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Shipper insourcing, rather than digital disruption, is the greatest threat to freight forwarders, while tight margins are their biggest pain point, according to a survey out this week.
The Evolving Freight Forwarding Market 2018 report reveals that 54% of respondents thought shippers doing it for themselves was the trend or innovation most likely to threaten the forwarding market. Only 2% feared 3D printing, once oft-cited as a major threat to the supply chain industry.
“This is not a surprise as we’re seeing such shippers as Amazon, Alibaba and JD.com take the lead and management of logistics and transport services to further meet the demands of their customers,” noted Cathy Roberson, author of the report.
She cited a 3PL study from Penn State University in the US, which found that 53% of 3PL customers were planning to reduce the number of 3PLs they used – up from 47% a year earlier. And while 92% of 3PLs thought they were providing innovative and efficient logistics solutions, only 73% of their customers agreed with them.
Digitisation, meanwhile, seems to hold little fear for forwarders, who seem very much aware that the world is changing. Some 40% said that online marketplaces were an opportunity, with only 14% citing them as a threat, while 54% said digitisation was “extremely important” to their strategy. Only 14% felt lukewarm about it, saying it was “somewhat important”.
But how forwarders plan to tackle it varies. About one-third said they were building their own solutions, while 28% were opting for off-the-shelf platforms. Partnership accounted for 18% and 16% planned to achieve digitisation through acquisition.
“Traditional freight forwarding is fading, making way for a new type of service provider that quickly responds to the needs of shippers in today’s fast-paced environment and provides value-added services that were unheard of just a few years ago,” said Ms Roberson, head analyst of Logistics Trends & Insights.
Interestingly, despite industry concerns over margins in ecommerce, 46% of respondents – by far the largest share – thought e-commerce was the most promising sector for them, with the next largest category, hi-tech, cited by just 14%. Another high-value vertical, pharmaceuticals, was cited by 12%, as was retail, while automotive came in at 10% and food and beverages at just 6%.
But tight margins remain forwarders’ biggest challenge, says the report, with 46% of respondents saying this was their most critical pain point. Rates and capacity concerns were the biggest worries for 24% of forwarders.
Just over a quarter of forwarders thought that low rates were what their customers wanted most, but the same percentage cited “trade expertise” as their most attractive quality. Some 18% thought ease and timeliness of booking freight were what shippers wanted most of all, while 10% thought visibility of cargo movements was key for customers.
One respondent wrote: “Low rates are always required, but what sets one forwarder apart from another is how problems are handled and solutions created.”
The report also ranks the top 10 forwarders, based on freight forwarding net revenues. Kuehne + Nagel soared into the top spot, with $16.2bn of revenue, while DHL Global Forwarding came in a distant second at $9.7bn.