As vital as international shipping is to the global economy, it’s a process that is both frustrating and intimidating to most companies. What should be simple often feels stuck in the past and needlessly complicated.
The best example of this is the way most shippers rely on freight forwarders to help manage their ocean container freight. This process is the epitome of slow, with even the most basic shipment requiring multiple phone calls and emails – and a lot of waiting.
For any shipper the first step in arranging an ocean cargo shipment is getting a quote, which is where the problems start. As strange as it sounds, quoting is hard for the forwarders themselves. Most have a lot of contracts with carriers but no practical way to access them. This creates problems on multiple levels.
For one, they are unable to efficiently compare their own rates from all their carriers.
And forget factoring in other important shipment details like departure dates and transit times. The reason is all this information is typically buried in paper contracts and files. Even calculating just a few options takes a lot of time and the forwarder’s ability to respond to you with a quote is invariably slow.
Being limited in this way also means you are never presented with all the options – there is just no time.
The process is too arduous for any forwarder to consider every possible routing when it has to be done manually. In the end, you will only ever know what options they present, unaware of what better and cheaper possibilities there are.
Unfortunately, as more shipment details have to be considered the greater the problem becomes for a shipper trying to work with a freight forwarder. Deciding how borderline FCL and LCL shipments are best routed, or comparing door to door and port to port rates becomes even harder. Then, there is sailing schedules and confirming there is actually space on the vessel you want – all of this mixes more complexity and time into the process.
Adding to the frustration is that most back and forth communication with freight forwarders happens with phone calls and emails.
Extra conversations are always required to fill in missing details for finishing quotes and finally booking the ocean container. As with any process that requires phone calls and manual steps, it is very prone to errors and mistakes.
The other difficulty with container shipping is paperwork, which is a big part of any international shipment.
Documentation like Bills of Lading, Insurance, and Customs paperwork are all details that have to be buttoned up before a shipment can be executed.
Here’s where the risk of miscommunication becomes important again. Freight forwarders that are using vital shipment data and creating paperwork based on erroneous information that’s been called in, or re-keyed from email, will make mistakes that prevent shipments from getting booked or stuck at customs along the way.
Finally, the old school methods of freight forwarders can come back to bite you even after the shipment is delivered. The occurrence of freight invoice errors is higher (up to 30% or more) when shipments are manually quoted and booked, making for messy invoice reconciliations and accounts payable problems.
It’s every shipper’s goal to always get the best balance of cost and service when it comes to container shipping.
Working with forwarders stuck in the old way of doing things not only takes too much time, but makes the process of international shipping needlessly complicated.
Better options do exist.
Shipping technology is available that automates the process of securing quotes, booking shipments, and completing paperwork. These freight quoting platforms ensure you are presented will all the options so you can always find the right balance of cost and service with your container freight shipments.