Exporters are a lucky bunch. For every aspect of the job there is a torrent of new technologies to make life simpler, quicker and cheaper.
Take international payments. It is rife with innovation. Peer-to-peer money exchanges, such as CurrencyFair and TransferWise, are slashing the margins charged by high street banks. The Kantox exchange works by matching a company moving sterling to yen, for example, with a company converting the other way. Kantox claims 78 per cent of clients save 80 per cent or more than when using a bank and trades are set to pass $2 billion in total.
Managing money and tracking products
Managing money in multiple currencies is getting simpler. The Moneycorp online currency platform allows exporters to hold balances in up to 34 currencies. When a user wants to switch between currencies, the platform connects to nine top-tier banking partners to trawl for the best rate.
Many companies waste their time building a new retail website for every new country they try and export to
Handling currencies online is becoming effortless thanks to new bolt-on services for websites. The Stripe payments platform is used by Virgin, The Guardian newspaper, and personalised children’s book brand Lostmy.name, which has sold 500,000 books around the world in 11 currencies using the service. An under-rated sub-service by Stripe is its tie-ins with major sales websites such as Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. The idea is to let consumers buy products listed on these sites with a single click.
Technology makes tracking products far easier. The Neteven platform is used by the likes of Rip Curl, Le Petit Bateau and Camper. It is an inventory management tool which integrates with all the big auction and sales sites. A product can be listed on Amazon, La Redoute, Spartoo, eBay, Rakuten and many others. Neteven offers a long list of sales management tools, allowing retailers to change specifications across sites, monitor stock levels and sales figures, and consolidate finances into one comprehensible stream.
Neteven was founded by a team of former eBay executives led by Greg Zemor, who stresses that many companies waste their time building a new retail website for every new country they try and export to. He has a point as these online marketplaces are the most visited sites across Europe and Asia, and offer a low-cost entry point.
For exporters of perishable goods, such as fruit and vegetables, technology can identify moments of trauma
Logistics is red hot with fantastic new models right now. In order to select the best carrier services, the delivery management platform Electio is a godsend. Developed by MPD Group, which also developed price comparison site My Parcel Delivery, Electio provides access to more than 100 delivery services from the world’s leading carriers. It factors in parcel weight, the value of the shipment, speed, availability of pick-up and the size of the packaging to formulate the optimum partner rather than merely the lowest price. Electio integrates with the supply chain, printing labels and translating documents automatically.
The big carriers moan that not enough clients make use of the extra services they offer. And there are some corkers. UPS offers WorldShip, a complete shipping automation platform used by the likes of engineering exporter Gilo Industries Group. This keeps track of deliveries and allows customers to track their shipments as they move across the globe. It integrates with the UPS Billing Centre, keeping all the data in one place.
To keep track of delicate packages, AT&T offers Cargo View with FlightSafe. This fits cargo with sensors to monitor temperature, light, pressure and shock. The tracker connects to mobile phone networks worldwide to report back to HQ. For exporters of perishable goods, such as fruit and vegetables, the technology can identify moments of trauma. It is also designed to appeal to exporters of fragile high-value goods, such as works of art and electronics. The AT&T sensors are well engineered, switching to airplane mode during flights to comply with aviation laws, automatically resuming after landing. The tracker lasts up to 11 days between charges, enough for even long-haul export deliveries.
Customs is a common sticking point for exporters. It is also something technology can help with. Electronic form software such as Tradex, made by Tate Freight Forms, offers up-to-date documentation. To meet local tax laws, Tungsten’s paperless invoicing ensures the right forms are filed, covering 47 countries. The Tungsten service is now used by 180,000 suppliers and last year processed $187 billion. When trying to sell something to the Mexican government, the Tungsten service guarantees you’ll be using their mandatory invoice format.
Naturally, exporting involves and lot of travel and technology contributes here too. For learning a few words of the local language, the Duolingo.com tuition service is proven to work, with 100 million users. It won the prestigious iPhone App of the Year in 2013 and now covers 22 languages – free.
To survive long flights, salespeople often turn to noise-cancelling headphones, such as the Bose QuietComfort or Plantronics BackBeat Pro ranges, which work but are bulky and need batteries to function. A low-tech but high-quality alternative are in-ear canal earphones. The buds go deep into the ear, which can be a little unsettling at first. A set such as the Etymotic Hf3 can cut outside noise by 42 decibels. You’ll scarcely know the aeroplane engines are running.
And for health? The NHS still recommends wearing flight socks, which compress the calves, although the efficacy is still doubted. Professor David Gradwell, from King’s College London, says the real key is to avoid alcohol mid-flight and stretch your legs. Technology can help exporters, but sometimes they’ve just got to get off their backsides and start moving.
CASE STUDY: ZF
German car parts maker ZF sends its axles, clutches and shock absorbers around the world. Founded in 1915, it is controlled by the Zeppelin Foundation, the legacy of airship pioneer Ferdinand von Zeppelin, and today exports to 230 locations in 40 counties.
Last year ZF realised it needed to find better ways to minimise the risk of disruption to its logistics. The company identified two concerns: first, air freight presented a significant risk to its business due to cost and airport disruptions; and second, its inability to provide timely incident information when disaster strikes.
To address both issues it opted for DHL Resilience 360, a cloud-based platform which tracks goods as they move around the world. It includes a near-real-time alert system, which warns ZF of any chaos along the route.
The product comes with a consultancy service. So, in early-2014, the DHL Resilience 360 team analysed the global air freight network that ZF uses as a last resort. Every year, ZF makes more than 10,500 ad hoc shipments to 55 countries involving more than 650 locations through the network. The DHL Resilience 360 team provided ZF with a risk assessment study and customised supply chain incident monitoring platform.
The assessment highlighted five critical hot spots in the ZF supply chain. For each potential flashpoint, DHL and ZF jointly identified logistics alternatives just in case of disaster. At one hot spot, Moscow Airport, the alternatives were put into use almost immediately as the Ukraine crisis developed.
ZF is now better able to monitor shipments as they move via land, air and sea, and can rest easy knowing it has contingency plans in place. There are additional benefits too as the software makes it simple to conduct carbon footprint calculations, making reduction possible. Cost analysis can be done more swiftly. Clients can check the latest position of their goods. And because DHL Resilience 360 is cloud based, there is little maintenance for the IT team to worry about.
Exporting can be hazardous, with bottlenecks wreaking havoc. A solid reliability audit and contingency planning system ought to be mandatory, no matter how big or small the enterprise.