Once upon a time, Black Friday marked the end of the retail freight season. Those days are gone, though, and we’re now in the thick of it.
E-commerce marked the end of the traditional retail freight season. While brick and mortar stores still need to have their shelves stocked before Black Friday, the online activity that fuels a larger and larger portion of truckload demand every year will continue right up until Christmas and even on into the first week or two of January, when people are cashing in their gift cards or sending returns.
The activity on the DAT Load Board shows how the new freight trends play out.
DAT load boards provide the largest and most trusted digital freight marketplace in the trucking industry, with more than 279 million loads and trucks posted annually, plus insights into current spot market and contract rates based on $57 billion in real transactions.
Retail season typically signals a shift in the equipment needed by shippers. We usually look at the load-to-truck ratio as a way to gauge how hot demand is for freight – the number of load post divided by truck posts.
Flatbed is in the slow season, so the ratio sank from 18.5 to 15.9 loads per truck last week. Demand for reefer trucks has also softened with Thanksgiving in the rearview, which is why the reefer ratio dropped from 7.5 to 6.2 (that’ll edge back up when we get closer to Christmas).
Meanwhile, the dry van ratio surged in the opposite direction, jumping up 21% last week to 6.4 loads per truck. Peak season is coming.
The freight markets aren't as tight as they were around this time last year, mostly because everyone has had a year to adjust to ELDs. Shippers are also trying harder to avoid the spot market this year after the big spikes in rates during the holidays last year, so we don't expect prices to hit quite as high this time around.
Still, rates rose on 78 of the top 100 van lanes last week.
All rates below include fuel surcharges and are based on real transactions between brokers and carriers.
Big increases on lanes into the Northeast and eastern Midwest, plus other key retail lanes:
- Buffalo to Allentown, Pa, up 38¢ to $3.69/mile
- Columbus to Allentown, up 23¢ to $3.37/mile
- Atlanta to Philadelphia, up 30¢ to $2.41/mile
- Memphis to Columbus, up 20¢ to $2.33/mile
- Chicago to Detroit, up 22¢ to $3.46/mile
Most markets were up. Some, like Los Angeles, were flat, mostly because they were already trending up before last week. The biggest drop was on the lane from L.A. to Denver, down 16¢ to $3.44/mile, which is still a high rate.