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b2ap3_thumbnail_Truckload-logos.jpgThe truckload sector of the freight industry is different from the LTL and small parcel segments in one important respect. Unlike the other two segments, anyone who can buy or finance the purchase of a tractor-trailer unit and drive the rig, can enter the industry. Freed from the requirement to build cross-dock facilities and/or buy sorting machines, the barriers to entry are low and there are thousands of truckload carriers throughout North America. Nevertheless, the industry has had its challenges over the last couple of years.

Revenues Dropped in 2015 and 2016

Here are links to the top 100 carriers in the United States (http://resources.inboundlogistics.com/digital/trucking_top100_chart_0916.pdf ) and Canada (http://www.todaystrucking.com/top100 ). The top 50 truckload carriers in the United States are listed in the March 20, 2017 issue of the Journal of Commerce. Altogether, the combined revenue of the Top 25 Truckload Carriers dropped 1 percent last year, to $26.9 billion, after falling 2.3 percent, to $27.1 billion, in 2015.

Swift Transportation, Schneider National, J.B. Hunt Transportation Services, Landstar System and Crete are the five largest US based carriers; TFI (formerly TransForce International), Mullen Group, TransX, Trimac Group and Bison Transport are Canada’s largest truckload carriers. It should be noted that TFI now derives roughly 50% of its revenues from the United States.

Revenue declined last year at 15 of the companies on The Journal of Commerce’s Top 25 US Truckload Carriers rankings, according to SJ Consulting Group, which prepared the data. That’s an improvement compared to 2015, when revenue fell at 19 companies. As an indicator of the weakness in pricing last year, the Cass Truckload Linehaul Index, a measure of truckload pricing excluding fuel surcharges, turned negative in March 2016 and declined for 11 straight months.

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Last week I wrote about the consolidation that is taking place in the freight transportation industry in Canada. Thank you for the many positive comments and feedback. I hope the blog has stimulated some thought about the level of competition in the industry, in view of its domination by some very large players.

One of my longstanding colleagues in the industry, who runs an independent transportation operation in Canada, reminded me that there are a range of very fine companies that compete with the industry giants. As a follow-up to last week’s blog, I thought I would provide an overview of the competition in each sector.

As a starting point, I went back over the top 100 for hire fleets in 2016 as published in Today’s Trucking. They range from Canada’s largest trucking fleet, TFI (TransForce International) with over 26,000 pieces of equipment and almost 25,000 employees to the 100th largest company, Transport Matte, with 321 pieces of equipment and 135 employees. It should be noted that there is a steep falloff after you go from TFI to even the second-place carrier, Mullen Group, that has 13, 645 pieces of equipment and 4410 employees. Clearly, TFI is in a class by itself with not just the most trucks but with by far the largest number of fleets under one roof.

The other big fleets highlighted in the previous blog (i.e. Manitoulin, Day & Ross, Mullen) have also grown disproportionately large through a combination of organic growth and/or acquisition. A glance through the top 100 list displays a range of companies, large and small. So let’s take a look at the major freight transport sectors in Canada.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_dreamstime_xl_36296918.jpgIt was sad to read that Meyers Transport, a Canadian motor carrier that has served the needs of shippers in Ontario for 90 years, closed its doors on January 20. Meyer’s Transport has been one of those “salt of the earth” family run businesses that has been a part of the Canadian trucking scene for almost a century. This news caused me to reflect on the changes taking place in the Canadian freight industry.

The Meyers closing comes very shortly after the news that TFI (TransForce International) had acquired National Fast Freight in late December. TFI has been consolidating Canada’s east-west intermodal business through the acquisitions of Clarke Transport, Vitran and the Quiktrax division of QuikX. It should be noted that Clarke Transport and Vitran were the product of various consolidations over the years (i.e. TNT Railfast, CSR and Cottrell Transport in the case of Clarke). While there have been a few new entrants to this segment of the industry over the past 20 years (i.e. Quiktrax, M0 Freightworks), the number of independent players has been shrinking.

If one steps back and looks at the entire LTL sector of the Canadian freight industry, it is clear how much consolidation has taken place during this period. TFI now owns TST Overland Express, Kingsway Transport, QuikX Transportation, Concord, Tripar Transportation in addition to Clarke Transport, NFF, Vitran, Quiktrax and a host of smaller players. In Western Canada, the Mullen Group has acquired the Gardewine Group, Grimshaw Trucking, the Highway 9 Group of Companies, Jay’s Transportation, the Kleysen Group and other smaller companies, each of which has LTL operations. The Manitoulin Group has also been active in acquiring LTL carriers. Over the past few years, it has purchased the LTL business of Penner International, Smooth Freight, Jomac Transport, the LTL division of Highway 13 and Ridsdale Transport.

Of course, there has been consolidation in other segments of the Canadian transportation industry. TFI made big news a few years ago, by acquiring the Contrans Group that it added to its diverse portfolio of purchased truckload carriers. More recently it acquired the truckload operations of XPO logistics. Canada’s other major transportation companies have also been active in acquiring truckload carriers. In the small parcel sector, TFI owns Canpar, Dynamex and Loomis.

There have also been some big changes in Canada’s logistics service provider industry. Radiant Logistics of Bellevue Washington purchased the Wheels Group last year and in December of 2016, Transplace of Dallas Texas acquired Lakeside Logistics. Two of Canada’s leading freight management companies are now under American ownership. Clearly there has been much consolidation in the traditional sectors of Canada’s freight industry - - - small parcel, LTL, truckload and third party logistics.

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Here are the top stories in freight transportation that caught my attention over the past year.

The Tepid Economy

The North American economies underperformed the global economy and the economies of emerging markets in 2016. Business investment, a key driver of the economy, was down in 2016, driven in large part by the big drop in fortunes of the oil and gas industry. Consumer spending and employment levels remained solid in the United States and somewhat less so in Canada. US manufacturing activity increased.

US imports began an uptick as did US imports of Canadian goods, driven in part by the strong US dollar and drop in the value of the Canadian dollar. Auto manufacturing remained strong in Canada but resource and activity in other sectors remained weak. The strong US dollar depressed export activity. Overall it was a sub-par year for the American and Canadian economies. As a result, demand for over the road truckload, intermodal and LTL service was soft in 2016.

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This is the sixth and final blog in this series on surface freight transportation within Canada and between Canada and the United States. In this blog I will focus on tips for carriers to help achieve success in the Canadian freight market.

Is the Canadian Freight Market Worth the Investment?

As outlined in the first blog in this series, Canada is a large country, from a geographic perspective, with a population about the size of the state of California. The first question that any American carrier should ask is whether or not Canada is worth the investment in time and resources. As outlined through this series of blogs, when dealing with Canada, there is much to learn about Canadian laws, customs clearance, exchange rates and a host of other issues. Is serving the Canadian market of strategic importance to your company or would another US market (or foreign market) be more profitable? If there is value in the Canadian market, there are a series of steps that need to be undertaken.

Educate yourself on your Canadian freight activity and Canadian carriers

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The last blog in this series examined road and rail transportation within Canada; this blog will focus cross-border freight transportation. Please note that there are a set of processes and procedures (http://www.dantranscon.com/index.php/blog?view=entry&id=241 ) that must be followed in order to move goods successfully between the United States and Canada. Please refer to the second blog in this series for details.

LTL Service

It should first be noted that only a small number of American LTL carriers have a network of terminals across Canada. Con-Way, FedEx Freight, YRC Reimer and ABF service the major points in Central and Western Canada. They work with interline carriers to service the remaining points in each province and territory. There are no Canadian LTL carriers that have extensive LTL networks in the United States. While some Canadian LTL carriers have terminals in selected US locations (i.e. Chicago, Los Angeles), most LTL carriers work with partners on the other side of the border.

The following chart displays the logos of some of the major LTL carriers that service the cross-border freight market.

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This blog will focus on road and rail transportation within Canada; the next blog will look at cross-border freight transportation.

Rail Transportation

As outlined in the first blog in this series, Canada is large land mass with limited population. As a result, Canada’s two class 1 railways, along with the country’s short line carriers, play a very important role in meeting the needs of Canada’s freight industry. The networks of Canada’s two major railways, CN and CP, appear below.

CN Rail is a tri-coastal railway. It connects Canada’s major ports in Eastern Canada to the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert, BC, and the major cities in between and then goes through Chicago, IL all the way down to New Orleans, LA on the Gulf of Mexico. CN connects to the major American class 1 railways to supply cross-border service for the points that it does not serve on a direct basis.

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In my last blog, I provided an overview of Canada’s economy and demographics. In this blog, I will outline the importance of trade to Canada, and the United States, and then touch on some of the key variables that facilitate the trading process.

Canada has been a major trading nation for many years. Well before NAFTA was signed in 1994, Canada and the United States were major trading partners. As pointed out in the last blog, Canada possesses many raw materials that are in high demand throughout the world. With such a small population, Canada is not able to consume many of the raw materials that it produces. As a result, 58% of Canada’s exports consist of pulp and paper products, energy supplies (i.e. oil, coal and gas), minerals, food products, fish, seafood and fertilizers. By contrast, 38% of Canada’s exports are manufactured goods, primarily machinery, automotive parts, aerospace and aviation products, equipment, chemicals, plastics and information technology. Ontario and Quebec contain the largest centers for manufactured goods. Western Canada is a key producer of coal, grain, oil, natural gas and potash.

Canada – U.S. Trade

NAFTA has just entered its 23rd year. It was designed to expedite the trading process between Canada, the United States and Mexico. There are $750 billion in goods and services traded annually between Canada and the U.S. Exports represent 30% of Canada’s GDP. The United States is Canada’s largest trading partner; it receives 73% of Canada’s exports and 63% of its imports. Canada receives 23% of U.S. exports and 17% of its imports. Canada is largest export market for 35 of the 50 US states.

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On July 1, Canada celebrated its 149th birthday. Just prior to Canada Day, I had the privilege of speaking to a group of industry professionals on the topic of the Canadian freight market during a Stifel conference call. For those of you trying to learn more about America’s neighbor to the north, this and subsequent blogs will capture the highlights from the presentation.

Canada has a population of 36.3 million people, about one tenth the size of the United States and similar in size to the population of the state of California. The majority of the population lives within a 200 mile radius of the US border, the longest unprotected border in the world. About 20 million Canadians live in the major metropolitan locations of Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton, Edmonton, Quebec City, Winnipeg and Vancouver. Canada has the eleventh largest economy in the world.

From a freight perspective, the country can be divided into 4 distinct regions. Each region has its own industries and transportation challenges.

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The 2015 Surface Transportation Summit (www.surfacetransportationsummit.com) will be held at the Mississauga Convention Centre on October 14. Dan Goodwill & Associates and Newcom Business Media are delighted to report that the event has a new partner, the Freight Management Association of Canada. FMA will bolster shipper participation at the event. This year’s Summit will feature more shippers as speakers as compared to previous years. The Summit is now open for registration with a lineup of high quality speakers and a new networking feature. Here is an overview of the day.

The one day event will be kicked off with a discussion of what happened to the economy in 2015 and where it is going in 2016. Carlos Gomes, Senior Economist with the Bank of Nova Scotia will provide his annual overview. He will be followed by Walter Spracklin, Managing Director, Capital Markets, RBC Capital Markets who will provide an investor’s perspective, on what is going on in the freight industry in Canada. Lou Smyrlis, Publisher and Editorial Director, Transportation Media, Newcom Business Media will lead a panel discussion with Wes Armour, President & CEO, Armour Transportation Systems and Mark Bylsma, President, Spring Creek Carriers Inc. on how they see the economy playing out in the trucking industry in 2016.

This track will be followed by an Executives Perspective panel. This year we will hear from six leaders, each from a different sector of the freight industry, who will share their perspectives on where they see their businesses going in 2016. The panel will include David Zavitz, Senior Vice President, Sales & Marketing, Canada Cartage, Mark Lerner, AVP, Intermodal, CN Rail, Joe Lombardo, Director of Transportation Processes, Purolator Inc., John Ferguson, President, SCI Logistics, Anne McKee, EVP, Trailer Wizards and Silvy Wright, President & CEO, Northbridge Financial Corporation.

Shipper-Carrier Collaboration will be the theme of the next panel discussion. This track will include three prominent shippers, the leaders of three trucking companies and the head of a 3PL. Dan Einwechter, Chairman & CEO, Challenger Group, Jason Dubois, President, Len Dubois Trucking, Doug Munro, President, Maritime-Ontario Freight Lines, Kelli Saunders, President, Morai Logistics, Ginnie Veslovaitis, Director, Transportation Operations, Hudson’s Bay Company, Alex Boxhorn, Logistics Manager, Loewen Windows and Kim Wildenmann, Traffic Coordinator, Lantic Inc. will engage in a panel discussion on how can shippers and carriers work together more effectively. This is a session not to be missed.

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This past year was a tumultuous and transformative year in Freight Transportation. What is in store for us in 2015? Here are some trends to watch.

1. Dimensional LTL Pricing

The National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC) system, developed during the Great Depression by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association, classifies goods based on four elements—density, stowability, handling, and liability—that reflect a shipment's "transportability." However, the ratings from the system are not derived from the dimensions of the actual shipment but from average shipment characteristics. The classification methodology was not designed to accommodate the changes in modern-day production methods, where goods tend to be lighter and generally cube out in a trailer before they weigh out. For nearly eight decades, less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers have been using this system to allocate their trailer space.

Change will come to the LTL freight industry in 2015, driven by so-called dimensionializing, or dimensioning, machines that precisely calculate the amount of space a shipment will occupy in a trailer. The machines measure a shipment's dimensions—arrived at by multiplying length, width, and height—and provide proof of their calculations. A high-end "static" machine designed to measure stationary objects sells in the low to mid-$80,000s. The payoff can be rapid—30 to 60 days, depending on how a carrier uses the machine and how it calculates return on investment (ROI). Carriers like UPS Freight and FedEx Freight, LTL units of highly visible companies that have used dimensioners in their parcel operations for decades, are going that way. Old Dominion Freight Line Inc., that has used dimensioning equipment since 2009, YRC Worldwide Inc., and many of the other leading players in the LTL sector will likely follow the leaders.

2. Low Energy Prices will continue for much of 2015

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As the year draws to a close, it is time to reflect on the major news stories in the world of freight transportation. These are the ones that struck me as being the most impactful.

1. The Economy – Two Steps Forward/One Step Back

US GDP grew by over 3 percent in 2014, its best showing in several years. A rise in employment levels, coupled with an increase in consumer spending, helped lift the American freight market. The long, slow post Great Recession recovery finally kicked into a higher gear, driving an upswing in freight activity.

However, November data highlighted a slowdown in the pace of recovery across the U.S. manufacturing sector. At 54.7, down from 55.9 in October, the seasonally adjusted Markit Flash U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index™ (PMI™) indicated the weakest overall improvement in business conditions since the snow-related setback in January. Although the latest reading remained well above the neutral 50.0 threshold, the index has now dropped for three months in a row. Weaker rates of output and new business growth were the main negative influences on the headline PMI figure in November.

2. America - the Super Energy Power

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A sold out crowd attended the 2014 Surface Transportation Summit at the Mississauga Convention Centre on October 15. This year’s conference had 30 speakers and panelists and two networking tracks. While I was not able to attend all of the tracks, here are some of my key takeaways from this year’s sessions on Trends in the Economy and Trucking.

The 2015 Economic Outlook track featured a leading economist and transportation equity analyst along with two trucking company executives. Despite the recent turbulence in the stock market, Carlos Gomes, Senior Economist with the Bank of Nova Scotia, highlighted that the US economy is trending positively and expects this momentum will carry into 2015. Mr. Gomes stated that U.S. and Canadian household balance sheets are in their best shape in some time as interest rates remain low and energy prices have trended lower. In terms of economic activity, orders for manufactured goods in the U.S. have picked up and the number of backlog orders is at the highest level in years.

In addition, annual automobile sales are above 16 million units and will likely remain at elevated levels due to the average age of cars in the U.S. and Canada. Exports are also trending upwards in Canada and should be sustained by the low Canadian dollar and the fact that the U.S. remains Canada’s largest trading partner. This combination of variables suggests that Canada will benefit from the strong relationship with the United States. Mr. Gomes expects GDP growth in Canada of 3.5% this year and 4% next year.

David Newman Equity Research Analyst, Cormark Securities, noted that regulatory changes in the U.S. and driver shortages are leading to pricing improvements in the trucking and rail sectors. These shortages are pushing spot and contract rates upward. Looking at the PMI (Purchasing Manager’s Index) and ISM (Institute of Supply Management) indices, there is momentum in freight volumes. This could support healthy freight activity through the first six months of 2015. Truck orders are back to 2006 levels that reflect the confidence in the economy. Truckload carriers are consolidating with TransForce and Celadon making major acquisitions. Mr. Newman expects more consolidation in the Canadian market but he also expects the truckload division of TransForce to be spun off.

Mark Seymour, President, Kriska Holdings Limited, talked about the “discipline” and technology that Kriska employed to drive improved pricing and profits. This discipline has allowed his company to have a good “run rate” over the past few years. Driver wages and the treatment of drivers are keys to future growth at Kriska. Mark highlighted the requirement for short term (one year) pricing with long term commitments (“annual pricing conversations”).

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For many years, industry experts have been predicting a consolidation in the Canadian freight industry. During and after the Great Recession, the decibel level of these warnings increased as most trucking companies faced the challenges of reduced freight volumes, sinking rates and the difficulty of managing a business during recessionary times. In fact, the industry did shrink by an estimated fifteen percent during the downturn, not through acquisition, but through companies closing their doors or parking equipment.

As one looks back over the past five years, the Canadian economy has been recovering, albeit painfully slowly. There has been some growth in GDP and in jobs, largely in the west. During this same period, the Canadian freight industry has been consolidating and continues to consolidate. This has been driven by a host of factors.

There were and still are willing sellers. Many trucking company owners, particularly those in the baby boomer generation, without a succession plan, or with poor prospects for survival, saw the sale of their business as the most logical business option. For some, the challenge of hanging on during the Great Recession, took some of the appeal out of the business. That coupled with the option of creating a retirement fund was a desirable route to follow.

The post-recession business climate brought a host of challenges. Just as trucking company owners are getting older, so are truck drivers. Young men and women are not interested in becoming long haul truck drivers, dealing with crossing the Canada – US border, spending weeks away from their families, for $40,000 to $50,000 per year. The driver shortage, coupled with rising costs of fuel and equipment, low margins, increasing technological sophistication and regulatory changes, have made life much more difficult, particularly for small fleets with limited access to capital.

In addition, there were and still are willing buyers. Some of the larger trucking companies and conglomerates have been active buyers. Take a look at the websites of the large truckers to see the list of companies that have been acquired. The larger fleets have seized the opportunity to increase market share, to enter new markets, and/or to acquire new drivers, equipment and management talent. With TransForce’s acquisition of Contrans, we are now seeing a very large conglomerate devour a large conglomerate. What does this all mean for the Canadian freight industry?

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For the sixth consecutive year, Dan Goodwill & Associates and the Business Information Group (publishers of Canadian Shipper and MotorTruck Fleet Executive) will be co-hosting a Surface Transportation Summit. The 2014 Summit, scheduled for October 15 at the Mississauga Convention Centre, will feature expanded networking opportunities and more educational tracks. The following are some of the highlights.

The event will be kicked off by Carlos Gomes, a Senior Economist with the Bank of Nova Scotia. Carlos along with a panel of shippers and carriers, will take a look ahead at where the Canadian Economy and the Canadian Freight Industry will be going in 2015. Joining Lou Smyrlis, Publisher and Editorial Director at the Business Information Group on a panel will be David Newman, Director, Equity Research Analyst with Cormak Securities, Patrick Cain, CEO at Cain Express and Mark Seymour, President of Kriska Holdings Ltd.

This will be followed by an Executive Leadership Perspectives panel. Paul Cooper, President of SLH Transport, Douglas Harrison, CEO of Versacold Logistics, Mathieu Faure, Marketing & Sales, Intermodal, CP Rail and Rob Penner, Executive Vice President and COO, Bison Transport, will share their thoughts on some of the major issues facing their sectors of the Transportation industry.

One of the hot topics at last year’s Summit was the need for more shipper-carrier collaboration. In fact, the primary advocate who spoke on this topic was Jacquie Meyers, President of Meyers Transportation Services. Jacquie will be back this year and will discuss this topic in a panel discussion with Gary Fast, Associate Vice president, Domestic Transportation Services at Canadian Tire and Elias Demangos, President & CEO, Fortigo Transportation Management Group.

The final track of the morning will focus on Same Day Delivery Service- Challenges and Opportunities. March Wulfraat, Founder and President of MWPVL International, one of the world’s foremost experts on Amazon’s fulfillment centres and same day delivery initiatives, will address what has become one of the hottest topics in the freight industry.

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The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2014. Since the enactment of NAFTA in 1994, trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico has increased almost 200 percent to an estimated $930 billion. The cross-border flow of goods between the U.S. and Canada has grown to $400 billion.

A new U.S. Transportation Department report shows three of the five surface transportation modes, truck, rail and pipeline, carried more U.S. trade with North American Free Trade Agreement partners Canada and Mexico by value in 2013 than compared to the year before. Most U.S.- Canada trade in 2013, 83.6%, was carried on the surface modes of truck, rail and pipeline. Trucks carried 54.4%, followed by rail at 16.7%, pipeline at 12.6%, vessel at 5.7% and air at 4.5%.

Michigan led all states in trade with Canada in 2013 with $74.6 billion. Of the top 10 states for U.S.-Canada trade in 2013, Washington had the highest percent change over 2012, a 6.4% increase. The top commodity category transported between the U.S. and Canada in 2013 was mineral fuels, valued at $134.1 billion, with $79.2 billion or 59.1% moved by pipelines. The next highest commodity category transported by a single mode in U.S.- Canada trade was vehicles and vehicle parts (other than railway vehicles and parts) with $66.1 billion in trade moved by trucks. Cross-border trade via truck and rail continues to show positive trade growth for Canada and the United States. The growth continues as freight transportation providers on both sides of the border strengthen their relationships with cross-border shippers.

Transforming words and good intentions into more concrete and long-term action, both the United States and Canada are promoting greater economic growth and jobs through a stronger, more visible commitment to regulatory cooperation. With greater opportunities for growth on the horizon, trucking companies on both sides of the border have bolstered their cross-border service offerings to accommodate trade. While Canada and the United States have been good friends for many years and have the longest unpatrolled border in the world, they are distinctly different countries. The two countries have different geographies, climates, cultures, currencies, populations, laws and transportation systems. A failure to understand the unique features of each country can lead to fines, service problems and unhappy customers.

As an example, Canadian e-Commerce is expected to grow at a double-digit pace over the next few years, and U.S. businesses are increasingly tapping in to that $32 billion annual market. But the not-so-good news is that businesses are bumping into unexpected challenges in transporting those goods from the U.S. to their Canadian consumers. A new research brief, “Canadian e-Commerce Presents New Opportunities for U.S. Businesses,” details those challenges, and also highlights ways in which U.S. businesses are overcoming those obstacles. The research brief details findings of a study conducted by Peerless Research Group in which supply chain managers were queried about issues with U.S./Canada e-Commerce shipping.

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