Not every company has shipping logistics needs every day. But when they do they are becoming increasingly complex, and smaller companies lack dedicated shipping departments or personnel to handle them.

C.H. Robinson has launched a new product for these small and medium-size companies — specifically targeted to businesses with less than $10 million in revenue — to help manage their multimodal logistics needs from smartphones, tablets or computers.

"We've always had a lot of business in the small to medium-sized segment, but this provides an even easier way for us to access those customers and for those customers to take advantage of our services," said Bob Biesterfeld, chief executive of Eden Prairie-based C.H. Robinson.

The company sees an eventual $70 billion market, encompassing close to 2 million companies, for products like its new one, called "Freightquote by C.H. Robinson," Biesterfeld said. The product is based on C.H. Robinson's Navisphere global technology platform, which gives users access to the world's largest network of freight carriers.

Freightquote designers consulted with small-business owners to tailor features that would best help them manage their logistic needs. With Freightquote by C.H. Robinson, they can check rates, book, track and pay for shipments through their phones, tablets, or computers.

"Our customer user groups really appreciated the ease of use," Biesterfeld said. "But we've also got support behind it. If people need help using the tool, we've got a group of product experts that can help guide them through the process."

The new technology investment is part of C.H. Robinson's previously announced commitment to spend as much as a $1 billion on technology investments over five years. That is double its previous technology spending rate. Over the previous 10 years, it had spent $1 billion on technology spending.

Biesterfeld said the product designers opened Freightquote up for beta-testing earlier this year and they have been generating good volumes since July. "Today we feel like we are at the place where we've got the scale and the features and functionality that make it applicable for a much broader user base," Biesterfeld said.

C.H. Robinson's investment in technology comes as more companies and investors are pumping money into technology advances for the industry.

"We've really seen an aggressive ramp-up over the course of the last several years in terms of the private-equity dollars that have flowed into the freight technology space," Biesterfeld said.

So while Freightquote addresses the needs of small and medium-size business, C.H. Robinson will continue to invest in its overall technology for its full continuum of customers from small business to the largest global enterprises.

The investments are also coming at a time when the industry is heading into what could be a slower holiday shipping season this year and uncertainty created by global trade talks.

Biesterfeld addressed an investor conference last week about both issues. He said he has seen fewer shippers putting in contingency plans for retail shipping, such as peak holiday shipping surcharges. "We are expecting a more muted peak season," Biesterfeld said.

"From a trade and tariff standpoint, boy, uncertainty reigns," Biesterfeld said. "Uncertainty is definitely the emotion we hear most."

Patrick Kennedy • 612-673-7926