During the height of the pandemic, as labor shortages due to COVID-19-related shutdowns were impacting ports worldwide, consumer e-commerce ordering ballooned. It only made sense. What else were quarantined consumers going to do? This, of course, created lasting pain points in the supply chain. (If you don’t remember, ask anyone who ordered furniture in 2020 what it was like.)
When the logistics disruptions cleared somewhat, and goods started flowing once again through the West Coast ports, retailers took a full accounting of what had happened. E-commerce sales had remarkably compressed a decade of growth in just three quarters. That astounding e-commerce growth led to such disruption – clogged lines of trucks waiting to get into ports to pick up cargo and a lack of chassis at the ports, among the issues. The most visible instance of supply chain friction may have been ocean carriers at anchor off the coast of Los Angeles, waiting for 12 days or more to dock. Some containers didn’t even make it that far, with shippers finding their goods far from where they needed to be, their containers misallocated across continents. Shippers soon found that reallocation could take up to 45 days.
The supply chain status quo during and after the pandemic was characterized by fluctuating port volumes and operational disruptions. West Coast ports were clogged with cargo, forcing shippers to reevaluate shipping routes and shift some cargo to East Coast ports like Savannah and New York. At the height of the activity, more than 1 million TEUs had shifted from West Coast ports to the East and Gulf coasts. Now, the maritime industry is finally starting to see a notable shift back to the West Coast. This is once again causing operational issues and routing difficulties.
Shippers can avoid port shifting difficulties and create predictability in their supply chain by working with an ocean container visibility technology partner. Ocean container tracking shouldn’t stop at the ports. The best technology providers can empower shippers with intermodal visibility, enhancing end-to-end supply chain oversight. Increasing dynamics and complexity of trade necessitate a change in software infrastructure. Up to seven stakeholders need data for each container trip. Supply chain optimization and automation rely on rich, timely data.
“Where is my shipment and when will it arrive?” has become “Where is my shipment, and how can I get it back on track?”
As Port Volumes Realign, Shippers Struggle to Maintain Operational Efficiency
Ocean cargo volumes shifted to ports on the East and Gulf coasts during and after the pandemic for various reasons. Port congestion on the West Coast was a major concern for shippers who needed to get their goods into the country's interior on time. Later, concern about labor action on the West Coast, with unionized workers threatening to go on strike, also contributed to the preference for alternate routes. In late 2022, industry experts even predicted that the shift east would become permanent. That was in September, when the busiest ports in the U.S. were New York-New Jersey, Savannah, and Charleston. Shippers moved east despite the added transit time; docking at East Coast and Gulf Coast ports just made better business sense.
A year later, ocean cargo volumes are returning to the West Coast. Shippers that use ocean container tracking solutions may have been able to anticipate this shift before less technologically savvy stakeholders. These shippers have formed adaptive strategies to maintain operational efficiency as volumes shift from east to west. The data generated by visibility solutions enables shippers to create more resilient supply chains that can more easily adapt to seismic shifts in the maritime industry. Through analysis of ocean container tracking data, shippers not only know the optimal routes for their cargo, but they can also react to supply chain disruptions due to labor actions, weather, or congestion. Ultimately, whatever the port of call, shippers want to avoid shipment delays and get their cargo where it needs to go when it needs to get there.
Leveraging Container Tracking in a Dynamic Market
Real-time ocean container tracking provides transparency and control in a dynamic maritime market. In addition to giving shippers the ability to better collaborate with carrier partners, market-leading supply chain visibility software cuts down on the time spent manually tracking and tracing shipments. When manual tracking goes out the window, so do the errors that inevitably accompany manual-entry tasks. Shippers who know where their shipments are in real time also save money on detention and demurrage fees at ports because they can better optimize each container’s movement from land to sea.
The right ocean shipping visibility technology can be a game-changer for shippers navigating the uncertainties that plague international trade. Supply chain visibility technology, provided through API connections, is a must-have for shippers operating in today’s complex supply chain. Not all providers are created equal, and shippers in this dynamic maritime market must choose a technology provider that will serve them well for the long haul. Visibility is no longer a nice to have or a competitive advantage, and shippers that don’t have a real-time view of their supply chain are missing out on opportunities and are at risk of getting mired down in supply chain congestion.
3 Strategies to Optimize Maritime Operations with Ocean Container Tracking
As the flow of goods shifts back to West Coast ports and activity at LA/Long Beach and other facilities once again ramps up, shippers with a real-time window into their ocean cargo can better optimize the lifecycle of their shipments.
Technology can help shippers implement these three essential ocean shipping strategies:
Don't Stop Visibility at the Port
What good is impeccable visibility during the ocean voyage if that same transparency isn’t carried through to the rail and drayage providers that bring cargo into the interior of the country? Encountering a blind spot once goods are unloaded off the ship is an easy way to derail an otherwise optimized supply chain. And with more and more activity on the West Coast, it’s more important than ever to keep a close eye on shipments to ensure they don’t fall victim to rising levels of supply chain congestion.
Tracking beyond the port enhances end-to-end supply chain visibility. Vizion tracks cargo throughout the North American Class I railroad system with one request, seamlessly uniting ocean and rail shipment transparency. Shippers always receive the latest and most up-to-date information through direct connections to these carriers as their shipments move toward their final destinations.
Use Clean Data to Ensure Carrier Actionability
Shippers can use ocean container tracking data for actionable insights that lead to better decision-making and planning. But only if the data is precise, clean, and in a standardized format. Real-time ETAs and detailed routing data triggered by geofenced locations give shippers complete control of their supply chain. The best transportation technology providers empower shippers with data from multiple redundant sources. Vizion mixes EDI and API messages from carriers with AIS information and data from ports, terminals, and Class I railways for the most accurate, clear shipment visibility. This broad use of shipment messaging ensures that every container event is captured and available. That means complete transparency for the shipper and full accountability for carrier partners.
Constantly Monitor Port Health and Congestion
Shipment planning and route optimization are made easier with accurate port “temperature checks.” It’s invaluable to know the efficiency of port operations in real time, including a historical look at seasonal performance. It’s the only way to make informed decisions about the optimal entry into the United States. If the health of ports on the West Coast suddenly declines, shippers monitoring port congestion can begin routing their goods elsewhere to avoid unnecessary delays. Comprehensive port-to-port performance data contributes to strategic decision-making, and Vizion’s Port Performance Data Set makes that strategic decision-making a reality.
Vizion Ocean Container Tracking Optimizes Shipping
Real-time visibility providers have flooded the market in the past few years, so shippers must carefully investigate their options before choosing a technology partner. Only Vizion provides ocean container tracking that gives shippers control in a dynamic maritime market. Vizion provides real-time ocean visibility from various sources so shippers get an accurate, complete picture of their supply chain. However, the technology goes beyond port-to-port transparency to deliver true end-to-end visibility into each shipment. Shippers use this look at their supply chain on a micro level to better plan future shipments, react to supply chain congestion and other disruptions, and take advantage of shipping opportunities. True shipment visibility also eliminates time-consuming manual tasks, saving companies money while driving down errors.
Vizion provides a 360-degree, detailed view of the shipment lifecycle, empowering shippers with pinpoint supply chain visibility. Book a demo to see Vizion’s APIs in action.