demands for faster shipping times create obstacles in middle-mile transportation. There are some points to consider:

  1. The longevity of trucks and trailers can be a double-edged sword. According to Fleet Pulse, “It is important to note the average life of a trailer is 15 years. A trailer built today will still be on the road in 2035. The technology wave will continue, and trailers need to be built in a way that facilitates upgrades.” In other words, technology needs to be easily implemented to keep up with the growing demand in retail and e-commerce. Each brand will need to re-evaluate what they’re doing and what’s necessary to reach the next level of awareness and capabilities in the middle mile.
  2. Training drivers to keep up with new technology and innovations. Drivers must keep up with new technology so they do not fall behind in their profession. Many freight carriers cannot afford to lose shippers, especially those carriers that have fewer than ten trucks in their fleets. If you cannot provide the visibility and tracking solutions that optimize the middle mile, a shipper will most likely jump to a competitor that does. Therefore, your drivers’ willingness to embrace new technology plays an important role in customer retention.
  3. Ensuring that drivers are comfortable with new technology is crucial. Having the right technology is one thing; knowing how to use it to its full potential is another. Change is never easy and seldom comfortable. Drivers frustrated with new technologies won’t use them and might even quit for another job more in their comfort zone. Thorough training in various formats (written, audio, and visual) will help familiarize drivers with innovations. This approach will help maximize productivity and minimize driver turnover.
  4. Ensuring customers adjust comfortably by using tracking apps and tools. Consumers are what keep the supply chain going. New apps and interfaces help customers know when their goods will arrive, which helps improve their service experience.

Improve Middle Mile Transportation With State-of-the-Art Tracking and Delivery Services

Improving middle mile shipping starts with new tracking and delivery services. Do not get stuck in the dark with little to no visibility. Eliminate searches for delivery truck service, and ship with Warp today.

Troy Lester
Co-Founder and CRO