Working with Online Freight Forwarders: A Guide for SMEs [Updated: Oct 2021]
When you run a small or medium-sized enterprise trading across international borders, the management of importing and exporting procedures can be complicated, take a deal of time, and consume many resources.
You have goods and services to organize, trade barriers to overcome, supply chain integrity and customer relationships to maintain, and rules and regulations to comply with, so it follows that you want a good freight forwarder to relieve the supply chain management burden a little.
A recent Shipa Freight study revealed insights into the international trading challenges that small and medium-sized businesses face in penetrating foreign markets. Our Ship for Success report found that 94% of SMEs have experienced difficulties including documentation complexities, customs delays, lost cargo, and lackluster service from logistics providers. The last point above is especially relevant to this article, because as you will know if your business ships goods between countries, help from the logistics sector is crucial in overcoming international trade barriers.
As your transportation partner, a good forwarder can ease the flow of goods and materials from source to destination, serve as your guide to exporting and importing, and help you negotiate international borders without hassles or delays.
The good news in this respect is that a new breed of forwarder, operating purely in the digital domain, is emerging, and some of these new entrants can offer SMEs the comprehensive shipping services once accessible only to large multinational conglomerates.
If you’re thinking, “great, where can I find one of these omnipresent benefactors and what are they like to work with?” look no further, because this short guide will tell you all that you need to know.
If you’re not getting excited yet at the idea of a digital service for exporting or importing goods, it is understandable. After all, traditional freight forwarders have sufficed for the majority of international business operators for many, many years. However, as much as anything, that’s because the conventional forwarding model was, until recently, the only option available—not because it was without drawbacks.
For the SME, online freight forwarding can deliver a range of benefits that increase competitiveness and reduce barriers to internationalization. Three of those benefits are outlined below.
Online freight forwarders can make it easier for your business to conduct global trade, because they develop systems of connectivity unmatched by their brick-and-mortar counterparts.
As soon as you book your import or export shipment, the digital forwarding platform shares the details with the parties to be involved, including the supplier, the recipient, and forwarding agents at the shipment's points of origin and destination.
There is no time lag while people make phone calls or email documents back and forth, so your shipments get underway much faster than is typically achievable with traditional forwarders.
As an SME, your business might not have the luxury of logistics specialists whom you can task with shipment monitoring, and with traditional forwarders, you may not always receive prompt notification if issues arise when goods are in transit or undergoing customs processing in foreign countries.
Online forwarders typically have real-time shipment tracking facilities built into their platforms, meaning you will receive immediate, automated alerts if exceptions occur in the transportation of your products.
3. Customer Service:
All freight forwarders know the criticality of customer service for the survival of their businesses, but in conventional forwarding, transactional costs can be high. That often translates to a need to segment service levels according to the profitability of customers. In other words, high-volume, frequent shippers get VIP levels of customer service.
For SMEs, who might only make one or two LCL shipments per month, the level of attention is typically much lower, but with online forwarders, the opposite is true.
Because they use the latest technology for issuing quotes, processing bookings, and keeping compliant with shipping rules and regulations, online forwarding platforms reduce transactional costs, allowing the organizations behind them to invest more in providing personal attention and service to a broader segment of customers.
Maybe now you’re a bit more convinced that engaging an online freight forwarder would be advantageous to your international trade. If so, there is even more good news, because these service providers are easy to find and engage. As you might expect, with a business model based entirely on an online presence, this type of forwarder can be found with a simple keyword search on Google.
Once found, you will typically find it possible to interact immediately with a digital freight forwarder directly through its website.
There may be an instant chat facility to connect you with a customer service adviser, and the most popular online forwarders have instant quote engines, that allow you to get indicative quotes for your shipment. These facilities will help you evaluate each forwarder to get an idea if their services are a good fit for your business.
During your evaluation of potential service providers, it’s vital to understand that not all online freight forwarders are the same. Indeed, the service you receive will depend on what type of provider you select. Digital forwarding companies fall roughly into four categories:
- Traditional freight forwarders that have implemented technology to digitize, but not necessarily change, the way they operate.
- Digital freight markets that connect importers and exporters with forwarding agents, customs brokers, and carriers.
- Freight forwarding platforms owned and operated by multinational logistics service providers, with an online front end connected to proprietary technology and supported by a worldwide network of resources and assets.
- Independent online platforms operated by tech companies in partnership with one or more traditional freight forwarders or logistics providers.
Your experience of working with an online forwarder will depend on which of the above categories your chosen platform falls into, although the digital front-end functionalities tend to be similar across all of them. Whichever type you opt for, you will probably find that as a guest-user, the services offered will be limited to some degree.
To access the full range of services, such as shipment booking, customs-clearance assistance, and indeed, any service beyond the provision of information and quotes, you will probably need to register on the provider’s platform. However, it usually costs nothing to sign up, and the process should not take more than a few moments.
By now, you might have warmed to the idea of working with an online freight forwarder, and be keen to understand the process in more detail. Again, simplicity is one of the main advantages.
A typical online process for exporters, for example, is as follows:
- The exporter visits the forwarder’s platform and fills in an online form to get an instant quote for exporting to Europe.
- The quote is returned in moments or, if an instant quote is not available, the platform directs the request to a human agent, who provides the exporter with a customized quote.
- The exporter, happy with the quote, follows a simple online procedure to create a booking.
- During the booking process, the exporter provides information requested by the platform to meet documentation and compliance requirements.
- Before completion of the booking, the exporter is prompted to pay online, using one of a range of payment methods, which might include invoicing on account or instant credit card payment.
- The exporter pays the fees as per the quote, and the freight forwarder begins the shipment process.
- The exporter can track the progress of the cargo from origin to destination, receiving real-time alerts at defined stages and in the event of exceptions.
- If the exporter has questions or concerns at any point, she contacts the platform's customer service team to speak with an agent. The entire process is managed by the forwarder’s front and back-end software in a way that offers maximum convenience for the shipper. This convenience makes digital forwarders especially suitable for SMEs, as smaller enterprises often lack the resources for active supply chain management.
If you don’t have means within your business to arrange domestic transportation in a foreign country or at home, coordinate air cargo or ocean freight services, or meet the obligations required for customs processing, you will need a freight forwarder to facilitate your imports or exports.
If you want to ship products or raw materials from one country to another competitively, quickly, and conveniently, then forwarders with online capabilities should be at the very top of your service-provider shortlist.
Shipa Freight is an online freight forwarder helping SMEs to compete effectively on the global stage. We combine the best in industry technology with the personal attention of human shipping specialists—and if you want to include us in your evaluations, you can request an instant quote on our platform right now.
- Working with Online Freight Forwarders: A Guide for SMEs
- Guide to Online Forwarding for SMEs
- What’s Special About Online Freight Forwarders?
- How to Find Online Freight Forwarders
- Types of Online Freight Platform
- Try Out Platforms as a Guest User
- The Online Forwarding Process
- Fast Forward to a Better SME Shipping Experience
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