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© Welcomia

Online booking platforms could cut the time it takes shippers to book by as much as 15%, according to the founder of Agree Freight, Nick Coverdale.

CMA CGM this week became the launch customer for Agree Freight, which aims to cut 10-15% of the time involved in booking containers by “removing many unnecessary hurdles”.

The system works in a way comparable with online flight portals, such as Skyscanner, with live prices for container lines displayed through Agree Freight’s website, which can be selected immediately.

“If a fashion house in London places an order with China mid-afternoon, they need to find the quickest ship available,” Mr Coverdale told The Loadstar.

“They select the price and the booking can be executed immediately, with the shipper receiving the container to be delivered to load at the port before the customer wakes the following day.”

Mr Coverdale says that for those who have more time, and are prepared to wait, it also allows bids to be placed and sent directly to the carrier.

“Being able to do everything online benefits both the shippers and the carriers,” he added. “It reduces the need to go back and forth, haggling over $50 for a container.”

At present, prices are on a port-to-port basis, but Mr Coverdale said that, in line with market demand, this would be rolled out to gate-to-gate rates, before expanding further.

“Our ultimate target is a global door-to-door option covering multiple modes of transport,” he said.

“We don’t want to just be another middle-man among middle-men; we want to connect the customer to every asset manager within the supply chain – same as booking an airline ticket, people don’t want to go through a travel agent.”

As such, the company is in talks with a number of rail operators covering central and northern China, and will seek to offer direct sea/air services to customers.

Only two days after the launch, Mr Coverdale said the site had received significant traffic, with a spike in shippers registering to use the platform.

Despite only having CMA CGM on board initially, he expects to add another container line within the next two months while talks continue with several.

“There was no great difficulty getting CMA CGM on board,” said Mr Coverdale. “And other carriers have proved accommodating, though there is some fear over changing the way the industry works.”

As is true for many businesses, Mr Coverdale says the shipping sector talks about change but when it comes to implementation there is some trepidation.

“CMA CGM, however, welcomed us with open arms,” he continued. “Once people get used to it, the process will be instantaneous – though we have received some strange questions.

“One shipper asked us if the rates were genuine.”

Global account senior manager for Asia at CMA CGM Ludovic Rozan said the system would provide customers another option for booking their shipments.

The Agree Freight system currently covers the carrier’s Asia-Europe services, but having placed a footprint on this trade, Mr Coverdale is keen to add more routes.

“The transpacific market will be first priority, as it is littered with middlemen and tedious contracts, giving a fantastic opportunity for freight buyers to bypass the long, tiresome process,” he said.

CMA CGM twinned the launch of Agree Freight with a relaunch of its own updated mobile app that allows customers to access schedules and plan shipments.

The app, in several languages, allows customers to follow shipments from loading through unloading, access schedules, and obtain routes from the fleet.

Vice-president for direction of IT systems Michel Foulon said the first version of the app had been downloaded more than 16,000 times since 2015.

“This new version gives customers new tools that greatly ease their shipments of goods,” he added.

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