As the Sharing Economy Goes B-to-B, Will Reusable Packaging Shine?


cargomaticIn a fulfillment center not too far from here, a operations supervisor looks at a stack of plastic pallets she wants off the loading dock. She doesn’t know where those pallets belong, and she doesn’t particularly care.

Not too long ago, that stack would have been moved a handful of times, before gathering dust in a back corner of the facility. But now things are different. With her smartphone, she taps her Bring Us Back! App and snaps a picture of the offenders. She immediately gets a ping. An accredited driver will arrive within 20 minutes to take them back to their owner.  No extra moves, off the dock, and back to the original owner. The cost of replacement is avoided while reinforcing a low cost per use.

This scenario is fictitious, but probably not for long. The world has exploded with Uber or AirBnB-inspired models for consumer products and services, notes Joel Makower in State of Green Business: The sharing economy goes B-to-B. He believes, however, it may all be “child’s play when compared to the fast-growing, business-to-business world of monetizing underused assets. Indeed, some believe revenue from the B-to-B sharing (or collaborative) economy soon could eclipse the consumer version.”

Container or pallet pooling, of course, is a collaborative B-to-B concept that has been practiced for decades.

Now, there are a number of newer B-to-B sharing models to help reduce logistics inefficiencies.  Cargomatic is a service which leverages smartphone technology to help shippers find trucks, connecting truck drivers with available freight. In the process, truckers can eliminate empty miles and generate revenue. Makower also notes Convoy, ShipHawkand uShip as service providers that can match shippers with carriers in the LTL space while DashHaul and Transfix are similar to Cargomatic. And of course for local, same-day-delivery, there is UberCARGO.

For Makower, the key differentiator in the new approach is “the ability to use mobile apps (or web browsers) to order up exactly what you need quickly, affordably and with minimal effort — frictionless commerce, in the argot of digital business. Eliminating human intermediaries — salespeople, brokers, and others — also makes such transactions simple, compelling and less expensive.”

The result of using digital platforms to share services should be better asset utilization, greater efficiency, cost savings, and convenience. While reusables are just a whisper of the logistics conversation, it will be interesting to see how such platforms can help improve reusable packaging logistics in areas such as promoting faster turns, eliminating complexity, and lowering costs.