ATS Transportation Blog

What is Digital Freight Matching? [Definition + Common Problems]

Finding trucks to pull your freight in the current market is continuing to prove difficult. That’s forcing you to get more creative in the way you find capacity for a reasonable price. 

So you’ve been looking into these fairly new digital freight matching platforms, like Uber Freight, uShip and VeriTread. But are they right for you?hands-typing-on-laptop-computer

As a company that’s been “matching freight” for nearly seven decades, we understand the challenges that come with finding the right equipment for the job.

In this article, we’ll explain how the digital freight platforms work and compare them to the experience you’ll get when working directly with a carrier. That way, you can decide what’s right for you.

What is Digital Freight Matching?

The purpose of a digital freight marketplace is to connect shippers looking to get something moved with a carrier that can move it — and do it fast. 

The shipper enters a bit of information about the load into the digital forwarding platform. Then, information gathered from carriers already in the freight matching platform’s database — along with the help of artificial intelligence (AI) — populates options for the shipper. The shipper can then choose which carrier earns the freight based on multiple criteria — including price and ratings. 

In some cases, the platform can automatically pair a carrier to the load if they’re on the shipper’s list of carriers. If not, the shipper would have to accept the bid before processing.

Ultimately, these platforms are all about convenience. Shippers can save time by entering some load information and letting the freight matching platforms do the rest — if set up properly. That means integrating your transportation management system (TMS) and choosing your “preferences.”

If you’ve used a load board in the past, you have a pretty good idea about the basics of digital freight matching. It’s essentially a “new-and-improved” version of that.

Reasons Not to Use Digital Freight Matching

After reading all that, you may be wondering “Why wouldn’t I use freight matching platforms? They sound great!” And, depending on your needs, the answer may be that you absolutely should use them. 

But there are problems with digital freight matching as well. Compared to  working directly with a carrier, digital freight matching often carries with it the following issues:

A Lack of Knowledge/Experience

If you haul any type of specialized or unique freight, you know how important it is to have a driver that knows what they’re doing. It’s also important to have the right equipment for the job.

While freight matching software could pair you with the right person, there are no guarantees. Working directly with a carrier — especially one with a large variety of equipment — you can provide the unique details and requirements for your freight and they can find the right equipment for the job.

If the carrier has a wide variety of equipment, chances are good the drivers pulling that equipment have done it before — so they know what they’re doing. That increases the odds that your freight is secured properly and delivered safely.

No Single Point of Contact (or Any Human Contact)

When using a freight matching platform, you may not have any point of contact — at least not a “real” person. If you do, it could be a different person each time.

Why does that matter? Part of it comes down to the knowledge aspect again. Experienced sales and customer service representatives — especially ones with specialty areas of focus — are well-versed in your specific industry. Explain things one time — if that — and they’ll know the right things to do.

They’ll also get to know you and your business needs and work with you to find the best solutions for both parties. That can sometimes mean better rates than you’ll find on the spot market. Think of the “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” phrase. Your carrier may give you a break this time around if you “help them out” in the future.

Another benefit of one point of contact is when something goes wrong — which is bound to happen in the world of transportation (thanks to weather, road construction, breakdowns and other factors). Instead of going through the phone or email chain to find someone who can help, you’ve already got that person at your fingertips. One call, email, text — whatever you prefer — is all it takes to find a resolution to your problem.

Manual Load Tracking

If you’re the type of person who likes to “set it and forget it,” you probably don’t want to seek out vital freight updates on your own. The digital freight platforms provide location updates for your freight, but it’s on you to take the time to look at them.

Instead, maybe you want someone to get those updates to your text or email inbox at a frequency that you want.

When working with a carrier, your point of contact can not only provide you location updates but other information you want to know. And again, you don’t have to seek out that information yourself.

Finally, as we mentioned earlier, when a load gets delayed due to unforeseen circumstances, you’ll know about it when working directly with a carrier. Your point of contact will get in touch with you right away to keep you in the loop and let you know when you can expect things to be resolved.

Other Problems with Digital Freight Matching You Might Not Have Considered

If you’re someone who regularly ships over-dimensional (OD) freight, you know it comes with plenty of travel restrictions. But if you’re someone who ships big loads every now and then, some of the requirements may catch you by surprise.

When using a digital forwarding platform, you may enter your load details expecting a certain price. When it comes back significantly higher or with no carriers accepting the load — and no explanation as to why — you might fall out of your chair.

An experienced carrier will explain things to you, like why you need certain permits, why escorts are necessary or why you can’t take the route you thought you could. That way, you’re better educated on why the price is what it is, how you can potentially minimize added costs and what you can expect the next time you have to move OD freight.

Beyond that, the experienced carriers will coordinate with all the necessary parties along the way, so the quote you get upfront will be accurate — with no surprise charges when you get your final bill.

Finally, because of the time it takes carriers to set up and use these platforms, plus the low margins (since the platforms are very price driven), many of the nation's leading carriers aren't on them.

That means if you choose to use digital freight matching platforms, you may only be working with a select number of carriers and brokers and sacrificing the consistent, reliable service you expect with the best flatbed carriers.

What’s Right For You?

If you have a one-off load that may not require a ton of experience and you don’t need a specific person to talk to about any questions or concerns, a freight matching platform might make sense to you. 

Or maybe you like to track your freight firsthand, (which is an option with carriers too, by the way) so updates brought to your inbox aren’t a deal-breaker. Finally, if your goal is to match your freight in minutes, then a freight matching platform might be perfectly fine for you.

But if you have many loads and/or unique needs you don’t want to explain several times, those platforms may not be the right fit for you. 

And if you want to leave the knowledge and expertise to the people moving the freight instead of making sure you got every detail entered just right, you might want to consider going straight to a trusted carrier.

Making a more informed decision when you’re ready to move your freight can save you frustration and money in the future. If you want the support of a carrier that’s been supporting the transportation industry’s unique needs for decades, we’d love to help.

Tags: Transportation Services, Transportation Solutions, Heavy Haul Shipping, Specialized Shipping, Oversized Shipping, Specialized Flatbed Shipping, Heavy Haul Trucking, Over Dimensional Shipping, Contract Rate Pricing, Spot Rate Pricing, Asset-Based Carrier, Digital Freight Matching

Troy Heyne

Written by Troy Heyne

Troy is the director of global accounts at ATS and has been at the company for over 25 years. He has extensive experience in heavy haul and specialized transportation, works closely with many Fortune 500 companies and is responsible for a good customer experience.

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