Annual Review & Outlook 2013: INTTRA

Ken BloomIn the complex world of container shipping, two things are certain: it’s a rough time for carriers — and it will be for the foreseeable future.

Global volume is down, excess capacity will continue to increase, fuel costs are at a record high, and customers are demanding higher-quality service than they receive today. At the world’s largest carrier Maersk, Lucas Vos was recently quoted saying, “Carriers need to change the way we sell our services.” Shippers may likely call that an understatement.

To differentiate themselves and stay competitive, carriers are beginning to think about investing in changes that would enable them to shift to deliver a more service-oriented offering. This means deepening customer relationships and partnerships, and improving visibility and reliability in communications and service levels. To survive, carriers must evolve their focus beyond filling vessels and moving cargo as quickly and efficiently as possible, to providing more personal attention to customers and adapting quickly to meet their needs.

The “preparatory” time for carriers to begin adjusting to this new rapidly changing, competitive age is now. Industry watchers already predict there will be fewer than 10 carriers serving the container industry by 2025 (in 2012, the top 10 carriers held about 60 percent of the market). Only the financially strong, most flexible and efficient carriers will stay afloat. However, what will keep a carrier in the game is delivering long-term customer value. The industry leaders will be the carriers who best capture the needs of their customers and are able to deliver those services — quickly. With limited resources, carriers will need not only to harness the power of information but also to bring it to life within their organizations.

Carriers spent decades investing billions of dollars on ships and focusing their resources and attention around the vessels. 2013 may not mark the first time carrier survival depends on listening to the customer. But it may be the first time when those who don’t hear the customer will not adapt and survive.

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