- Maersk Line on Thursday said customers can now book shipments as easily "as booking a flight ticket," with the addition of "instant booking confirmation" to its online platform.
- The carrier will now instantly confirm whether the vessel space or equipment is available to complete a booking request. Previously, customers had to wait for a follow-up call or email confirmation after using the digital booking tool.
- Maersk said in the past, 10% of booking requests made were rejected or confirmed for an alternate sailing due to a lack of vessel space or equipment availability. Its customer service team spent 15% of its calls and chats — and 200,000 emails — each month tending to questions on these failed bookings.
Uncertainty at the time of booking has long been flagged as one of the greater inefficiencies in the industry.
In an analysis earlier this year, Supply Chain Dive found of the top six ocean carriers, only Hapag-Lloyd could claim to provide instant, binding quotes for a digital booking request. However, even Hapag-Lloyd could not guarantee the space or equipment would be available to complete a selected service request.
Often, the wait would be of just a few hours or days. But the associated lack of certainty points to a larger industry problem: carriers have at times struggled to guarantee shipments, due to a lack of visibility into future equipment — from empty containers to chassis at ports — and vessel space availability.
In the past years, shippers and carriers alike have come to call the effects of this a "vicious cycle."
In order to guarantee their shipment, shippers at times double-book cargo, opting to pay a cancellation fee instead of having cargo rolled to the next available sailing. Carriers, to counter this, would overbook their vessels to guarantee full utilization. If all cargo did show up, however, some would inevitably be rolled-over.
It's unclear whether a more streamlined booking-to-confirmation process will address the issue. Booking, it should be noted, is often handled separately than operations to and at a port. The no-show/cargo roll-over cycle is an effect of bad habits, not necessarily tools.
Still, Maersk's announcement points to a greater achievement: The carrier now has enough visibility into the availability of equipment and vessel space to be able to provide instant booking confirmations.