The Wall Street Journal Logistics report,
FedEx’s Retail Limits; Freight Trains from China
New distribution strategies retailers are undertaking to survive the coronavirus pandemic are triggering turmoil in parcel-delivery networks. FedEx Corp. has started to limit the number of items that several big stores including Kohl’s Corp. can ship from certain locations, the WSJ’s Paul Ziobro reports, as the carrier tries to prevent its network from being overwhelmed by sharp swings in the flow of goods. FedEx’s action highlights the strains on parcel operations as consumers have rushed to e-commerce while sheltering at home. Retailers are responding by turning their stores into makeshift warehouses, scrambling the normal flow of online shipments from distribution centers to homes. FedEx compares the limits to its holiday peak-season operations. But the company and other parcel carriers may have to change their operations over the long term if retailers and consumers like the shopping and fulfillment practice and keep it going after the pandemic.
The burgeoning freight rail corridor connecting China to Europe is getting a coronavirus-driven boost in demand. Growing numbers of shippers are moving to the core element of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the WSJ’s Trefor Moss reports, as rising prices and disruptions in ocean and air transport have companies turning to trains. China Railway Corp., which operates the trains in China, says it ran 976 trips in April, up 47% from last year. The trains carried the equivalent of the capacity of four of the world’s largest container ships. Shenzhen-based logistics company Chinatrans International says new customers are coming in “desperate” because airfreight prices have been soaring and container shipping lines are cutting sailings. The rail services have bulked up capacity in the meantime, giving the transport initiative a new audience among clothing suppliers and auto-parts companies that could last beyond the pandemic.
The robots may be getting ready to help with social distancing in stores. Grocer Koninklijke Ahold Delhaize NV is accelerating development of a robotic arm because Covid-19 created an urgent need for technology to help workers clean stores and process orders. The WSJ’s Catherine Stupp writes that researchers in the Netherlands are testing the technology, which could be rolled across company operations that include stores in Europe and the U.S. It’s a sign of how some companies appear to be stepping up automation efforts as as they adjust to the economic pressures of the coronavirus pandemic. Ahold Delhaize’s robotic arm is the latest attempt to solve the robotics logistics challenge over how to handle different goods with a wide variety of shapes and textures. The research group’s artificial intelligence team is focusing on improving the robotic arm’s ability to identify and hold different products like fruits without damaging them.
By Paul Page, The Wall Street Journal