Of the world's top 20 freight forwarders secretly assessed by the online marketplace, CH Robinson, Kuehne + Nagel, DHL and DB Schenker stood out for best user experience and ease of use.
The report found a 'dramatic improvement' in how top forwarders help customers procure freight online, with 11 of the 20 forwarders now providing dedicated 'request for quotation', or RFQ forms, three of which instantly generated quotes. In contrast, in 2015 only three forwarders provided 'request for quotation' forms.
'By promptly responding to all quote requests, instant quoting forwarders are much more likely to win the sale than their manual quoting counterparts,' said the report.
But the survey also found that leading container lines are now an online threat to forwarders by finally taking digital connectivity seriously.
'All five had RFQ forms - compared to only three of the top five forwarders - that were straightforward to use,' said the report. 'Hapag-Lloyd quoted instantly and Maersk quoted in less than an hour. MSC responded within 68 hours, but could only quote port to port. CMA CGM didn't respond to the mystery shopper quote request, but it does instant quote for approved customers.'
Overall, carrier response time was much quicker than the freight forwarders, reported American Shipper.
Digital forwarders are expanding. In the 2018 survey only two digital forwarders could quote for China-US door-to-door. In this survey the number doubled to four - half of the eight surveyed digital forwarders - although two only supported the common addressable market of Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA).
'As with the last survey, digital forwarders were more customer-focused [than the top 20 traditional forwarders] and scored much better for automation,' said the report.
Freightos annual survey assesses online sales capabilities of the 20 largest forwarders. It is conducted in secret with a 'mystery shopper' posing as a rapidly expanding US-based e-commerce importer requesting quotes for a door-to-door shipment from a major Chinese city to a major US city via a website form or, failing that, by email.
'Requests for FCL, air and less than container load (LCL) quotes were spaced over the course of one month,' said Freightos.
Freightos marketing chief Eytan Buchman told New York's FreightWaves he was confident freight forwarders would continue to progress their digital procurement offerings.
'We're definitely past the tipping point of an imperative for digital freight sales and service; with half of all forwarders selling online, as well as the new tech drive from carriers and forwarders alike, things are certainly changing,' he said.