2021 Logistics Trends: Top 7 Things Moving Supply Chains

In 2019, we published an original research study that covered how businesses were blending technology and human expertise in modern logistics operations. 

In 2021, we updated the results.

Get the key takeaways from the supply chain automation research study in this infographic.

Want a PDF of this infographic? Download your copy now.

Here are the top logistics trends in 2021, according to over 850 global supply chain decision-makers.

7 logistics trends for 2021: how COVID-19 changed supply chains over the past 2 years.2021 Supply Chain Trend 1: you can't automate everything, and shippers favored 3% more human interaction versus 2 years ago.2021 Supply Chain Trend 2: Supply chain leaders agree to disagree, with one-third favoring people, one-third favoring automation, one-third favoring both.2021 Supply Chain Trend 3: multi-channel communication is now the new normal.2021 Supply Chain Trend 4: supply chain leaders have a hard time figuring out what to do with data2021 Supply Chain Trend 5: business are spending less on technology systems, with a 20% drop in TMS usage2021 Supply Chain Trend 6: fast and free shipping is taking it's toll2021 Supply Chain Trend 6: shippers are outsourcing, with larger businesses 37% more likely to outsource logisticsThe biggest supply chain trend in 2021 is balancing people and technology: "both" is the most commonly selected answer.

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Top Logistics Trends for 2021: 7 Things for Shippers to Know

Shipping freight in the modern world was already difficult — then COVID-19 hit.

But logistics professionals persevered to keep global supply chains running.

How did the trials of the last year change shipping trends for the future?  

Pre-Pandemic: In 2019, we asked hundreds of supply chain leaders how they balance technology & people in their operations.

Post-Pandemic: In 2021, we asked them again. 

Here are the top logistics trends for 2021, according to 500 global supply chain leaders.

1. You can’t automate everything.

Though the pandemic forced digital transformation in a way we never thought possible, supply chain leaders actually shifted their ideal balance towards more human expertise (3%, to be exact).

When the going got tough, it’s people — not automation — that made the difference.

Q: What is the ideal balance between technology & people in your supply chain operations? 

2019: 61% technology / 39% human

2021: 58% technology / 42% human

 

2. Supply chain leaders agree to disagree.

When asked whether they think people, technology or combination produce the best results across 16 logistics tasks, supply chain leaders were split.

There was no clear consensus on the single best approach — the closest task to a majority opinion was Communicating with Customers, with 45% of respondents preferring people.

Q: Which produces the best results — people, technology or both?
(Average across 16 logistics tasks)

  • People: 28%
  • Technology: 35%
  • Both: 37%

 

3. The Zoom-era changed the way supply chains communicate.

In 2019, supply chain leaders showed a strong preference for people in communications tasks.

In 2021, they are much more comfortable with relying on a combination of people and technology.

Q: For communication tasks, which produces the best results — people, technology or both?
(2021 vs. 2019)

Communication with customers:
people (-9.5%) / technology (-2.0%) / both (+12.5%)

Communication with 3PLs:
people (-18.5%) / technology (+5.0%) / both (+13.5%)

 

4. Supply chains are drowning in data.

Supply chains have never been more connected, but they are creating more data than people can make sense of.

Q: When it comes to technology, what is your top challenge?

#1 overall: Analyzing data to get meaningful insights

To get help, supply chain leaders are turning to more technology.

Q: For data analysis, which produces the best results — people, technology or both?
2021 vs. 2019

people (-13.5%) / technology (+10%) / both (+3.5%)

 

5. Businesses are going digital on a budget.

While many businesses have invested in core supply chain technology platforms, many have not.

In fact, businesses are 20% more likely, on average, to rely on manual or homegrown solutions than two years ago.

 

Q: Do you use the following supply chain technology platforms?

Transportation management system (TMS)

  • Companies Using in 2019: 92%
  • Companies Using in 2021: 72%

Warehouse management system (WMS)

  • Companies Using in 2019: 87%
  • Companies Using in 2021: 75%

Fleet management system

  • Companies Using in 2019: 90%
  • Companies Using in 2021: 71%

RFP management/eSourcing platform

  • Companies Using in 2019: 92%
  • Companies Using in 2021: 62%

 

6. Free shipping isn’t free.

Free, two-day shipping has become an industry standard.

Though it may be great for consumers, it puts extreme pressure on supply chains everywhere, extending far beyond e-commerce companies.

Q: What are your top challenges?

  1. Keeping costs under control
  2. Keeping up with industry/customer demands (better, faster, cheaper)

 

7. It’s OK to ask for help.

With the rate of change getting faster and faster, supply chain leaders are looking outside their organizations for help.

  • On average, businesses are outsourcing 16% of supply chain tasks to 3rd parties.
  • Shippers with over $199 million in revenue are 37% more likely to outsource than their smaller counterparts.

 

Technology & People — It’s All about the Balance.

One thing was clear for supply chain leaders in all regions, business sizes and industries: they don’t want automation or people — they want both.

Q: Which produces the best results — people, technology or both?
(Most likely choice, average across 16 logistics tasks)

  • 2019 Winner: BOTH
  • 2021 Winner: BOTH

Any supply chain that does not include a healthy balance of digital solutions combined human expertise from logistics professionals is not going to cut it.

Start balancing your own supply chain by benchmarking with insights from the full research study.

Download The Full Study

 

Need help striking the right balance in your supply chain?

Every business’s situation is different — rely on 15 years of logistics expertise combined with proprietary technology to find what’s right for you.

Whether you need a dedicated team of logistics specialists, insight into capacity planning, or access to a free digital freight platform, Coyote can help.

Get an instant freight quote or contact a freight specialist to learn more about how we can help drive your business forward.

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