In part due to relatively low barriers of entry, there are literally tens of thousands of freight forwarders out there. Some are good, most are average – and then there are the scammers that will take your money and run.
8. Are they experienced with your product category?
Some cargo, such as lithium batteries and products containing them, requires safety documentation and special packaging. If your forwarder lacks experience with your category, you might face delays – or be forced to switch forwarder altogether. You clearly want to avoid that.
9. Can they help you with repackaging the products?
Chinese manufacturers have a tendency to use cheap and substandard export packaging. If your cargo is not properly packed, you may receive a pile of damaged, and thus totally worthless, cargo. Some forwarders offer to take photos of your cargo as they receive it from your manufacturer. This gives you a chance to check if the supplier packaged the cargo properly, and whether or not a repacking is necessary. You must of course pay for any additional packaging materials. Still, ten or twenty dollars extra spent on packaging can be what saves you from a complete disaster.
Also remember that ‘heavy cargo’ should be palletized, which is even required if you intend to use the Amazon FBA program. Pallets and other packaging materials must be ISPM 15 compliant. I can tell from experience that most Chinese suppliers don’t even know what ISPM 15 is, so if your forwarder can arrange that for you, they might be a keeper.
10. Can they consolidate shipments from multiple suppliers in one container?
This is related to LCL shipping, but still important enough to bring up with a prospective freight forwarder. If you are buying products from different manufacturers in China you can save hundreds – sometimes thousands – of dollars in various shipping costs by consolidating cargo from multiple suppliers in one container. LCL shipping is more expensive than FCL shipping, as many fees are on a ‘per shipment basis’. This is simply because the amount of administration (i.e., customs clearance) is the same for all shipments – regardless of volume.
The price for an LCL shipment can be 2 to 3 times as high, per cubic meter, as compared to an FCL shipment. As such, you really should avoid shipping LCL, if you have a total volume that enables you to. When it comes to consolidation of small shipments, into one container, it’s a matter of sorting out the paperwork. The question, when selecting a freight forwarder, is whether they are willing to do that for you.
11. Do you get discounts on your shipments?
The freight forwarder manages the administration around shipping. They don’t own the shipping vessels, and acts as a ‘spider in the web’. A forwarder brings hundreds, sometimes thousands, of accounts to the larger shipping companies, such as Maersk and Evergreen. This gives them access to discounted pricing.
Normally, the forwarder passes on most of these discounts to their clients, while keeping a part themselves. And that’s okay. Freight forwarders are people too.
12. Can they offer air freight and parcel shipments?
As an importer, you probably need documents and product samples delivered on a frequent basis. To avoid working with multiple forwarders, you are better off with one that can handle your parcel deliveries too. In addition, you may also need bulk shipments delivered by air. Some freight forwarders are exclusively focused on sea freight (or vice versa), so you should ask if they offer air freight too. Do you need help with shipping and customs?
We know how hard it is to understand the shipping and customs process, especially if you have never imported from Asia before. To help startups get a grip on the process, and avoid scams and overcharging shipping agents – we created the Starter Package: a. Tutorials, Video Walkthroughs and Task Lists that guide you step-by-step through the entire shipping and customs process b. Import duties, taxes and calculation examples for the US, Europe, Australia & more c. Licenses, permits and how to obtain the required documents for the US, Europe, Australia & more
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