Maersk offers direct container ship bookings in China

The world’s largest container shipping line Maersk is working with Chinese online commerce portal Alibaba to allow the Chinese company’s customers to reserve space on its vessels.

The service has been running through Alibaba’s OneTouch booking website since December 22 according to a spokesperson from Maersk.

Until recently, shippers have had to go through freight forwarders to book space for their goods on container ships though Maersk and other shippers have recently begun to allow direct bookings on the internet.

E-commerce companies are interested in these offerings as it offers them greater control of the whole supply chain from manufacturer to the final miles.

One of the largest western e-commerce players Amazon has recently registered a Chinese business as a freight forwarder, and has also leased freighter aircraft in Europe and the US. Alibaba has been working into logistics in recent years by buying stakes in couriers as well as buying warehouses. Alibaba has not commented on its new relationship with the Danish shipping line.

Maersk however has said that this is part of its strategy to provide digitised services for customers, and also that it plans to launch more pilot programmes on third party portals.

OneTouch was bought by Alibaba in 2010, and targets small and medium Chinese exporters with a range of online services including customs clearance and logistics. In addition it enables its customers to book air freight and parcel delivery services, supporting Alibaba’s B2B marketplace.

According to Maersk, this new service is not about cutting out freight forwarders as the OneTouch service still uses those companies for services including freight haulage.

“The initial launch …allows existing Alibaba OneTouch (registered) users to lock in the price of required cargo spaces on selected routes by pre-paying a deposit amount,” the Maersk spokeswoman said.

“This service will be offered on selected routes and ports initially.”

It is currently offered on routes from eight Chinese ports, including Shanghai and Ningbo, to ports in Europe and Asia, according to the OneTouch website. 
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