It's November, and you know what that means…holiday shipping madness is already well underway. What does that mean for freight shipping times and rates?
Freight shipping, including both Less-than-Truckload (LTL) and Full Truckload (FTL) carriers, goes through a predictable calendar each year that is dependent on seasonal variations in supply and demand. These variations in the availability of freight carriers vs. the total volume of freight being shipped cause fluctuations in LTL and FTL shipping rates.
The Freight Shipping Calendar
The freight shipping calendar can be divided into four general seasons.
- Peak Season runs from mid-August through mid-October as retailers rush to get goods distributed ahead of the holiday shopping season. This is the busiest time of year for most LTL and FTL carriers. As demand spikes, carrier space becomes scarcer and prices rise.
- The Holiday Season runs from late October through the end of December. While the bulk of holiday retail shipments have arrived at retails stores and local warehouses by now, shipping volumes remain high through the holidays as retailers and small businesses rush to get last minute shipments out before the December holidays. This is an especially busy time for UPS, FedEx and USPS as they fulfill ecommerce orders from holiday shoppers. LTL carriers may also have their hands full as businesses make last minute shipments to fulfill higher-than-expected demand in pockets of the country. Beyond the December holiday rush, there is also increased urgency by some shippers to offload inventory to its final destination before the end of the calendar year for tax purposes. At the same time, there may be somewhat decreased freight capacity at this time of the year as some truckers take time off with their families.
- The Quiet Season, from January through March, offers a respite from the hustle and bustle of the holidays and the grueling peak season. This is the quietest time of the year in the shipping industry. In early January, retailers are focused on getting rid of excess inventory already in stores rather than stocking up with new things. Road conditions may not be favorable for freight shipping in some parts of the country. Volume picks up gradually over these months as retailers get ready for spring. With low freight shipment volumes, there is usually plenty of availability for LTL and FTL carriers during this time.
- During the Produce Season, from April through July, many carriers shift their focus to transporting fresh produce from farmlands to grocery stores and regional warehouses across the country. Because produce is perishable, delivery times are tighter, and shippers are willing to pay a premium for guaranteed deliveries. Many carriers prefer to carry produce loads because they are more profitable, tightening capacity and raising rates for non-produce shippers during this time. The impact on local availability and rates can vary widely in different parts of the country depending on how much each region is impacted by produce delivery.
Understanding the four seasons of the freight shipping calendar can help shippers avoid delays and keeps costs under control. Now is a great time to start planning your shipping strategy for 2019.