Oceans alive

Oceans alive

By Bianca Lipari

Bianca Lipari climbs on board a world first in shipping, a do-it-yourself online booking facility.

P&O Nedlloyd has built a world first in container shipping. The company has developed the shipping industry's first global website in which businesses can book their sea freight shipment requirements online in much the same way as you can book an airline ticket online.

Called youship.com the site is a revolution within global shipping circles. For the first time, businesses can take direct control of their own sea freight arrangements. With youship.com businesses are able to view available sailings and freight rates; select a sailing and rate combination that suits; enter shipping details, as well as make payment and receive confirmation online.

Youship's manager David Stevens, says the concept of using the Internet to conduct shipping business is not new, but having a website dedicated to this is: "P&O has developed a comprehensive online presence and suite of e-commerce products on its www.ponl.com website, however, most shipping industry e-commerce development has been to bring traditional shipping processes onto the Internet. P&O wanted to develop a new easy-to-use product clearly differentiated from its own ponl.com suite."

Aimed at small to medium size enterprises, the youship project was always planned as an external venture, "Youship is a business unit within P&O Nedlloyd. It was developed as a sub-brand of P&O with its own pilot product to test new concepts in the shipping industry. Youship is not only a first in Australia and New Zealand, but worldwide in the shipping industry," says Stevens.

Launched in Australia and New Zealand, P&O NedLloyd - which is one of the worlds' biggest shipping lines and international logistics providers - worked closely with Australian Internet agency Red Square to deliver the system. "We did a lot of work with P&O talking to different groups within the company including the sales team, the customer service team and the operations team. Our aim was to pin down what was actually required and to make some recommendations," says Steve Baty, senior analyst, Red Square.

"We also went through a process of looking at the sorts of people who would be visiting the website and what they would use it for. We then designed the interface and the site around this to make it as easy as possible for users.

"Essentially we tried to make sure that an inexperienced manufacturer shipping the odd container would end up with a really streamlined clear process that allowed them to get the cargo shipped with minimum amount of fuss and confusion."

Instead of simply building a website, Baty says that Red Square undertook to understand what it is a freight company does, how it operates, who its customers are, what they need and the sort of environment they need to operate effectively: "Some websites look good and function badly and then there are those websites that function well but look bad. We tried, and I think succeeded, in making the website look good and function well."

As with anything new, P&O's biggest challenge is getting customers to use the website. But so far, the company claims youship does have a good repeat user rate. "The product is great and our main challenge is getting people to try something new. The repeat business is about 75 to 80 percent," says Stevens.

The youship concept is expected to be taken to other parts of the world in due course and Stevens explains that Australia and New Zealand were chosen to launch the site for economical reasons. "Australia and New Zealand were the obvious choice as there is a good Internet use and awareness as well as the value of the Australian dollar compared to the US."

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