A shipping company essentially transports physical objects smoothly and safely. Picking the right shipping company is akin to picking the right accountant, vendor or supplier. You are picking a partner who helps you meet your logistics needs. Of course, that’s only if they do their job perfectly. As in every other industry, there are fly-by-night operators in the shipping industry too. They may offer you an unrealistic price and disappear with your valuables. But there are genuinely great companies as well. Hence, you should do due diligence. Check their track record (read customer reviews) for attributes such as timeliness, consistent service, and cost efficiency. Detailed here are 10 questions you must ask your shipping company before entrusting them your consignment.
Question #1: Do you have experience in transporting this type of item/commodity to this specific destination?
There are countless items such as machinery, cars, garments, chemicals, food, perishables, etc. Additionally, there are many regulations such as BIS, ITAR, OFAC, etc. to contend with. All shipping companies aren’t proficient in handling all of these combinations. So ask your shipping company about the experience they have in your particular type of shipment. A reputed company will bring up several examples of similar shipments they handled for their customers.
Question #2: Are you a member of any freight forwarding network or licensed by an independent federal agency?
Joining an acclaimed freight forwarding association or obtaining a license from an independent federal agency such as the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) requires operational efficiency, financial strength, integrity, and other attributes. Only an authentic shipping company will fulfill all these stipulations. And such a company will handle your shipment with diligence and care. The company will have the requisite financial strength as well as legitimate freight forwarding network to ensure your shipment isn’t held up anywhere but reaches its intended destination safely. A company licensed by the FMC guarantees you a reliable international ocean transportation system. It safeguards you from unfair and deceptive practices as well.
Question #3: Do you provide cargo insurance?
Although all shipping companies are stipulated to provide insurance, every company has a different policy. Find out the understated details about their coverage. If you aren’t satisfied with what the company offers, ask them if they can provide additional coverage for an extra fee. This is important. In case of partial or total damage, loss or theft of your cargo, you’ll be compensated. So itemize expensive items separately on the insurance policy.
Question #4: Do you have a network of agents in the destination country of my shipment?
In any industry, a network is vital. And in the shipping industry, it’s more so. If there’s any unforeseen issue such as a customs problem, port strike or other delay in your destination country, a smart representative or agent can resolve it smoothly. A good shipping company must be able to transport your consignment safely and swiftly with minimum fuss. The company representative must be able to enlighten you about the customs charges for your consignment in your destination country. If the representative answers your queries about customs satisfactorily, it proves beyond any doubt that the company has prior experience in delivering similar consignments.
Question #5: Does my consignment require any special packaging or attract extra charges?
The answer to this question by most shipping companies will be an emphatic “No.” But a consignment that involves live animals, organic produce or cigars demands special consideration for successful shipment. Whether it is logistical limitations, trade restrictions, customs duties or tax policies, the company agent must be able to offer you at least minimal guidance about the subtleties involved in the transportation of goods to your destination country. If the agent offers you zero assistance, it’s ample proof that the shipping company has zero experience in transporting similar cargo to your destination country.
Question #6: Who will handle my consignment? Can I track my consignment?
Find out if the shipping company will handle your consignment from drop off until destination. Many times, shipping companies work in tandem with others in handling some of the process. In such a case, it’s better to know beforehand. Find out if the company offers an online consignment tracking option.
Question #7: Does your company offer a free no-obligation quote and explain what’s included in your quote?
A shipping company that doesn’t offer you a free no-obligation quotation but charges you upfront for one isn’t worth doing business with. And never let a shipping company present you a vague quote. Some unscrupulous operators have “hidden” fees. Demand an itemized list of every charge before you consider signing the freight contract. The quote should include where your consignment will be dropped off once it reaches your destination just to avoid unpleasant surprises.
Question #8: How long will it take you to ship my consignment?
Although most companies may not be able to give you the exact timeframe concerning the handling and shipping process, they’ll be able to give you an approximate date by which your consignment will reach the destination country. Most companies do give a reliable estimate of the shipping process. Again, it all depends on your origin port and destination city and country. The frequency of the shipments the company makes to that particular destination plays a decisive role. Discuss this in-depth with the representative of the shipping company so that you can book your cargo at the origin port as well as make the receiving arrangements at your destination country.
Question #9: Which currency do you accept?
This is extremely important if you’re not located in either the origin country or the destination country. Even if you’re located in the destination country, it still matters. Most shipping companies accept payment in US dollars. Some shipping companies accept other currencies as well. But find out which currency you can pay in. Also, ask whether there are bank fees or credit card charges payable.
Question #10: Can I get a discount?
And why shouldn’t you? The shipping industry is identical to any other industry. There are lean business periods and peak business periods. In the US, the months after Christmas are typically lean business periods and the months preceding Christmas are peak business periods. So you can negotiate with the agent of the shipping company and save some money by timing the dispatch of your consignment. But remember, a quotation is not valid beyond 30 days. Prices are subject to change.
Although most shipping companies are professional, reliable and perfectly capable of getting your consignment to its destination without extra hassles to you, it’s better to ask the right questions. There’s no shortage of harrowing shipping experiences. You’ll be able to identify the wolf in sheep’s clothing if your research ahead of time. And if you’re working with an international shipping company, any information lag will hurt you. These 10 questions (and the answers to them) will help you pinpoint a reliable shipping company that’s capable of delivering your cargo in time.