ABF Freight System Inc., used to traveling the interstate highways, is cautiously climbing onto the information superhighway.
The firm is posting Q-rate, its 750,000-byte program that allows customers to find pricing information, on the Internet. Also on the net is its guide to pricing application, a text file.Anyone with access to the Internet, a worldwide network of thousands of computers, can download a copy of the program in less than 15 minutes. Then, by typing in their negotiated discount percentage, their ZIP code, the destination ZIP code and the type of freight, they can find the cost of a shipment as well as transit time.
ABF has made the program available to customers for 12 years, but in the past customers had to get a computer diskette with the program mailed to them. While the rates don't change that frequently, Robert Davidson, vice president of pricing at ABF, said he believes placing the program on the Internet is an easy and inexpensive way to reach customers.
The customer pays nothing to download off the net. ABF pays $20 a month, no matter how many customers download the program. The files can be found at ftp.netcom.com in the pub/ab/abfs directory.
"It's not the be-all and end-all, but I think it does take a significant step forward in providing general availability of our rates and rules," he said.
Maura Hubach, manager of public affairs for the American Trucking Associations, said the organization is not aware of other members listing rates on the Internet. Mr. Davidson said it would be useful if competitors join ABF on the Internet.
"It would help give customers a common place to find information," he said. "The obvious place for uniformity in my mind would be the Internet."
The key piece of pricing information, the customer's discount, still has to be obtained the old-fashioned way by phone or mail, or in person. Mr. Davidson said the company has no way to communicate with customers using E-mail as yet. But customers can call into the company's own computer to get shipment- tracking information using either a computer or a push-button phone.
Robert Hertzberg, editor of The Internet Business Report, a monthly newsletter published in Manhasset, N.Y., said ABF's approach is of limited benefit to its customers since they cannot communicate with the company using E-mail.
"It's a nice idea. Whether or not it's a useful business function is impossible to say without knowing which of their customers are using the Internet," Mr. Hertzberg said. He predicted most truck pricing information would be on the Internet in years to come, put there either by individual companies or a service house.