Digital bookings on the rise, but are sales stuck in analog?

Panelists discussing opportunities to innovate air cargo during a session at Cargo Facts EMEA 2020 in Frankfurt that was held on Feb. 4.

Digitalization of the cargo sales and booking process was a popular discussion topic at this year’s Cargo Facts EMEA, held earlier this month in Frankfurt. While interfacing with online booking platforms like cargo.one and Freightos’ WebCargo is a practice gaining traction among carriers, human sales agents are still central to the process.

“We have a high degree of digitalization,” said Silke Niemann, vice president of global sales management at Lufthansa Cargo, during a roundtable discussion on the topic of innovation. Niemann estimates that some 80% of bookings for standard products run through the carrier’s own websites. Digital bookings should not, however, be confounded with sales automation. Despite offering capacities through digital platforms, Lufthansa Cargo’s sales representatives still handle 90% of the transactions by value, she added.

While shippers still prefer a balance of digital convenience and human sales support, the trend toward automation appears to be accelerating. In a recent survey of its customers, Lufthansa Cargo found that shippers increasingly demand the transparency that digital touch points can offer. In December, Lufthansa Cargo began offering dynamic spot pricing. Through its own booking channels, the carrier now offers real-time bookable rates that include routing and product choices. Dynamic pricing is currently available in twelve markets, but will gradually be expanded to include additional stations.

For now, much of the industry is focused on digitalizing the sales process, not automating it. ANA Cargo will soon make cargo shipments bookable through online platform cargo.one. Beginning in the second quarter of 2020, freight forwarders will be able to book online using the platform, ANA Cargo and cargo.one announced today in a joint release.

ANA Cargo becomes the latest in a string of prominent carriers looking to refresh air cargo’s stodgy image, and push the industry into digital frontiers. Unlike the passenger industry, which now has global distribution systems such as Amadeus and SABRE that allow flight reservations in real-time, similar systems are only now gaining inertia in air cargo.

Lufthansa Cargo, an early participant in cargo.one, works with other booking platforms as well. Even as its internal dynamic pricing capabilities expand, the carrier sees a role for platforms that allow comparison of its rates against competitors.

All-cargo carriers are also warming up to digital touch points for air freight sales. Last year, AirBridgeCargo and Nippon Cargo Airlines connected to cargo.one, and the Azerbaijan-based Silk Way West Airlines plans to go digital this year.

“We are preparing now our digital landscape for the online booking platforms,” said Wolfgang Meier, president of Silk Way West Airlines. Meier envisions potentially working with a mix of platforms and expects to roll out online cargo-booking capabilities in 2020.

Last year, cargo.one said its platform quoted an average 6,000 bookable quotes each day. With ANA Cargo onboard, the company expects a boost to the platform’s monthly growth rate, which it says currently averages about 20%.

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