Press article – Le Journal De La Marine Marchande 25/06 – AUTF perception barometer: Dunkirk favored by shippers

“The Merchant Marine Journal – Published 6/25/20:”

AUTF perception barometer: Dunkerque is favored by shippers

For the first edition of the “maritime” version of the shippers’ perception barometer, carried out by Eurogroup Consulting with AUTF, companies using freight did not fail to seize the space of expression offered to them to say all the good and/or bad things they think of maritime and port services… The results were presented on 25 June on the occasion of the Maritime Day organized in the framework of a digital SITL.

Antwerp remains the leading French port. But Dunkirk does not make dissatisfied customers. Le Havre and Marseilles are probably paying for the fact that they have returned to social instability, their old demons. Price transparency remains an issue between shippers and shipping lines. The economic and operational logic prevails in the purchases of freight transport users. The health crisis exacerbates expectations and dissatisfactions…

Each year, with its shippers’ perception barometer, the Association of Freight Transport Users (AUTF), takes the pulse of its members regarding their level of satisfaction with the services offered by carriers. For the first time, the professional organization is delivering a maritime version. It was presented on June 25 during a digital Maritime Day, in a minimalist mode, as it was concentrated this year, for reasons that no one knows any more, in a single topic and a single debate.

The document is interesting on several levels: it was produced in two stages, the first at the beginning of the year when the French ports were emerging from a social conflict linked to the pension reform project, and the second in May “in order to evaluate the impacts of the health crisis”. Shippers were forced to use other ports because of a lack of ports of call, and had to deal with the elimination of full services, longer delays, reduced supply and the unsinkable practice of overloading. The responses were undoubtedly influenced by all these outside agents, further scratching two worlds that, in ordinary times, sometimes struggle to understand each other.

They choose their ports and companies

About fifty transport and customs managers, import-export managers, maritime transport buyers, purchasing and logistics managers, transport managers, responded to the survey. Ninety percent of the panel was made up of players in the food and chemical industries and mass distribution. All of them claim to transport 4 Mt of goods (81% for export) and more than 265,000 TEU (76% for export). Forty percent of them are major accounts (turnover of more than €500 million).

While 41% of respondents use the services of a freight forwarder, they say they have a say in the choice of shipping company (63% of respondents), port (88%) or land carrier (67%). When the services of a freight forwarder are used, two thirds say they try to discuss or influence the choice of port and shipping company. This is valuable information for freight forwarders.

93% of the players on the panel use at least one French port, but Antwerp remains the “leading French port” for 84% of them (“we’re not talking about volumes”), ahead of Le Havre (68%), Marseille (45%), Rotterdam (43%) and Dunkirk (34%). However, it is the port of Hauts-de-France that comes out of this first survey with the highest number of votes. Dunkirk has no dissatisfied users and has a “very satisfied” rate of over 50%. Eighty percent of its users even feel that the quality of service has “improved, even greatly improved. “We need to put this survey in context. The shippers were surveyed after a long strike during which Dunkirk stood out from the national average,” says Jean-Michel Garcia, in charge of international transport at AUTF.

As for the priority criteria for the choice of a port, they all respond to economic and operational issues. “For a shipper to use a port, there must be maritime services and regular lines, but also reliable and competitive operations,” says the shippers’ representative. In the top priorities are the presence of shipping companies (regular lines), the monitoring and cost of maritime freight and the fluidity of operations. Sustainable development criteria are at the bottom of the list.

Where there are expectations, there is dissatisfaction.
As for the priority areas for progress, “we are focusing on basic operational issues. They relate to port and maritime operations: smooth passage of goods, reception of ships, treatment of goods and transparency of costs. Not all shippers have easy access to information and yet these are criteria that change the game,” explains Jean-Michel Garcia. Transparency and price stability is a chronic bone of contention between carriers and shippers. The price of the service guides their choice of purchase, as does the availability of loading space and transit time. On these points, many are dissatisfied. This means that where “they have expectations, they are less satisfied”. However, French shippers remain economically patriotic. They rely on the French shipowner CMA CGM at 38%. The two world leaders have a lower penetration rate, Maersk at 19% and MSC at 12%.

Other paradoxes. Shipping lines have extremely advanced debt situations, but shippers are overwhelmingly satisfied, or even very satisfied, with the financial stability of their carriers. The panel also considers that shipping lines have particularly improved in terms of sustainable development, a criterion which is not, however, part of their assessment.

Strong expectations on modal shift

As for the modal shift, on which all ports are investing because “the freight battle is being played out on land” but are lagging behind their major North European competitors, 63% of the panel use road transport for the pre- and/or post-carriage of goods on French territory. They are waiting to see what happens if the cost, lead time and availability of infrastructure are right.

“The interest in mass transport modes is undeniable. They have very strong expectations about their development,” says AUTF. But not to the point of paying the bill for the extra costs… ” There are indeed cost imbalances and a lack of infrastructure,” admits Jean-Michel Garcia. In this regard, “the success of Dunkirk, which has mutualized the handling costs THC [Terminal Handle Charges, editor’s note] between all modes to give an advantage to river and rail can also explain its success. In France, river operators have to bear part of the cost of handling containers, while for other modes used for pre- and post-carriage, this cost is borne by the shipping companies. In Dunkirk, this surcharge is smoothed out for all shipowners on the basis of all their containerized traffic entering and leaving the Dunkirk terminal.

What impact will the health crisis have on supply chain players when 23% and 38% of respondents were forced to use other companies and ports, respectively? “Many industries are suffering to a greater or lesser extent. Some will not recover, others will have to take drastic measures. Most of them were already internationally competitive. The criteria – cost, services, quality and reliability – will become even more important, not so much for competitiveness as for survival,” explains Romain Binard, consultant at Eurogroup Consulting.

However, with what they have just gone through, the negative perception of maritime services has been further eroded. They are also less severe towards the ports. It should be noted that French ports remained operational during the health crisis, despite heavy losses.

A quarter of French shippers are considering a new strategy, a quarter want to change shipping lines and a quarter are thinking of another preferred port. “They are reviewing their supply chain, changing their models to adapt.  More than ever, they need strong signals from the government as well as from the ports. This is an opportunity for them and the moment to have significant and strong actions,” concludes Romain Binard.

Adeline Descamps

June 25, 2020