America’s trucks move 10 billion tons of product each year, accounting for more than 70% of all domestic freight volume, and transport a disproportionate percentage of finished consumer goods compared with rail and barge. The pattern of U.S. commerce has shifted profoundly in recent weeks as ecommerce and grocery spending have spiked, particularly in cities most affected by COVID-19, and trucks have raced to keep up. On the demand side of the equation, consumers increasingly shut inside have been stocking up on ecommerce purchases, driving up online sales of everything from household staples like toilet paper to groceries. This deluge of online orders has caused web traffic jams at online giants like Amazon Pantry, which temporarily stopped taking new orders of household essential items like paper towels and groceries on March 19. Adobe Analytics, which monitors ecommerce transactions at 80 of the top 100 U.S. retailers, found that sales of canned goods and shelf stable items (such as pasta, rice and so forth) have increased 69% and 58%, respectively, since fears of the virus began. As one would expect, online sales of cold and flu medicine have spiked 198%, while toilet paper is up 186%. All this is leading to additional demand for truckload and the less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers that make last-mile deliveries.
Meanwhile, panic shopping at grocery stores has led to a need to aggressively restock shelves with products delivered via truck. Trucking industry data supports this unprecedented surge. The Outbound Tender Volume Index (OTVI) compiled by online data provider FreightWaves shows a 24% spike in trucking demand in mid-March vs. this same period last year. The OTVI tracks truckload volumes accepted by trucking companies in 15 major metropolitan areas and notes that existing activity is 10% above the peak experienced in 2018, one of the busiest years in recent history.