Will Amazon Revolutionize Shipping?

For consumers, Amazon’s made shipping easy: Just choose the desired delivery date for your goodies and click. For the manufacturers who have to get those products to you, however, shipping remains a troublesome, inefficient, stubbornly analog business. Your “one-click” often translates into multiple phone calls, emails, faxes and reams of paperwork — all coordinated by a knowledgeable and well-connected professional.

So Amazon, which prides itself on upending old ways of doing business, is now looking to transform the shipping industry as it has the retail industry. Between October and January, it arranged for the shipping of at least 150 containers of goods from China to the U.S. That’s an infinitesimal proportion of the millions of containers sailing between the two countries every year. But Amazon is just getting started — and the company isn’t alone. Last month, Alibaba started booking space for its suppliers on Maersk container ships, joining a growing wave of e-commerce companies looking to bring greater efficiency and transparency to the $160 billion business of arranging cargo shipments.

Amazon’s interest in the arcane world of freight forwarding dates back to 2012, when the Seattle-based company first allowed Chinese suppliers to sell goods in Amazon’s online marketplaces. Sellers can either ship products directly to customers or to Amazon, which then packs and delivers the products on their behalf. Already, 62 percent of Chinese e-tailers sell on Amazon platforms. Making shipping more straightforward — and, hopefully, cheaper — would in theory make Amazon a more attractive platform for these companies than, say, Alibaba or eBay.

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