Now, Maersk no longer markets itself as a shipping line. “The company has taken a strategic decision to change course” it wrote in a March press release. It’s now an “end-to-end supply chain and logistics partner”—a more lucrative line of work that allows it to make money by consulting on its clients’ supply chain strategies and selling access to its logistics software in addition to the freight fees it collects from carrying cargo on ships, planes, and trucks.

Other shipping lines and freight forwarders have followed Maersk’s lead in expanding into 4PL services, according to Buchman. These firms argue that by consolidating the whole range of logistics services into one package, they can boost efficiency and lower prices. But if they succeed in consolidating the logistics industry, they’ll leave their clients with fewer choices.

In good times, that may not matter: Clients will enjoy lower prices and the ease of not having to think about their supply chains. But in times of crisis—like the pandemic-fueled chaos we’re living through now—those clients may be scrambling to find any alternative they can as prices rise and cargo space becomes scarce. Companies will have to weigh those tradeoffs as they emerge from the current supply chain crisis and rethink their logistics strategies.

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