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- A.P. Moeller Maersk has made at least five e-commerce related acquisitions in the last two years.
- Executives say they want to create an “end-to-end” logistics service.
- Logistics experts see the company taking aim at DHL, UPS and other international logistics giants.
Maersk is a name more often seen on the shipping containers currently stacked up outside ports than on doorsteps. But the company is spending hundreds of millions to change that.
Going back to 2005, the world’s largest shipping company has been making acquisitions in land-based logistics and tech. Since 2019, it has upped the pace as part of a massive strategic shift conceived by CEO Søren Skou to keep the 117-year-old company relevant for another 100 years.
Maersk wants e-commerce sellers to rely on it for end-to-end service: It will move their stuff by air and land as well as by sea, manage inventory, and pack and ship orders. This sort of service is more commonly offered by last-mile delivery specialists.
“Maersk’s pace of diversification is tremendous,” Gartner’s David Gonzalez told Insider.
Since 2019, Maersk has acquired a US-based customs broker, a European customs specialist, two US-based e-commerce fulfillment companies with a total of 33 warehouses, and fully integrated Damco, an air freight forwarder it acquired in 2005. Last month, it topped it all off with Huub, a Portuguese e-commerce tech company that focuses on the consumer fashion industry.
“I think they have tremendous potential to go toe to toe with DHL, UPS, and FedEx,” Gonzalez said. “And they have the deep pockets to fund that sort of growth and expansion over the course of the next few years.”
After a blockbuster year with sky-high prices to move goods over the ocean, Maersk has deeper pockets than many of the companies it’s looking to compete with in e-commerce. And none of the major third party logistics players active in the US market — where Maersk’s burgeoning e-commerce empire appears focused so far— have demonstrated much appetite for big acquisitions.
Future Maersk acquisitions will likely focus on filling in the gaps so that Maersk can fully manage an e-commerce supply chain — which is particularly attractive in today’s chaotic supply chain environment, according to Charley Dehoney, a serial logistics entrepreneur and limited partner at TNT Ventures.
Acquisitions will also likely focus on delivery speed — a constant focus within e-commerce but also one that is increasingly dependent on a fast-moving supply chain rather than just last-mile delivery.
“Things are never going to go back to being slow,” Dehoney said. With seemingly unlimited resources, one barrier to growth may be the hesitancy some founders have in being absorbed into an organization as old and as large as Maersk.
“If I was a startup, maybe I’d look at Maersk and think they’re just far too big, far too complicated, that I am intimidated by the size of the organization,” Gonzalez said. “But I think if they position the brand correctly, they could appeal to those startups because of the depth of capability they have at their disposal.”
In December, Morten Bo Christiansen, Maersk’s head of strategy at the time, told Insider the company wasn’t looking to make “splashy” purchases. Acquisitions would be integrated into Maersk to improve its services. Here are 7 possible targets, according to the experts.
What it does: CEO Guy Block calls the platform an “operating system for the last mile.” The software allows retailers to organize all of their online order delivery options — traditional warehouse shipping, curbside pickup, same-day delivery, and more — in one place.
Why Maersk would want it: Though Maersk is one of the largest asset-based carriers in the world, when it comes to logistics on land, it may not seek to move goods in its own vehicles. Another way to get more enmeshed with customers is to offer the tools they need to work with the companies that do physically deliver goods. Software like Bringg’s could help move Maersk toward a higher-level logistics management role.
What it does: Joins together dozens of logistics companies on a software platform that allows retailers to choose the most appropriate carrier and track deliveries.
Why Maersk would want it: Similar to Bringg, acquiring OneRail would allow Maersk to keep hold of customers as they manage delivery of their goods with other carriers. Platforms like OneRail also emphasize the importance of speed in the e-commerce ecosystem, since the startup’s logistics partners are largely same-day delivery providers like Doordash,
, and Bungii.
What it does: The last-mile delivery platform uses a gig-economy model, but recruits small fleets of trucks and vans in addition to individuals.
Why Maersk would want it: GoFor’s work to aggregate small truck and van fleets could make it a stronger fit for Maersk’s e-commerce strategy than many other gig delivery platforms, while still bringing the shipping giant into the on-demand ecosystem. The company has partnerships with FedEx-owned ShopRunner, IKEA, Sherwin Williams, The Home Depot, and Hudson’s Bay.
What it does: The supply chain software company provides warehouse, transportation, order, and inventory management software. It competes with similar products from SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft. Maersk’s deep pockets would be required for an acquisition, as Manhattan Associates posted $586 million in revenue for 2020.
Why Maersk would want it: The types of software Manhattan Associates offers are the fundamentals of e-commerce execution. Maersk is developing some of these software options internally, but Gartner puts Manhattan Associates at the top of the class for its warehouse management software and obtaining it would give Maersk decades of granular e-commerce experience and data to build on. This one however would make a big splash, which Maersk’s Christiansen vowed to avoid last year.
What it does: The platform combines predicting customer demand with recommendations about where inventory should go, which allows users to automate those decisions.
Why Maersk would want it: Connecting decisions around where inventory should be within Maersk’s growing US warehouse network and the means to move that inventory could contribute to the sort of “end to end” service the company seeks to provide. Demand and inventory planning is becoming an essential skill for online sellers as they spread out inventory to enable faster deliveries.
What it does: The Chicago-based e-commerce fulfillment startup targets small e-commerce businesses and has more than 25 warehouses in the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, and Australia.
Why Maersk would want it: ShipBob’s emphasis on smaller e-commerce sellers would bring Maersk a clientele it currently can’t access. Among a growing class of fulfillment startups, ShipBob has among the largest number of warehouses, and is one of farthest along when it comes to European expansion.
What it does: The London-based startup provides returns management software with specialization in crossborder returns.
Why Maersk would want it: A healthy and growing business in retail returns is becoming a hallmark of top-flight logistics companies. Maersk is already an investor in Zig Zag Global through its venture arm Maersk Growth, which was also an investor in Huub, the startup Maersk most recently acquired.