Maersk rolls out cargo booking site
Maersk Line this week has quietly rolled out an experimental Web site — youship.com — that can be used by shippers to book cargo on seven routes around the world.
Maersk calls the project an “instant online container carrier,” and said it is aimed at small and medium-sized companies.
“The idea for the site comes from other industries, such as the airline industry, where simple and instant Web sites have been used for booking, payment and ticket printing for quite a while,” said Lars Jensen, director of youship.com. “We have then applied that same philosophy to container shipping.
“This also means that youship.com is not similar to any other e-commerce products in the market such as INTTRA or other carrier’s sites or even Maersk’s other e-commerce offerings, as we allow the entire process from end-to-end to be done instantly online, from getting a quote to paying to printing the final youship E/Doc documents,” he added.
Indeed, with drop-down menus, prices that can change frequently, and an ad that offers a $100 bonus if you “register now,” the site has the look and feel of a consumer Web site. Youship.com even requires payment by Visa or MasterCard. Payment can be done in dollars, euros or British pounds.
Customers can view sailings, get all-in port-to-port rates that include things like terminal handling charges and fuel surcharges, and view space availability on particular ships.
The site operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When cargo is booked, instant documentation is provided along with a space guarantee.
Service is offered from Hong Kong to Rotterdam, Felixstowe, Australia and Japan; from Rotterdam to Hong Kong and Casablanca; and from Antwerp to Turkey.
There aren’t any routes to or from the United States where regulations for tariff changes or requirements to publish service agreements might make such a concept difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.
In addition to the limited number of ports and the fact that only Maersk services are included, there are other limitations. Only 20-foot, 40-foot, or 40-foot high-cube dry containers are available. You can’t ship hazardous, out-of-gauge or reefer cargo, and you have to arrange to get your box to and from the terminal. Help is available via e-mail or “live chat” on the Internet, but not via the phone or via in-person training.
“The price level is dynamic and depends on market demand for this particular product, however the overall pricing philosophy we follow is that the earlier you book, the lower the rate,” Jensen said. “A direct price comparison with other rates in market can only be done with caution, as the youship.com product has a range of unique features not offered elsewhere — such as our guarantee of 100 percent correct documents issued instantly, a space guarantee with full refund if you are rolled and the online nature of the site ensuring the entire process from asking for a quote to printing final documents takes less than 10 minutes.”
Maersk describes the site as a one-year pilot project.
“The product is available to everyone with an Internet connection, however we believe that the nature of the product will make it most attractive to small and medium-sized business,” Jensen said. “The only restriction is that we can only accept customers who live up to the same safety/security requirements as required by Maersk Line.”
“This is where the technology is taking us,” said Andrew Barrons, a vice president of marketing at the Internet portal INTTRA, whose firm last year launched a consumer-friendly site called oceanschedules.com that allows anyone in the world to find out what carriers move freight between various port pairs. Unlike youship.com, you can’t price cargo on oceanschedules.com, though companies have the option of providing links for more information or — if a user is an INTTRA user — to go to the INTTRA site where cargo can be booked.
INTTRA has no involvement in the youship.com venture, though Barrons said a company like Maersk could conceivably use oceanschedules.com for targeted ads for youship.com routes.
Jensen said the site was launched this week “and are currently focusing our time and efforts on serving our first customers well, which is why we are not initiating any large scale marketing campaigns at this point.” The company plans more publicity and marketing in mid-January 2008.