We will start with the shipping lines. You may have seen their large container ships and probably also their containers in various sizes on trucks close to seaports. When you see a container, the name and logo on the side is typically that of the shipping line. This is the company operating the containers and the ships, which carry them around the world. Shipping lines, such as Maersk, APL, Evergreen, CMA-CGM, typically work with large customers. The smallest booking they can accept from a customer is one container, which equals roughly 30 cubic metre of cargo at a maximum weight of 28 metric tonnes. So, for customers with a need to ship less than a full container, booking directly with a shipping line is not a good proposition, as you would pay for a full container, even if you can only fill half of it. This is where the freight forwarder comes into play.
A freight forwarder is a company providing transportation services to customers with shipments of less than a full container. The freight forwarder has multiple customers and has the facilities to consolidate their customers’ cargo into one full container, which they then can book directly with a shipping line. This enables the freight forwarders to offer their customers a better price than what shipping lines can, as the cost of the container is split between all the customers sharing cargo space in the container. In addition, the freight forwarder offers to help with additional activities to make the shipping process easy for the customer. This could be customs clearance or pick-up and delivery at the customer’s location.
A shipper is the party who is exporting the shipment. It could be the seller of the cargo, the manufacturer or simply the company located at the origin where the cargo to be picked up. The shipper is also referred to as the exporter.
The consignee is the party receiving the cargo at the destination. This could be the buyer of the cargo, or any company, which the cargo is destined to. The consignee is also referred to as the importer or the receiver.
When using the term customer, it simply refers to the company which book and pay for the shipment with a freight forwarder. This would normally either be the shipper or the consignee, but could in principle, also be someone else who simply has a need to move some cargo from one place in the world to another.