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Shippers in Bangladesh sending a 40ft container from Chittagong to the deepsea transhipment hubs of Colombo ...
Traditional freight forwarders are the “true architects” of transport and, with the right tools, can beat fresh competition from digital disruptors and shipping lines.
According to digital logistics start-up Qwyk, freight forwarders are well-positioned “to provide superior customer service to their rivals”.
“Every shipper will choose a good customer experience over an average one, and from my point of view, this is where a digitised freight forwarder can score,” said Harm Wessels, Qwyk’s newly appointed, Singapore-based chief commercial officer.
“Start-ups know that and drive the disruption of the market from this angle. The big players entering the traditional forwarding market also feel that way and are working on answers here, but forwarders are the true architects of transport so imagine them equipped with the right tools.”
Martyn Verhaegen, Qwyk’s founder and chief executive, had exactly this goal in mind when launching the company in Rotterdam in 2017, following 10 years working with one of the world’s largest consolidators.
“We started with the problem of how you take all the different carrier schedules and convert them into your own, so that your customers know when, where and how they can ship with you,” he told The Loadstar.
He claimed Qwyk could compile data from multiple sources to build the “world’s largest” platform of sailing schedules from over 85 carriers – “more than double” other shipping platforms.
Mr Wessels added: “Qwyk also makes sure that this data is displayed in the look and feel of our clients’ [brands] and that the data is always available in real-time and correct. A great customer experience in logistics starts with this and should happen under the brand of the forwarder.”
One area Qwyk differs from some its competitors in the digital logistics technology space, the duo said, is with a greater focus on the less than container load (LCL) consolidation market.
“My experience with technology in this industry, coming out of my previous job, is that while the full-load side of things is always well thought through and fleshed out, a lot of times the LCL side seems to have been more of a bolted-on afterthought,” noted Mr Verhaegen.
He said Qwyk’s schedule data also includes a significant portion of consolidators and airlines, which is helpful for customers dealing with LCL, as they tend to “co-load out at least a fraction of their services, and in many cases much more”.
On the current debate surrounding “digital freight forwarders,” Mr Verhaegen reckoned a 100% digital business model is challenging given the physical assets involved, and because the industry still lacks standardisation.
“We’ve already started to see the business model of the ‘pure’ digital freight forwarder start-ups move more towards those of the traditional ones in terms of physical assets, staff, and office presence, for example.
“And I think we’re probably going to see companies end up on a spectrum where they’re largely digitised but not 100% digital, and where the actual operational side of the work becomes one of management-by-exception,” he added.
Furthermore, with shipping lines such as Maersk intent on generating more revenue from logistics services, Mr Verhaegen believes forwarders will continue to find success by carving out niches and building great networks and relationships.
“I think if they continue to play into those local strengths that’ll be difficult to disrupt for a company like Maersk.
“Beyond that, what Maersk is effectively doing is integrating some part of the Damco business but ultimately they’re not creating anything new there like what was done with Twill, which might ultimately prove to be much more impactful.
“Sure, they’ll be able to take advantage of some of the synergies that exist between the businesses but that’s unlikely to lead to massive disruption. At some point almost all top carriers used to have a logistics subsidiary and then some of those were divested, got spun out, or they drifted further apart and there was a reason for that too,” said Mr Verhaegen.