Freight forwarders vs integrators

You've got your freight shipment ready and are now looking for the carrier to move it. With so many of them available, where do you even begin? Let's start by understanding the difference between the two main types of carriers and how the way they move will affect your shipment's journey. 

What is a freight forwarder?

A freight forwarder is simply a middleman in the shipping process. Forwarders use multiple carriers and couriers to arrange the delivery of your goods. 

Say you want to ship goods from Paris to New York. First, a local courier would pick up your goods in Paris and deliver them to the international shipping hub. On an average day, there may be as many as 26 flights a forwarder can potentially make use of. Once your shipment lands in New York, a customs broker will take care of customs clearance. As soon as that's done, a local courier will deliver your shipment to the receiver.  

Freight forwarders can be incredibly flexible because of the large pool of vendors they work with. They also have no costs that come with maintaining a network of planes, vehicles and couriers. The downside of outsourcing every move is that you have less control and visibility of where your items are at any given moment. Since most forwarders rely on passenger air traffic, fluctuation in air travel will directly affect whether they can take on your job.

So how does all this flexibility reflect on the bill? Because forwarders outsource services to other providers, their total charge will be a sum of various elements like pickup, handling, shipping, clearance charges and delivery. 

Also, remember that forwarders only move freight, so if you need to combine freight and parcel, you’ll need another carrier.

What is a freight integrator?

An integrator is a company that owns and operates its own fleet. From pickup and shipping to clearance and delivery, the freight journey is facilitated by integrators' internal experts. It's a lot to manage and that's why integrators run a scheduled network. For customers, this means both reliable transit times and, usually, a lower price tag for the service. 

Let's imagine your goods aren't ready to be loaded onto an afternoon flight from Paris to New York. In this scenario, the freight integrator might either put your shipment on the next direct flight or first send it to Brussels to be loaded on an alternative flight to New York. When you request a quote from an integrator, they will usually provide you with a price per kilogram. 

While prices will fluctuate throughout the year for both forwarders and integrators, integrators will usually offer contract rates. If you are planning to ship regularly, consider fixing the per kilogram price for a set period.

Since integrators have full control of the shipment journey, keeping track is easy – it may even be possible to make changes in flight. If you are shipping both parcels and freight but don't want to manage multiple carriers, an integrator can take care of everything in one go.

Anything else? 

Shipping is the last leg of your goods' journey to the customer. Naturally, you want to make sure it goes as smoothly as possible. If finding a carrier sounds stressful and complicated, here's a good place to start: see your carrier as your partner and reach out to them for advice and support in this process.

Shipping requirements and documentation may vary between carriers. This website is designed to provide general information related to shipping. If you’re unsure of the shipping requirements that apply to you, check with your carrier.

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