‘Show me the money’ – rates and pricing in the on-demand freight environment

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Updated Mar 8, 2017

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The local loads Sergio Marin’s small fleet is moving via the tech-enabled Convoy brokerage in and around Los Angeles aren’t always priced well below what’s feasible for his operation, but it happens often enough. All load offers that come his way through the Convoy app are offered for acceptance or rejection with a Convoy-determined price associated with them. As long as the rate is right, this holds the potential of speeding up the matching process, of course.

But if it’s not, negotiation over the phone has always been possible, but a relatively new option in the Convoy app is to bid the load up. Response times have lagged with its implementation, however. Tech support at the company is well aware of it and are working on it, Marin says. “Staffing seems to be the problem. When I’ve bid, somebody will call me back and we’ll negotiate.”

Convoy, as with Loadsmart and other would-be freight market disruptors, is attempting to provide a certain level of automation and data science into its pricing that “better reflects the market” than what arises from the typical process, often tilted against carriers in one-on-one spot negotiations. Pricing algorithms often include spot rate averages from familiar sources like DAT and Truckstop.com, historical data from within the brokerages’ own networks and more.

One of the attractions of tech brokerages’ systems is quick pricing offered to shippers looking to move loads, as illustrated by Loadsmart’s shipper dashboard.One of the attractions of tech brokerages’ systems is quick pricing offered to shippers looking to move loads, as illustrated by Loadsmart’s shipper dashboard.

“I’d love to say rates are always better,” Lewis says about Convoy, compared to what’s typical for owner-operators, “but maybe not in some areas.” What’s different otherwise is the margin on which he hopes Convoy can operate. Loadsmart’s Diego Urrutia echoes Lewis’ contention that a tech-enabled brokerage out to be able to operate on a 5-10 percent margin, rather than the more typical 10-20 percent in traditional brokerage. Such operations’ ultimate hope, and selling point to both shippers and carriers, is that the difference can be passed on to both sides in improved revenue/income.

What’s more likely, suggests Texas-based broker Arrive Logistics CEO Matt Pyatt, is that such claims may be little more than PR, adding however that “it’s an unknown how this marketplace ultimately plays out.”

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Rather, more automated brokers, as Barry Conlon has suggested in his thoughts on tech adoption by traditional brokerages, will increasingly put pressure on traditional counterparts to compete at their margin level if players are to survive long-term.

The whole phenomenon of on-demand services, for Pyatt, ultimately, is “kind of a distraction in some ways, for people involved in the day-to-day.” The newer players in the brokerage world are “very powerful though a P.R. lens, making many in the business think they’ll be the only ones out there to succeed” at what they’re doing, moving the traditional business more and more into one based on advanced technology. “But that’s just not the case.”

Arrive, operating in a lot of ways traditionally, has doubled its size in the last couple of years, using the DAT Keypoint TMS and working on custom tech solutions for the small fleets it works hard for as a kind of outside sales agent, keeping them loaded. “Fair pricing, great technology,” Pyatt says. Have those, and any brokerage “will continue to remain relevant, even with all these marketplaces popping up.”