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Finding the right shipping company or freight forwarder in China can be a serious challenge. Logistics accounts for a tenth of the world’s GDP and includes everything from small-scale bookings agencies to online platforms with live tracking.
In this guide, we help you select the right shipping company for your import business. Some of these companies are traditional freight forwarders, while others are shipping platforms, where you can get quotations, book, pay, and track your shipments.
Keep reading, and learn what you must know about DocShipper, Flexport, and many other companies – as we compare them based on their service offering, locations, and ratings.
Disclaimer: Most of these companies are not headquartered in Mainland China or Hong Kong S.A.R. However, all listed shipping companies and forwarders have partners or local offices in China. Some are also headquartered in China, including Hong Kong.
Headquartered in Hong Kong, DocShipper Group is an international freight forwarder company that provides logistic solutions in more than forty countries, including China, Europe, and North America.
DocShipper provides transportation services by means of air, land, and water. The services of DocShipper include rail freight services, trucking services, and express transport. The company also provides add-value services such as customs clearance, 3PL services, and FBA Prep Services.
The company has also set up a distribution center based in Camporosso in northern Italy. This is to facilitate the process of inventory management, order fulfillment, and last-mile delivery in Europe. Having a large-scale distribution center in Europe also enables DocShipper to handle the 3rd party logistic services for cross-border e-commerce merchants more effectively.
DocShipper offers one-stop logistic services easing companies’ burdens when dealing with transportation problems. They set up directly managed warehousing centers in most of the major harbor cities in China, which are:
DocShipper has a team of professional packers that provides fast-packing services, helping customers to pack their parcels within one day. It guarantees to protect the parcels’ integrity and compliance to the customs’ requirements. Customers do not need to worry about the damage or loss caused by improper or non-compliant packaging if they choose to use DocShipper’s warehouse packing services.
For regular rail, sea, and truck freight, DocShipper offers shipment in LCL (Less-than-Container-Load) or FCL (Full-Container-Load). The company also provides consultation and evaluation services prior to shipping and helps customers in choosing the preferable shipping solutions to save their money and time. Other logistic services include door to door, moving, transport insurance, and multimodal transport.
Currently, DocShipper set up customer representatives in China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand, the US, France, and the UK.
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Flexport is a US-based shipping company and customs brokerage with its head office situated in San Francisco, California, United States. The company has a presence and offices in North America, Europe, and Asia including China.
Flexport is a unique freight forwarding company as many people often call it, Uber of the Oceans. Founded in 2013, the company is based around an online dashboard that connects importers with freight forwarding companies.
It is also the first company that has digitized international shipping, making it more convenient for importers to move goods around with transparency.
The founder and current CEO of the company is Ryan Peterson, who also founded a business intelligence company in 2007, Import Genius.
Overall, the company is still young, but it is fast-growing and one of the best when it comes to digitized service and online tools for importers.
The regional Chinese head office of the company is situated in Shenzhen, China. They also have another office in Hong Kong.
All in all, it is a technology-driven company that allows importers to book, track, and handle their shipments through an app or an online dashboard portal. You can also have access to logistics and shipment service providers on their online portal.
The services offered by the company include ocean freight, air freight, trucking & delivery, government agency filings, customs clearance, customs bonds, product classification, cargo insurance, quality inspections, warehousing, and fulfillment.
Due to its wide range of services directed towards importers, you can find it as a one-stop shop for importers. It has also received mostly positive or above-average online feedback from customers, with a 4.7-star rating on BBB where it is listed as an A+ business.
Freightos is like Expedia or Travelocity for international freight. Basically, with the Freightos Marketplace, importers can easily compare, book, and manage international freight from over 50 freight providers. They’re very much geared towards supporting small importers as well, with some great support resources, as well as live chat and phone support.
Plus, it’s free to sign up and compare shipments, so there’s no real reason not to use it – even if only for competitive intelligence.
Freightos has received highly positive online feedback from customers. Their marketplace is global, with providers based in the US, Canada, the UK, China, and elsewhere. Forwarders that sell on the Freightos marketplace include many well-known reliable logistics companies like HTCG, Sinotech, Amass, AB Logistics, and Eurasia.
The ordering process on Freightos is straightforward, including a streamlined handoff of your documentation to the forwarder, and centralized shipment management.
Founded in 2012 by serial entrepreneur Dr. Zvi Schreiber, Freightos has raised over $50 million dollars and has six offices worldwide, including Miami Beach, Barcelona, and Jerusalem.
Founded in 2014, Fleet acts as an online logistics marketplace where you as an importer can connect with shippers and other service providers.
The service helps you find the best possible solution for the shipment of your goods for the best price and make you take an informed decision.
The head office of the company is based in Portland, Oregon, United States, but it offers its services to clients from all over the world including China.
The website with a simple user interface allows you to choose air or ocean freight, provide details of the country of origin and destination, and get instant quotes from a wide range of freight services.
All the freight forwarders listed on the website are verified by Fleet. Each forwarder is also rated and reviewed by the clients on the website so you can have a good idea about the forwarder’s reputation.
In addition, the service also provides an online dashboard to streamline all communication with the forwarder, track shipments in real-time, get quick support, and easy and fast payments.
ShipWire is another technology-driven shipping and order fulfillment company that offers its services in most parts of the world including China.
As a client, you can access your personal online dashboard on their website or mobile app where you can track your shipment, order status, and other analytics.
The company is owned by a parent technology and shipping company, INGRAM Commerce & Fulfillment (also known as Ingram Micro), which is based in Sunnyvale, California, United States. It also owns Docdata, which is also an eCommerce service provider. The company was acquired by Ingram Micro on 28th October 2013.
The services offered by the company include commerce and fulfillment solutions, dropshipping for retailers, commerce EDI, sell-thru retail and a global multi-channel fulfillment solution.
It also provides complete e-commerce fulfillment services, cloud-based logistics for businesses and shipping software. The advanced order management system and a dashboard also allow you to track and manage your inventory and shipping in real-time.
They don’t have a physical office in China but have a warehouse located in Hong Kong.
Floship is a relatively new company, but it also provides shipping services from China and Hong Kong to all over the world. The services include end-to-end delivery, a full suite of courier rates for your convenience, etc.
They are mostly known for their fulfillment services, providing end-to-end delivery from the factory to the doorstep of customers.
It is also a highly rated company on the internet with most of the review ratings above 4 out of 5 from customers. On Trustpilot, they received an aggregate rating of 4 out of 5, with similar ratings on other review websites as well.
FBA Forward is another US-based shipping company that also operates in China. The head office of the company is situated in San Diego, California, United States. The company was founded in 2014 as a logistics support company for domestic e-commerce sellers but later expanded its services to cater to the needs of importers.
The company offers a wide range of shipping and e-commerce services to importers in China that include pre-inspection in China, shipping & customs, receiving and forwarding, FBA prep and inspection, and Amazon listing service.
In addition, the company also offers a wide range of online tools that include shipping cost estimate calculators, pallet calculator, customs duty calculator, pricing table, and more.
You can also access their custom application that allows you to manage your inventory and track shipping in real-time using the dashboard or mobile app. In addition, they also offer unique services like US customs clearance, professional product photography, air, and sea freight.
On Google Reviews and other review websites, FBA Forward received mostly positive reviews from customers. It received an aggregate rating of 4.6 on Google Reviews.
How to Find the Right Freight Forwarder: A Checklist
1. Is the forwarder primarily based in your market, or in China?
As said, the role of a freight forwarder is to move cargo from point A to point B. To do so, the forwarder needs local representation in both the country of origin and destination.
Assuming that the forwarder did everything from the pickup, to shipment, unloading, customs clearance – and final delivery – there would probably only be a few forwarders in the entire world, given the huge resources an end-to-end supply chain requires.
But that’s not how the shipping industry works. Instead, the forwarder is part of a large network.
In most cases, it is easier to work directly with a freight forwarder based in your own country. Getting cargo out of China is normally less complicated than getting the cargo into your country.
As such, you want to work with a freight forwarder that is experienced with local importing and customs procedures. In addition, you have somebody speaking your language, that is held accountable to the regulations in your country.
If you work with a Chinese forwarder, they’ll use a forwarder in your country, that is part of their network. Still, you will, for the most part, communicate with the forwarder in China.
2. Do they have their own staff in China?
Some larger freight forwarders are represented on both sides, for example, in Shanghai and Los Angeles. While this is less important than having a local contact, it does give you more control and transparency in your supply chain.
With direct access to your forwarder’s staff in their China offices, you can issue orders and request information directly from the source.
This can save time, and reduce risks when coordinating the delivery between your manufacturer and the forwarder in the port of loading (i.e., Shanghai or Shenzhen).
3. Are they licensed to act as your customs broker? (United States)
US-based importers must hold a customs bond, that is either valid for a period of time (i.e., 12 months) or a single shipment. The customs bond normally costs around $300 per year and can be purchased via a Customs broker.
The Customs broker can also be tasked with filing all the other customs clearance paperwork on behalf of the importer, thus helping you to save time and money.
However, it is not mandatory.
When importing from China to the United States, it is critical that the freight forwarder is licensed as a customs broker in the US.
If you are an American importer, you should only work with forwarders with local representation in the United States.
4. Do they have customer references?
There are a lot of shady companies in the logistics industry – and I’m not specifically referring to Chinese forwarders now.
I have worked with a handful of forwarders in China over the years, and the European-owned companies have been worse than the forwarders owned by locals.
In addition, big forwarders are not necessarily more reliable than small ones.
It can be complicated to weed out the bad ones. My advice here is that you ask for customer references, and call them up to see what they have to say about the forwarder in question.
5. Do they offer online tracking?
Online tracking is not offered by all freight forwarders. However, thanks to ‘digital’ freight forwarders like Flexport.com and Shipwire.com, it is possible to track cargo in real-time.
Online tracking is more common for air freight than sea freight, as the former is dominated by a few large companies – such as DHL, FedEx, and TNT.
6. Do they offer other logistics services?
Most of our customers engage in some sort of e-commerce. If you are selling anything online, you may need additional logistics services.
For example, some forwarders can offer fulfillment and domestic delivery services.
If possible, try to work out a solution that covers all your logistics needs.
7. Do they offer LCL shipping?
LCL (Less than Container Load) shipping enables importers to share one container. Hence, it is suitable for companies that only buy a few cubic meters of cargo.
Most freight forwarders offer LCL shipping, but some don’t. Hence, you should bring this up when you try to find the right forwarder for your import business.
8. Are they experienced with your product category?
If your forwarder lacks experience with your category, you might face delays – or be forced to switch forwarder altogether. You clearly want to avoid that.
9. Can they help you with repackaging the products?
Chinese manufacturers have a tendency to use cheap and substandard export packaging. If your cargo is not properly packed, you may receive a pile of damage, and thus totally worthless, cargo.
Some forwarders offer to take photos of your cargo as they receive it from your manufacturer. This gives you a chance to check if the supplier packaged the cargo properly, and whether or not a repacking is necessary.
You must of course pay for any additional packaging materials. Still, ten or twenty dollars extra spent on packaging can be what saves you from a complete disaster.
I can tell from experience that most Chinese suppliers don’t even know what ISPM 15 is, so if your forwarder can arrange that for you, they might be a keeper.
10. Can they consolidate shipments from multiple suppliers in one container?
This is related to LCL shipping, but still important enough to bring up with a prospective freight forwarder. If you are buying products from different manufacturers in China you can save hundreds – sometimes thousands – of dollars in various shipping costs by consolidating cargo from multiple suppliers in one container.
LCL shipping is more expensive than FCL shipping, as many fees are on a ‘per shipment basis’. This is simply because the amount of administration (i.e., customs clearance) is the same for all shipments – regardless of volume.
The price for an LCL shipment can be 2 to 3 times as high, per cubic meter, as compared to an FCL shipment.
As such, you really should avoid shipping LCL, if you have a total volume that enables you to.
When it comes to the consolidation of small shipments, into one container, it’s a matter of sorting out the paperwork. The question, when selecting a freight forwarder, is whether they are willing to do that for you.
11. Do you get discounts?
The freight forwarder manages the administration around shipping. They don’t own the shipping vessels and acts as the ‘spider in the web’.
A forwarder brings hundreds, sometimes thousands, of accounts to the larger shipping companies, such as Maersk and Evergreen.
This gives them access to discounted pricing. Normally, the forwarder passes on most of these discounts to their clients, while keeping a part themselves. And that’s okay. Freight forwarders are people too.
12. Can they offer air freight and parcel shipments?
As an importer, you probably need documents and product samples delivered on a frequent basis. To avoid working with multiple forwarders, you are better off with one that can handle your parcel deliveries too.
In addition, you may also need bulk shipments delivered by air. Some freight forwarders are exclusively focused on sea freight (or vice versa), so you should ask if they offer air freight too.
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Co-founder of Asiaimportal (HK) Limited and based in Hong Kong. He has been quoted in and contributed to Bloomberg, SCMP, Alibaba Insights, Globalsources.com, China Chief Executive, Quartz Magazine and more.
Hey there, I’m Fredrik!
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