Shipa Freight embraces the digital age
13 / 08 / 2018
While the rest of the world moves increasingly into the digital age, freight forwarding appears to be getting left behind.
A recent study looking at the top 20 forwarders, carried out by rate portal Freightos, was particularly eye opening.
Although Freightos found that freight forwarders’ online offerings were gradually improving, it added that there is much more work to be done if they are to capitalise fully on the opportunity presented.
The study involved Freightos posing as a fast-growing e-commerce company and approaching forwarders to test how easy it is to request and receive a quote for an online booking.
It found that two companies offered an instant quotation service, seven offered specific request for information forms, six had forms that were “too general, failing to explicitly request everything required for quoting” and five only provided an email address.
Only Kuhne+Nagel and Agility were able to offer instant less-than-container load quoting, although Geodis has recently joined them.
Of the 18 that did not provide instant quotes, only five eventually provided a quote when a form was completed or email sent, while the other 13 failed to follow up on the lead at all.
One of the companies that was highlighted by Freightos as a good example of how a freight forwarding portal should work was Agility, which offers digital booking through its Shipa Freight service.
Shipa Freight chief executive Toby Edwards tells Air Cargo News that his team was challenged with developing an online platform that would allow a small-medium enterprise (SME) to use a tablet device to book a door-to-door transport service.
Development work on the platform started in 2016 with a soft launch for selected customers in mid-2017 and full launch last March.
Asked why Agility decided to develop an online platform aimed at smaller players, Edwards says: “We already do a lot of e-business with our larger customers through Electronic Data Interchanges (EDI) but the smaller customers are not at that scale, so we had a plan and a vision to build a platform that is initially targeted at smaller businesses.
“We just want to make it as easy for those guys to do business with us as possible. We have deliberately set it out so people don’t have to go through a complex registration.
“The quote form is right there. If customers want to come on and get a quote from Shanghai to Heathrow they can do it in under a minute by putting all the parameters in.”
Customers are also increasingly used to booking online in their personal lives and now want to receive that level of service when completing business transactions, with instant access to quotes and the ability to make a booking around the clock.
In line with this, Shipa Freight also developed an app for iPhones and Android mobile devices.
Edwards says that one of the benefits of Shipa Freight over disruptors just entering the forwarding market is that it is able to offer a much wider scope of service, thanks to its access to the Agility network.
Even some of the larger players’ systems have limited geographical scope.
But what happens with more complex shipments — for instance hazardous goods or unusual locations, or a shipper that is transporting goods abroad for the first time and needs extra help — how does Shipa Freight cater for these requirements?
Edwards explains: “We have built a compliance database that will ask for that information as the booking is made. It will say ‘we need these documents from you to process your shipment; we need your certificate of origin; we need your packing list’. There are five or six other documents that are required.
“We have been able to take that knowledge from our branches and then put it into a global compliance database and then use it to help customers overcome problems.”
The compliance database also offers guidance when making bookings for dangerous goods.
At the moment, the system will offer only one price, but in the future it will offer various shipping options with different prices. It will also offer an airfreight/seafreight alternative.
Last year’s peak season capacity shortage also raises questions as to how the platform will deal with this sort of situation, but Edwards is confident customers making bookings through Shipa Freight will not be let down.
He explains: “Shipa Freight relies on the capacity that Agility has, which is a combination of block space agreements (BSAs) and spot capacity as it becomes available and demand becomes available.
“On the BSA front you make deals based on what you think you are going to have and then the market goes up and down. It is a combination of capacity agreements with carriers and capacity that becomes available on the spot market.”
While the market may be slow in adopting digital technologies, it seems that progress is now being made. The portals offered by Shipa Freight and other forward-looking companies should push the rest of the market to catch up.
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