DHL customer survey provides wide-ranging look at U.S. customers’ business priorities

More than 100,000 United States-based customers polled by express delivery and logistics services provider DHL offered up their insights for various business priorities for this year, including things like business priorities, the international trade relations outlook, the prime regions for international growth, and technology innovations, among others.

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More than 100,000 United States-based customers polled by express delivery and logistics services provider offered up their insights for various business priorities for this year, including things like business priorities, the international trade relations outlook, the prime regions for international growth, and technology innovations, among others.

Data for DHL’s 2017 Customer Survey was distributed to the company’s U.S. customers shortly after the Presidential Election in November.

The survey’s lead question focused on which global market was a top priority for the respondents’ businesses in 2017, with Asia leading the pack at 33.28%, followed by Europe at 27.55 percent.

Eugene Laney, head of international trade affairs with DHL Express, told LM that DHL’s U.S. customers continue to see a lot of interest in Asia, especially on the manufacturing front in that they want certain Asian companies to make their products, which they then sell globally and integrated into their international supply chain.

“The other part is something that is not necessarily emerging but becoming more important as some of these Asian economies grow,” he said. “For many U.S. companies, impediments like trade barriers are preventing them from gaining access to these markets and taking advantage of the growing middle class in places like China and Vietnam and even hopes of gaining more access to the Japanese market. Australia is also one of the fastest growing markets for e-commerce, too. And India also offers enormous opportunities for U.S. companies to sell into as well. There is interest from a selling perspective in terms of making goods and then integrating them back into other parts of the world.”

Laney noted that DHL is seeing a fair amount of goods coming back into the U.S. and then being sold back out of the U.S., adding that is continuing to grow and remains steady.

But looking ahead, he said it is likely to see more of selling into other areas, such as disaster relief efforts in India and governments within Asian communities, as well as consumer-based efforts, too.

Not surprisingly, e-commerce received a fair amount of attention in the survey, with 57.39% of respondents viewing it as a top area to drive 2017 sales.

“We have seen enormous growth with this,” said Laney. “If you look at many of our top customers going back 3-to-5 years ago, you are seeing emerging large e-commerce companies, with a traditional power like Amazon, re-sellers, and others providing warehouse and logistics capabilities for those individuals that want to purchase goods outside of the U.S. and then have it consolidated in the U.S. and sent back to them. They are looking to gain access to the products and services they don’t have in their own countries in places like Australia and China, and Germany. Those are tremendous markets that U.S.-based e-commerce companies are focusing on in terms of getting goods over there to take advantage of this demand. And with the growth of mobile commerce, with more access to mobile phones, it makes things easier for consumers to gain access to a lot of these products and services on the Internet and you see companies creating platforms that really target a lot of mobile purchases.”

And for traditional big box retailers, Laney said they are focused on creating better e-commerce platforms, and doing a mix of creating stores where people can do returns, or reverse logistics, which is commonly viewed as one of the biggest challenges of e-commerce. DHL, he said, has taken on an active role on this front in helping customers to facilitate returns.

Looking at technology innovations as they relate to trade they would like to see more developed for widespread use, survey nearly half of survey respondents cited online as the biggest driver, specifically online streamlined customs documentation requirements and procedures. Others receiving attention more objects and appliances connected through the Internet of Things, self-driving cars and delivery vehicles, drone, delivery, and robotics driven by big data technologies.

Laney cited DHL’s partnership with small and medium sized businesses through the Department of Commerce on all information needed and required to ship, including proper descriptions, how to take advantage of a free trade agreement, what they need to know about the country goods are being sent to, the security requirements around that, among others.

“That type of information is critical, because if you don’t have a license, for example, for a good that is prohibited in a particular country and the good is shipped over there, nine time out of ten, that good won’t come back, as it may be seized so it is very important to know what you are shipping, where and you are shipping it to,” he said. “That type of information is very important, whether you are a large shipper or a small business.”

And the U.S. CBP’s Automated Commercial Environment Single Window for submitting Customs information for sending goods across the U.S. border helps top create an integrated import and export process between countries, where everyone can submit the same data in one place and get the same approval in a seamless manner.  Laney pointed to the World Trade Organization moving closer to ratifying a trade facilitation agreement that includes language that seeks to create a sort of single window for every country to submit their trade information once to get approval across the board.

“That would change trade dramatically and reduce some of the impediments that exist now for getting a good from, say, from the U.S. to Vietnam, that is secure and sufficient,” he said.

The final topic covered in the survey focused on sustainability, with a focus on what international shipping sustainability measure is most important.

Sustainability sourced and recycled packaging materials received 8.41% of respondents, which was followed by cleaner emissions for transport at 6.07%.

Packaging was cited by Laney as an example on the sender side of how returns with the same box can be used repeatedly, rather than using different boxes. On the receiver side, he said re-using boxes can be viewed as an option for the same purpose.

“People are finding creative ways to address and make it easier to ship goods and meet sustainability goals at the same time, too,” Laney said. “We are also seeing more examples of reducing the size of some of the boxes being used for smaller goods. There was a time when something as small as a watch was being used in a large box, which is a waste of space and can impact fuel costs. We are seeing more companies working with shippers and receivers in ways to reduce the size of boxes and address sustainability issues, as well as the convenience of having a way of getting rid of boxes or reusing them. Packaging is one example.”  


About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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