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Maersk Line has begun its promised digitisation revolution, launching an online container shipment booking system on the world’s largest e-commerce platform – Alibaba.
Aimed at small and medium Chinese exporters, and offering a way to effectively bypass the services of the thousands of freight forwarders whose business depend one brokering freight space on box ships leaving China on behalf of manufacturers, the service launched on Alibaba’s OneTouch booking portal.
OneTouch offers import and export services such as customs clearance and logistics services, and also books air freight and express services on behalf of customers.
However, the launch of the Maersk pilot represents a first in container shipping, as it will effectively enable small shippers to agree their own spot freight rates with the world’s largest shipping line.
A spokesperson for the carrier in China said: “Maersk Line is committed to investing in digitised solutions, in order to provide improved products and services to our customers.
“To take a step further in this journey we launched a pilot programme on Alibaba OneTouch portal on 22 December.
“The initial launch features a web-exclusive product that allows existing Alibaba OneTouch (registered) users to lock in the price of required cargo spaces on selected routes by pre-paying a deposit. This service will be offered on selected routes and ports initially.
“We will also assess other potential third-party portals and target customers as we gain more customer insight during the process,” she added.
The project was briefly alluded to during Maersk’s capital markets day last month and group chief executive Soren Skou explained that the shippers’ experience of doing business with Maersk would be fundamentally transformed by its digitisation efforts.
“The customer experience is likely to change: it’s going to be online; it’s going to be self-service; it’s going to be a lot less person-to-person; a lot fewer emails; and a lot fewer phone calls.
“It’s going be more cost-effective for us because the customer will be doing a lot of the work for themselves, and it’s going to affect the demarcation lines between what has traditionally been a freight forwarder and what has traditionally been a carrier,” he said.