Freightos, a logistics technology company, has launched an online marketplace for international freight, comparable to travel booking services such as SkyScanner and Expedia.

The marketplace allows companies to instantly compare and book the services and pricing of international freight services from logistics providers, which the developer claims will drag the freight industry out of the 1970s.

Often, companies – especially SMEs – must wait days for a quotation on a freight cargo.  This costs billions to the economy and results in small businesses overpaying for freight by up to 40%, the company claims.

The service, which launched in Hong Kong this week, aggregates the entire process online, in the same way consumers can book flights or hotels at the click of a button.

Eytan Buchmann, a director at Freightos, tells GTR: “In this respect, think of the marketplace as ‘Expedia for freight’. Much like Expedia, our online booking system is free for users. Companies looking to ship and manage goods are also able to use the platform at no additional cost.”

Currently, there are eight freight providers listed on the Freightos website. These are: Sinotech (China), Freight Right (US), Logfret (US), Eurasia International Group (China), Global Forwarding (US), TCG (China), ULS (Mexico) and Hawthorn (Australia).

These companies pay a software as a service (SaaS) fee to implement the platform internally, before being listed on the marketplace. Once a shipment is booked, they pay Freightos a marketing fee. Users, on the other hand, use the service for free.

And just as it is possible to book a flight in a matter of minutes these days, Buchmann says the same should be the case for booking shipments.

“Provided the shipper has all the necessary information on hand, including the right documentation [commercial invoice] and is paying online with a credit card, international freight booking through the marketplace should take no longer than booking a flight online,” he says.

The launch is further evidence of the digitisation of trade and its related industries, particularly in Asia. Lalamove has launched an Uber-like service that allows for the pick up and drop off of packages around Asian cities, employing 30,000 drivers around the continent. OpenPort, a Hong Kong-based B2B shipping company, describes itself as a “pioneer” of open enterprise logistics.

Buchmann feels this is the way the entire industry is going, despite the slowdown in global shipping. Asked whether this was a good time to launch the marketplace, given the downturn in trade and shipping, he replies: “Absolutely.”

“Booking a flight has been electronic for 50 years, but the cargo on airplanes, trucks, and ships is still booked manually. This cannot continue,” Robert Mylod, Freightos

He continues: “While the pricing of international shipping has been on the decline, global freight is still the lifeblood of the global supply chain. In 2014, over US$19tn-worth of goods was shipped globally, with over US$500bn imported from China to the US alone.

“We still rely heavily on the shipping industry, yet there is a clear discrepancy between its ubiquity and the technology available to support it. The way we see it, the sooner we can bring frictionless trade to this market, the better.”

He cites a PWC paper which says that by 2020, 50% of the workforce will be millennials, used to having instant access, online payments and home delivery.

“Procurement managers who were raised on the likes of Amazon, Netflix and Airbnb will expect a similar level of transparency and accessibility in the workplace, creating a demand for newer and more efficient technologies like the marketplace,” he says .

“The freight industry likewise understands this – when asked about their future plans, 86% of senior logistics providers report plans to enhance their technologies, acknowledging the need to adapt to the emerging consumer class expecting immediacy in all things.”

In a statement, Freightos makes a pitch for revolutionising the US$4tn logistics industry, which accounts for 10% of global GDP.

Robert Mylod, former CFO of the Priceline Group – a US$60bn online travel marketplace – and a director at Freightos, says: “Booking a flight has been electronic for 50 years, but the cargo on airplanes, trucks, and ships is still booked manually. This cannot continue.”

He adds: “Growing global trade, e-commerce B2B sales, and sprawling dynamic supply chains demand the transparency and efficiency of online freight. Just like passenger travel went online to accommodate the demands of a growing market, Freightos is finally ushering in a much needed digital marketplace for freight.”