Freight forwarders in the UK have responded to the news of Amazon’s investment in the UK operator Beacon with a defiant message of their own, claiming that Amazon is not the only company that is joining the digital revolution.
Forwarding as an industry is often considered to be ripe for disruption by the new technological revolution that is taking place with a view that the industry will see its business taken over by slicker digital operators, according to the British International Freight Association (BIFA).
Speaking to Container News following the news that Jeff Bezos and Amazon were investors in the US$15 million fundraising round in the UK-based forwarder Beacon, which is being seen as a disruptor for the traditional forwarding companies, Robert Keen the director general at BIFA believes that the view of the luddite forwarder is an oversimplification of a diverse and complex business.
“What do they think freight forwarders are doing?” Asked Keen. He went on to say, that the forwarding industry is seen as “a bunch of stuffy old gits,” and “scruffy old box shifters,” however, many forwarders are also digitalising.
“Many freight forwarders are doing the same things [as beacon and Amazon] even some of the smaller companies, with 10-12 people will have two software developers do the same things that Beacon are talking about,” claimed Keen.
Keen, who’s forwarder supporters top 1,500-members said BIFA had grown over the last few years rather than consolidating and contracting, which is the common view. However, he pointed out that one of the key attributes of forwarders were their ability to adapt and survive.
“Future freight forwarders will be innovators, problem solvers as they have been in the past,” argued Keen, saying he was convinced that freight forwarders will be needed in the future, that they will not disappear.
“Those that can’t afford to develop their own digital technology will be able to use FIATA [International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations] which is developing a system for smaller freight forwarders,” said Keen.
However, BIFA does concede that the current Covid-19 crisis could see some forwarders close, “We may lose 50 or so members by the end of the year,” he said, but there will be plenty of work with the Brexit negotiations still not concluded causing a great deal of uncertainty and the need for declarations at the EU border in Ireland.
“It takes a year to train a customs officer and there won’t be anyone taking them on now and waiting six months to see if they’re needed,” said Keen.
Returning to Amazon he also pointed out that Amazon offers suppliers a huge amount of work and that offers work for others that Amazon will not undertake.
“As soon as a new dog turns up in town the fleas start to jump on it,” claimed the BIFA DG. There is a whole new revolution going on, but there appears to be life in the old dogs yet.