online booking © Prykhodov
© Prykhodov

It “remains to be seen” whether CMA CGM’s agreement to list its rates on Freightos’ online marketplace will be successful outside its transpacific pilot phase, says Alphaliner.

The French carrier announced last week it had become the first container line to be listed on the Freightos platform, enabling online bookings with guaranteed pricing and secured space reservations.

Initially, the digital offering is restricted to CMA CGM’s China to US freight services, but the carrier said it intended to roll out the digital link to other tradelanes in due course.

As a consequence of shippers front-loading cargo to beat expected US import duty hikes, the China to US tradelanes have faced capacity constraints since July, resulting in carriers adding more than 20 extra loaders since mid-October.

Unsurprisingly, spot rates have soared and, despite some erosion in recent weeks, remain double the rates of a year ago for the US west coast and some 70% higher for east coast ports.

One industry source commenting on the CMA CGM-Freightos deal last week told The Loadstar it was “perfect timing”, given the vast number of containers that had been rolled-over on the route in past months.

“I have heard of some containers being rolled for three sailings because the lines have been picking and choosing the best-paying boxes,” he said.

He added: “If shippers can get price and space guarantees by going online, I think this might have legs.”

However, Alphaliner said the “real test” of the initiative would come when the tradelane stabilised and vessel capacity was no longer tight.

It said Maersk’s first attempt, in 2008, to introduce instant online booking functionality was suspended a year later, after it failed to take off, with the carrier admitting it would only work “when shipping capacity was constrained”.

A decade later, Maersk has reintroduced online booking confirmation functionality on its websites, but unlike the CMA CGM-Freightos product, it is aimed at existing customers that want to save time, rather than targeting new business.

Meanwhile, Hapag-Lloyd launched its Quick Quotes product in August, which claims to provide quotes in 30 seconds across its entire network. During the German carrier’s Capital Markets Day on 4 December, CEO Rolf Habben Jansen said he had been “positively surprised” by the success of the digital channel.

He said Quick Quotes platform was now issuing approximately 90,000 quotes a week and had a portfolio of some 3,000 customers.

Mr Habben Jansen said about 14,000 teu a week was being booked through its digital channel, representing 6% of the carrier’s volume and producing $500m of revenue.

Alphaliner said online pricing platforms typically catered for smaller-volume shippers that do not have their own service contracts. The consultant noted that CMA CGM was offering a rate from Shanghai to Los Angeles on Freightos of $2,263 per 40ft for a December shipment, whereas the Shanghai Containerized Freight Index assessment on 7 December was recorded at $2,030.

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