Freight Insights Logistics Technology

What Can Freight Forwarding Learn from Airbnb? – A guest post from Container xChange

Would you ever google “accommodation Barcelona” or ask strangers on Facebook for a place to stay ahead of a weekend getaway? Of course, you wouldn’t because it would be hard to trust the results or advice from strangers. Airbnb exists for precisely this reason. It creates trust through guaranteeing payments and providing ratings, reviews and pictures of the place you’re about to rent. 

But finding partners in container logistics is broken

While people find it easy to book things like accommodations online, container owners and freight forwarders or shippers looking for available Shipper Owned Containers (SOCs) often still struggle to connect with trusted partners.

Traditionally, freight forwarders have needed to attend conferences to find new partners, ask people in their existing network “if they know anyone,” search on LinkedIn or even send mass emails to their mailing list with low chances of success. 

And once you’ve managed to find a lead, managing several different stakeholders involves sending hundreds of emails back and forth, is error-prone, risky and ultimately makes it difficult to make a quote for new customers on time.

The old way of finding and managing partners might work to a certain extent, but nowadays we have more efficient options (thank you, digitalization!). As freight forwarders, we’re not the only industry that has had to digitize. So what can we learn from other industries that have successfully done so? 

What can freight learn from Airbnb?

Platforms like Airbnb have come up in the last 10 years and gained huge popularity. Platforms facilitate commercial interactions between groups – with one typically being suppliers and other users. They make it easy to do business because they help us find and trust strangers. 

In freight forwarding there are already platforms like Freightos or Xeneta that create transparency by digitizing the underlying processes and bringing together both suppliers and users (or buyers and sellers) of a specific market segment. 

Container xChange is applying this model to the pain points of container logistics and sourcing SOCs. In the past, forwarders could only reach out to a few leasing companies or shipping lines to source containers. There was no way to connect with smaller traders or other equipment owners on the other side of the world due to the lack of trust, as well as the error-prone and manual process of organizing such deals. A trusted platform for sourcing SOCs both extends forwarder reach to many more partners, and provides the trust and efficiency expected of a platform. 

How to get started as a freight forwarder

Platforms are not the holy grail and will not be able to solve all shipping related problems at once. Think of online platforms as tools that help you become more efficient – but especially in the beginning, every platform has to solve a few challenges on the path to success such as the famous chicken-and-egg problem that platforms have to balance out supply and demand or overcoming different industry data standards. Most platforms solve these challenges by offering free-trials to early adopters, highly customizable products tailored to your needs and a service team that helps you during every step of your user journey. 

In the end, it always depends on your preferences! Don’t assume that you can shift your entire business onto platforms within a day- it will be a transition period. Both approaches, the modern and the traditional approach of doing business can coexist with each other at the same time. It depends on your perspective: for a 2-day business trip you might prefer a hotel but for the weekend leisure trip to Barcelona, you might choose Airbnb. 

It’s important to give platforms a try and adapt to new digital opportunities. If logistics can learn something from Airbnb, it is that platforms are here to stay. Why? It’s simple … just as we’ve gotten used to the transparency and great service of platforms like Airbnb and Amazon, we’re going to expect the same when doing business in container logistics!

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