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How to Find a Good Freight Forwarder

Written by
Benedict Leong
Published on
November 6, 2020
Updated on
June 26, 2023

A company’s logistics needs to run smoothly while avoiding costly delays, and the complexity of international logistics doesn’t make that a simple task. If your company isn’t running its operations completely in-house, chances are you’ll need the services of an experienced freight forwarder.

Freight forwarders are individuals or companies that coordinate the shipment of your goods via their network of shipping partners on behalf of their clients. One alternative definition for freight forwarders is that they are cargo’s equivalent of a travel agent.

In our earlier article on what a freight forwarder is, we mentioned that freight forwarders come in all shapes and sizes and have different specialisations in terms of the lanes they service and products they can handle. While there isn’t a hard and fast rule to finding the perfect freight forwarder for your business, you can follow these general steps to narrow down your list of forwarders you can potentially work with.

Consider Your Shipping Needs

Larger, established global freight forwarders who can cover all types of goods and have a wide range of services are tempting to consider, but their rates may not be the most competitive for your specific lane. Smaller forwarders who are more specialised may have better rates in exchange for a narrower range of services and products they can handle.

To start off, you can check what kind of items you need to ship. Some require licenses and registration with relevant authorities, while others could be known as dangerous goods (DGR) which require additional documentation and handling. The title of dangerous goods itself could be a little misleading as it also includes electronics with batteries. Different forwarders have specialisations in different goods types.

Next, take note of the origins and destinations for your shipments. Larger forwarders can be helpful if you’re looking for one point of contact for shipments involving multiple lanes, but smaller forwarders can offer you better service at the lanes they specialise in at possibly better rates.

After that, you can see what your shipment cannot compromise on. Is speed and service quality more important, or are you on a tight budget? This will affect whether you should consider air freight or sea freight for your shipment.

You may also have existing freight capabilities that you want to continue using and may only need additional services at specific legs of the shipment. If your shipment needs are like this, looking out for a forwarder that is flexible enough to cater to this could be helpful.

Find a forwarder with the right experience which matches your needs

Offering the services you need is one thing, but having the experience to back it up is another. Especially when dealing with import and export customs, it’s best to check with your potential freight forwarding partner if they have the industry knowledge to navigate your origin and destination countries’ customs regulations and documentation.

In the previous step, we mentioned that certain types of products require specific documentation or handling methods. During the appointment with your potential forwarders, be sure to ask them about the documentation and procedures required for your types of goods (if the products need it) to gauge their level of experience.

For instance, health and beauty products being imported into Indonesia need to be registered with Indonesia’s BPOM (National Agency of Drug and Food Control) along with needing an import license if the products are not brought in for personal use.

Aside from customs, you should also check to see if your forwarder can provide these services (non-exhaustive list):

  • Book cargo space
  • Negotiate bulk freight rates
  • Status tracking
  • Managing customs documentation
  • Freight consolidation
  • And more

Ask them about their network and capabilities

Freight forwarders tend to work with multiple carriers or have their own fleet in certain countries. Whether you need an end-to-end service or just a few specific parts of the shipment, be sure to ask your potential freight forwarding partner what their capabilities are at each leg of the journey.

During this part of the discussion, you can also ask for options on how they can optimise the shipments further based on your needs. For instance, if your main concern is keeping costs low, you can enquire about consolidation or transhipment opportunities, such as consolidating Malaysian outbound shipments at Singapore for better international line-haul rates to your destination.

Check their reputation

When looking for a freight forwarder, you can also look out for their credentials. They should be part of at least one or more logistics organisations like the Singapore Logistics Association for those based in Singapore.

You can also ask for referrals or case studies from the freight forwarder to get a better idea of how their services could help you from a third party.

Find out about the customer service experience you can expect from them

When it comes to customer service, the name of the game is responsiveness. During the opening discussions with your forwarder, find out who you’ll be communicating with when it comes to operations and also tech, if integrations between your systems are necessary.

During these exchanges, you can also gauge the company on how responsive they are to your queries. If they are highly responsive, you can count on them to keep you up to date if they are any possible delays to your shipments.

When it comes to managing the shipments themselves, constantly needing to wait for status updates via email could be an annoying experience. Fortunately, there are some forwarders with dedicated merchant portals for B2C and B2B shipping that update regularly enough to take that hassle away.

Janio’s B2B merchant portal provides you the statuses of your shipments at a glance

In Janio’s case, our team has been building a B2B merchant portal which lists down the statuses of all the shipments you have with us at a glance, while providing the option for automatic email notifications when statuses are updated. For more information on our portal, check out our B2B portal announcement.

There isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to choosing the right freight forwarder, but knowing what you need and gauging the capabilities of your potential forwarders can go a long way to keeping your logistics smooth, including in upcoming economic powerhouse regions like Southeast Asia.

If you’re looking for a freight forwarder to help you navigate Southeast Asia’s fragmented geography and varied customs regulations, Janio Asia’s regional expertise, B2B merchant portal and flexible logistics services have you covered. Whether you need an end-to-end solution or just import customs and last mile delivery, we help you simplify Southeast Asia’s logistics for you.

Air, Land or Sea, our flexible shipping solutions keep your deliveries going forward