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One Freight Forwarder Took 19 Days to Provide a Quote. That Won’t Cut it Anymore.

Freightos’ “State of Online Freight Sales 2019” report shows that more freight forwarders and ocean carriers are selling online, or at least trying to, but many are learning it takes more than a web storefront to scale digitally.

The annual “mystery shopper survey” from Freightos, a global online marketplace for the international shipping industry, said, “Customer expectations are changing–low-touch service is now as influential as price. New technology solutions help forwarders who are ready to change with their customers.”

Freightos, which helps importers and exporters reduce logistics spend and save time with instant comparison, booking and management of air, ocean and land shipments from top logistics providers, said the survey explores digital sales capabilities as a proxy for fully digital sales support.

Key results among freight forwarders this year included the movement toward more multi-modal instant quoting from such companies as Agility, DB Schenker, Kuehne + Nagel, DHL and UPS.

However, most forwarders aren’t keeping up–63 percent provided quotes that were not instant. Forwarders who manually quoted took 122 hours on average, with one taking a full 19 days.

“Many forwarders continue to miss out on digital business, with a staggering 60 percent of digital quote requests across the three modes going unanswered,” Freightos said. “Ignoring SMB business leaves requests open to savvy competitors.”

This includes stiff competition from most of the top five ocean carriers, with Hapag-Lloyd quoting instantly and Maersk responding in less than an hour to the mystery shopper survey. MSC quoted manually in less than three days. CMA CGM also offers instant quotes, but only to registered and approved customers.

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The survey noted that two digital freight forwarders have also gotten into the act, with iContainers and Fleet both offering instant full container load (FCL) quotes.

“Like forwarders, however, ocean carriers also seem disinterested in closing the deal–not one followed up on the quote they provided,” the survey said. “In contrast, both digital forwarders who quoted also followed up. Increased process automation has freed their sales teams for more sales-specific activities.”

Though web-based sales capability can extend forwarders’ reach, it won’t necessarily create customer loyalty without offering added-value through great service, Freightos said. For example, nearly half of the top forwarders still don’t provide purpose-built request for quotation forms (RFQ), relying on generic web forms.

DB Schenker lets users select their preferred sailing, and CEVA helpfully asks users their preference between price, speed or guaranteed booking. The survey also identified signs of forwarders showing proactiveness in improving customer experience, with four forwarders now providing site visitors with live chat.

“Customers expect reliable service throughout the shipment lifecycle–booking guarantees, document automation, shipment visibility, automated payment…and more help–inventory vertical integrations, shipment planning and spend control,” Freightos said.

Stand-out examples included Kuehne + Nagel offering guaranteed space services. Plus, DHL has committed to founding innovation hubs and the Global Centers of Excellence, and also launched Supply Watch to provide disruption alerts. C.H. Robinson’s Navisphere system, improving digital cargo sales has, to date, meant iterative improvements to quoting tools.

These improvements opened the door to outside competitors, driven by business shifts, like Maersk’s integrator approach, and massive funding for startups, Freightos noted.

“Handing more power to the B2C or B2B consumers is one of the key reasons online sales champions like Amazon have been so successful,” the report said.

A recent study benchmarking the digital maturity of top international freight carriers, showed a heavy investment in digital transformation, with 50 percent employing a head of transformation while 40 percent have published a digital strategy.

Nearly every top ocean carrier offers D2D quoting on their website, and three support fully automated operations with real-time APIs.

Freightos.com’s marketplace extends forwarder reach to the often overlooked SMB market, and lets shippers search, book and manage their shipments with providers directly through the marketplace’s online platform.

“Just four years ago, I wrote an article for VentureBeat arguing that 2016 would be the tipping point year when the freight industry went online,” Zvi Schreiber, CEO of Freightos, said. “That was a radical viewpoint then. But in retrospect it proved itself.

“Between then and now many forwarders have finally adopted digital self-service sales. There’s much more to freight digitalization, of course, than online sales,” Schreiber added. “But online sales is a great start. And now we’re hoping to see more automation and efficiency in back office processes and customer service too.”