Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Load boards are broken — fixing them is critical

Ghost loads. Bait-and-switch posts with inaccurate origin and destination information. Double brokers. Carriers of last resort with questionable credentials and safety records.

These are just a few of the structural issues that introduce friction into trucking load boards and undermine the integrity of the data derived from them.

Load boards for the trucking spot market were an important innovation decades ago when the trucking industry was changing rapidly in the wake of deregulation. Capacity was fragmenting and there were more small carriers and owner-operators than ever before, creating a need for new marketplaces that allowed many carriers to connect with reaggregated spot volume. 

As the freight brokerage industry grew during the first two decades of the 2000s, spot markets became even more important in indicating the direction of the broader market. Spot rates ultimately derived from load board activity and self-reporting began to drive the equity valuations of publicly traded trucking carriers. Yet at the same time, the brokers and carriers transacting in the load boards were developing sophisticated techniques to game the marketplace for their own purposes. 

Not only is it not uncommon, but it’s become standard operating procedure at many large brokerages to post loads to multiple load boards to ensure the maximum number of carriers sees it. But brokers rarely take down the postings after the load is covered through one of those boards, leading to “ghost loads” that are posted but unavailable, skewing volume statistics in the board and wasting carriers’ time. 

On the other hand, carriers are often not what they seem. The minimal amount of information that most load boards require from their carriers allows deceptive brokers to pose as carriers, who then secretly farm out the freight to yet another — even cheaper — carrier. The double-broker problem has mushroomed into a systemic issue that saps broker productivity, degrades the service shippers experience and helps put unqualified and arguably dangerous carriers on the highway. 

But the largest load boards, which charge a fee per posted load, are disincentivized from cleaning up their marketplaces. The load boards are chasing transactional revenue and need constant volume growth — or at least the appearance of volume — to keep the carriers engaged in the marketplace. 

“The technology hasn’t caught up to the sophistication of the marketplace participants,” said John Tozer, co-founder and COO at Newtrul, a digital freight marketplace. “One of the best examples is Craigslist. It comes in and it’s incredibly convenient, a great way to get information out. People start using it and gaming it, leveraging it to rob people and move stolen goods. The issues are very similar, I think, to some of these digitized marketplaces.”

There are a couple of approaches to tackling load boards. The one that’s probably seen the widest adoption so far is the private freight marketplaces launched by brokerages and 3PLs. In that model, a freight brokerage builds a load board that only carriers it has already onboarded can use — and there might even be a volume or service threshold required to gain access. But private freight marketplaces sacrifice convenience for trust. In each marketplace, carriers are dealing with one broker at a time, and many have to log in to multiple apps or web portals in order to see the volume offered by all the brokers they typically work with.

Newtrul, founded in 2018 by Ed Stockman, who serves as CEO, and Tozer, is taking the other approach: a centralized, reaggregated capacity marketplace that’s nonetheless optimized for integrity and carrier quality by multiple compliance layers. Rather than error- and deceit-ridden manual load postings, Newtrul integrates directly with broker and carrier transportation management systems, pulling not just loads but also important information about carriers, like their active/inactive status and whether they’re on a do-not-use list. Live integrations with compliance partners allow Newtrul to automatically deny access to carriers with lapses in their operating authority or insurance.

“We only invite carriers that have seven customers they’ve passed compliance with,” Tozer said. “A couple of marketplace studies brought us to that number seven. Once you have that type of overlap, while you can’t guarantee anything, there’s a very high confidence that it’s a good carrier. It has the number of assets it says it has [and] they do move freight.”

Tozer explained that while private freight marketplaces appear to be a good deal for brokerages — because they create a captive audience of carriers and streamline the process of connecting to capacity compared to multiple load boards — they don’t work as well as they’re purported to. Sixty-percent of freight brokers’ loads, according to Tozer, are covered with newly setup carriers. It can cost a freight brokerage $100 to set up a new carrier, which decimates net revenue dollars per load, especially in a soft market.

“What we sell to brokers is reutilization of their current network,” Tozer said. “We offer them the trust and convenience they’re looking for in a market place, and that allows them to drive down their own cost to procure capacity.”

Tozer hinted that Newtrul has a plan in the works for an even larger consortium of enterprise shippers, brokers and carriers to help power a platform with higher integrity and credibility than anything else currently available in the trucking industry.

The post Load boards are broken — fixing them is critical appeared first on FreightWaves.

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