When trusting someone with transport of your goods, choosing the right provider is crucial, as many things can go sideways. From customs which can hold your shipment or not approve it at all, to the transport itself, which can cause damage or misplace of the goods. What if you’ve ordered from China but your cargo is lost along the way? Also, think about the cost of transportation.
The goal is a qualified, reliable freight forwarder who will reduce the expenses and lower the risks. A good freight forwarder also acts as your adviser in such endeavors. That’s why we’re here – to help you choose the right logistics provider for you.
This guide is created based on our own experiences, extensive research and with immense help from freight forwarding community.
Freight forwarders are companies which connect different points of the logistics network, making sure that your shipment arrives to its final destination smoothly. They rely on their network of partners to make this possible: local transport companies, overseas transporters, air cargo providers, warehouses and storage centers etc. Therefore, they connect and coordinate many different “players” in order to successfully deliver the goods.
On the other side, we have couriers. Couriers are large domestic or international companies which carry on the complete process of transport and logistics in-house, using their own resources. Courier is your local food delivery company, but also large international companies like FedEx or UPS. They’re fast, well-coordinated and deliver your shipment very quickly. Unfortunately, that usually also means higher delivery price in some cases. In particular when transporting a large shipment in terms of size. For smaller shipments, couriers can be cost-effective, and certainly faster and easier to collaborate with than freight forwarders. Also, they usually cover a smaller number of regions, and their service is more “as is”, while freight forwarders offer much more flexibility to the shipment process.
So, do I need a freight forwarder or a courier?
- If you are shipping a small parcel not too far away – best is to use a courier service such as FedEx or UPS. Simple yet cost-effective. No need for a freight forwarder.
- If you need your shipment to arrive fast – using a currier is probably your best option. Still, you may want to consider a freight forwarder as they may offer a better price.
- For large shipments (FTL, LTL, FCL, LCL) best is to work with a freight forwarder than can handle all logistics and paper work for you. This is also a price effective approach.
What do I need to consider when selecting
a freight forwarder?
There are thousands of the freight forwarding companies worldwide. New ones emerge every month while others are being closed down – in some cases, leaving behind their clients and partners in trouble. A lot of companies are just "one man and his dog" operations presenting themselves as established players, as clients usually feel safer partnering with bigger forwarding companies.
I. Referral from a friend / business associate
Needles to say, a recommendation from your network mean a lot. Whilst this is a great first step, you should still do a due dilligence on that company by following the rest of the action points on our list.
II. Balance of company experience and size
A recently established freight forwarding company might be run by an experienced professional which recently opened their own business - which would usually be a good choice. However, that can also be an opportunist without an established partners’ network or adequate experience. As we all know, new companies are usually the most fragile ones, and you wouldn't want to be among the first ones to test their reliability.
Whilst people tend to feel safer working with larger businesses, that's not necessarily a good choice neither from budget nor customer experience perspective.
Just because a company has been established for many years, does not mean that it offers the best service or rates. Some younger companies, who are more keen to grow, are able to offer good rates, and service level is often based on staff training and knowledge
I would look at smaller companies around your area. Flamethrower said it best you have multiple people handling each segment of your process. Smaller companies tend to have one or two people handling your account depending on size.
III. Experience on your route
Freight forwarders work with a network of local partners, moving your shipment from starting to the end point through their partners. That's why it is important to choose a freight forwarder that has experience with the route of your shipment, as that means they already have an established network of reliable partners on this route. You don't want a freight forwarder which is sending their first shipment from US to Peru, for example, but rather someone who works that route often.
Knowledge in the types of cargo that will be handling, and knowledgeable when spoken to about relevant routes and methods, is of high importance.
IV. Level of dedication and consultancy
A good freight forwarder advises their clients and offers them different transport options, so that together you make the best choice within the time-budget-safety matrix. Pay attention if their actions are aligned with this during the selection process.
Personal attention. The big companies flood the market with sales guys making promises they can't keep. Once they get some work they're gone and the customer gets stuck on a 1800# A forwarder should have a personal contact reachable 24/7 for each account in order to provide service. Freight forwarder here answering emails from Saudi Arabia and India on Sunday morning because they shouldn't have to wait for my office to open tomorrow to get what they need if I can do it today.
V. Membership in professional networks / associations
Freight forwarding associations & networks typically set certain standards of quality for their members. This means not anyone can join, but only vetted professionals. Therefore, look for a local forwarder that is member of reputable network. You can check this for each company on our website. Our Top3Club is such a network – only the very best local freight forwarders are allowed to become members of the Top3Club.
Membership of national freight forwarding association as a minimum. If the cargo specifically requires other organisations (EG MHRA, British Association of Removals, etc), then this should be checked as prior to the due diligence, but would likely be irrelevant for most types of cargo.
VI. Positive and negative reviews
Client reviews (which you can find on our website) are an important indicator of the level of service you can expect of particular freight forwarder. Apart from just the final score and reviews, pay attention to how the forwarder responds to critics, whether they're offering a constructive solution or being defensive will tell you a lot about their business culture.
Online reviews could be misleading if not approached correctly. Analyze both positive and negative reviews. Absence of customer feedback also tells a story. Try to approach them more as a “psychologist” rather than a customer when analyzing and drawing conclusions.
VII. Cost efficiency
When starting a collaboration with an unknown company, it is important to validate their price competitiveness on your route. That's why it is important to ask for offers from 2 or 3 companies in order to be able to compare the prices. The lowest price isn't always the best choice, but it is an important factor to be considered in order to compare the competitiveness of your chosen freight forwarder.
You can choose two of three options: fast, cheap, or reliable. You cannot have all three. Depending on the service lane, you might only get 1, and may not have three options. Sometimes you just have to take what you can get.
I’d advise people to consider value rather than price. If you’re just going for the lowest rate, you’re going to get low-bidder service.
Let's conclude with wise words from the community:
There is no easy solution finding 'the best anything'. It's down to time and how much you want to get involved. It's also a case of which boxes need ticking for an individual person and for a specific consignment. There will always be differences and areas which are more important to each importer.
I would personally say that the relationship is hugely important, and if you can build trust, and it's backed by competitive (Not ALWAYS the cheapest!) rates, and great service, then that's as important as some of the accreditation's.
Our platform is designed to help you find a perfect freight forwarder quickly. Once you have studied the instructions above, you are ready to get started searching for your freight forwarding partner.
Our database holds more than 6000 companies but in just a few steps you will be able to narrow down choice to a couple of ideal partners for your next shipment.
Step 1: Select your country
At the top of this page, you will find the list of all countries (and some regions) worldwide. You can also click here for a visual map.
No matter where you are shipping from or to, it is best to look for a freight forwarder which is close to your location. So, start by selecting a country of your residence.
Step 2: Narrowing down selection to the forwarding companies near you
Once you are on the country page, it will list all the freight forwarders in your country. Depending on your location, this could still be a huge list. The next step is to narrow down the selection to companies in your proximity.
Narrow down selection of forwarding companies near you.
Step 3: Where do you ship to?
Most freight forwarders are specialized in certain routes / geolocation they have the most experience with. Using “Coverage” filter it’s easy to find companies that are covering the region you are shipping to.
Use Coverage filter to narrow down the selection of freight forwarders. Step 4: Which service are you looking for?
Are you looking for a very specific service, such as car transport, transportation of dangerous goods (TDG), freight of trade show/exhibition cargo or maybe just a customs clearance help? Just tick under the “Service” filter for the specific service you are interested in.
Step 5: Reviews and membership
Now you have shortlisted your choice to only a few most relevant freight forwarders. Please keep an eye on reviews – not just the total score but also the number of reviews and take some time to read a few testimonials. If a company has only a few reviews, that may indicate that it’s a new player and hence selecting them may be a shot in the dark. Ideally, you want to select a freight forwarder with dozens of positive reviews.
Quality is important, so pay good attention to the membership of this company. If a company is member of our Top3Club or some other well-known networks such as FIATA, ASA Network, IATA and others, that is a strong indication of reliability and the quality of service.
Starting from over 6000 companies, we’ve managed to narrow down our choice to only a few in 5 easy steps. Feel free to reach out directly to your shortlisted candidates via our website or by emailing or calling them – all contact information is easily accessible through our platform.
Good luck with your next shipment! And do not forget to leave a review sharing your experience with your freight forwarder.
Help us improve
We have done our best to make this guide as actionable and as correct as possible. If you have any feedback that would help us improve it further, feel free to reach out to us. Happy to hear your thoughts!