Agile forwarding: How top forwarders innovate in the Middle East

E-commerce edges in

Following the already well-established trend in other markets, and especially in North America and Asia-Pacific, e-commerce is beginning to change logistics demand in the Middle East – however, the growth in e-commerce there has been somewhat fitful following early pushes and some later economic volatility.

“The increase has been substantial [compared to other regions] because the other regions were pretty much mature,” Crane’s Nazzari said. “The focus of the investments is huge, but the economy is not to the level where it was five years ago,” he added, noting that e-commerce investments in the region “still need to find a final strategy.”

Shipa hopes to aid in the development of regional e-commerce with its Shipa eCommerce division “competing in a new space that Agility has not featured in before and doesn’t already hold a presence,” Agility’s Al-Saleh said. “Shipa eCommerce is highly digital in its nature and serves companies based in Europe, the U.S. and China who are looking to break into the Middle East market.”

Shipa Delivery, meanwhile, operates specifically in the Middle East “and enables companies to make urban deliveries” in support of Middle Eastern e-commerce markets, which Al-Saleh said show “a huge amount of potential. The market was big enough to support a new entrant and we also have connections in the market that nobody else has.”

Conquering the digital market

As is clear from the Shipa launch, forwarders are betting big on the potential for technology offerings to win over shippers in the Middle East, e-commerce and SME spaces. Although Shipa is based in the Middle East, thinking about digitalization from a regional perspective doesn’t make sense in a global logistics industry that, in the 21st century, is supporting the globalization of nearly all other industries.

“When you approach the digitalization topic, you can’t regionalize it – it has to be global, which is one of the advantages we have with digitalization,” Crane’s Stefan Boehler, VP Operations, EMEIA, said. “The beauty Crane Worldwide brings is that we have one global operating system for all the products.” Crane’s platform offers a customer interface where customers can access global shipment data, which Boehler called “the backbone of everything else coming in the next couple of years.”

Crane does not yet offer an online booking platform, as Boehler said the forwarder believes “the functionality still needs to grow” around online booking platforms. He still views digitalization as the future of the field, however. “It is attracting the new generation of shippers interested in booking quickly and easily, through smartphones and browsers, and we will, moving forward, come up with solutions in that regard,” he added.

Digital offerings are often the best way for small shippers to overcome logistics hurdles, Agility’s Al-Saleh explained of the Shipa divisions. Regarding cross-border e-commerce, “due to having a smaller volume of transactions, they struggle to get the attention of leading logistics players with competitive pricing and other benefits,” she said. “The platform also solves the issue of convenience. SMEs do not have a logistics department like the big players do – it’s often the founder, owner or CEO who is in charge of everything. Therefore, they need the whole process to be quick and convenient, and easily accessible in one place.”

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