In what could be the wave of the future in procuring global container line capacity, Danish shipping giant Maersk Line and Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba have signed a deal allowing Maersk's Chinese customers to use Alibaba's website to book space on Maersk's vessels.
According to published reports out of Asia, Maersk's Chinese shipping customers, as of Dec. 22, can reserve vessel space for their shipping containers on Alibaba's "OneTouch" booking website. OneTouch, which Alibaba acquired in 2010, allows small and medium-sized Chinese exporters to book airfreight and parcel delivery services. It also provides customs clearance services. Maersk did not return an e-mail request for comment, and there were no formal announcements on either Maersk or Alibaba web sites.
Typically, ocean shippers book freight with freight forwarders. However, as Alibaba and its U.S. rival, Seattle-based Amazon.com Inc., look to expand into transportation and logistics and improve control over their supply chain networks, new services like these may become mainstream. Last year, Amazon.com agreed to lease 40 freighters from two U.S. air cargo companies, Wilmington, Ohio-based Air Transport Services Group Inc. and Purchase, N.Y.-based Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings Inc., to support one to two-day deliveries of products ordered from Amazon's website. Amazon has also registered a Chinese business as an ocean freight forwarder.
Dr. Zvi Schreiber, CEO and founder of Freightos, a Hong Kong-based logistics technology platform, said in an e-mail that the combination of Alibaba, with an 80-percent e-commerce market share in China, and Maersk, which as the world's largest liner company by capacity controls about one-quarter of all container ships, means millions of Chinese manufacturers and retailers will have a "direct line" to U.S. buyers and avoid markups assessed by third parties like freight forwarders.
"Maersk is testing the waters of digital sales with one of the world's largest e-commerce companies, while threatening forwarder business," Schreiber said. Alibaba, meanwhile, has thrown down the gauntlet to global e-tailers and has effectively one-upped Amazon by going directly to Maersk, while Amazon is still functioning as an intermediary, he said.