The freight industry is now on a path towards digitization, a process that has taken ages to permeate the industry, particularly when internet-based services have been around for a decade. Agility, a world-leading provider of integrated logistics, has realized the untapped potential for a digital marketplace and has created a spinoff named Shipa Freight for addressing the segment.
Shipa Freight is an online portal that makes it easy for users to get air and ocean freight quotes instantly. On signing up, they can book the quote by paying online and can track their shipment on its course towards its destination. “Shipa Freight is designed to leverage Agility’s global network and use technology and the internet to give customers access to quotes 24x7,” said Toby Edwards, CEO of Shipa Freight.
The startup maintains a database of rates that run into the millions, and allows its customers to access it via its online platform. “At Agility, we have our existing branches and locations around the world, where we work with thousands of customers. In essence, we are taking the process that exists and now offer it our customers to complete the full transaction online,” said Edwards.
The industry is extremely fragmented with nearly one-third of the total market revenue coming in from SMEs - which Shipa Freight considers its primary target audience. “The SMEs tend not to get so much attention compared to the big logistics providers, and so we designed an interface that makes it easy for customers to get a quote,” said Edwards. “We don’t have a complicated sign-up process, and you just need to put a username and an email in to start checking quotes.”
Global trade could be complex, with all the voluminous documents that need to be in place that it might overwhelm the small businesses. Shipa Freight has a compliance engine in place, that would guide customers through the journey. “For example, if you are doing a shipment from Shanghai to Hamburg, Shipa Freight would tell you what documentation you need to complete, including the freight origin, commercial invoice, packing lists, etc. - all the compliance documents that you would need for trading around the world.”
Before launching out with the platform, Shipa Freight commissioned a global survey targeting SMEs from across the world, trying to understand how technology would act as an enabler to their business. “We asked them what they needed to expand globally, the key issues they faced, how they interacted with their logistics providers and how important technology was to them,” said Edwards. “The companies said that they needed help to take the complexity out of compliance, customs requirements and in cross-border bureaucracy.”
In the survey, the divide between respondents from the West and the developing countries like China, India, and Indonesia was evident. Respondents from the latter found international trade more complex than the former, and Edwards stressed that Shipa Freight designed its platform in a way which supports companies from those countries to scale up their businesses without trouble.
Feedback from its early adopters has helped mould Shipa Freight, and has proven useful to create new features. For instance, some of the early feedback suggested that businesses had a hard time figuring out the size of shipments they were importing. “If you are importing 5,000 T-shirts from China, you don’t necessarily know the size of the shipment. On Shipa Freight, you can invite a shipper or manufacturing partner from another country with the ability to use Shipa Freight, to put information in our platform and then the consignee can then go in and retrieve that information and complete the booking,” said Edwards.
With regard to traction, Shipa Freight faces a reality that impacts much of the industry - the general lack of impetus to move freight quotes online. “People are not used to booking freight online, and in the world of freight logistics, customers are used to having a relationship with customer service or operations, and there is the human element to it,” said Edwards.
Though Shipa Freight does use technology to drive interactions, it also looks to hold on the human ties to freight booking. The company has a dedicated online support team on standby, answering questions and calling people back when necessary. Edwards likened the situation of freight digitization to the time when e-commerce exploded into the scene. E-commerce received a lukewarm response initially, but has since then grown to be ubiquitous around the world, and it is about time that freight logistics etches out a similar path and changes the industry for good.
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