12 Ways to Cut Logistics Costs and Increase Margins for SMEs

Updated on May 22, 2023

Sea Freight Shipping

In today's competitive business landscape, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) often face the challenge of optimizing logistics operations while maintaining profitability. As logistics costs can significantly impact profit margins, finding effective ways to cut these expenses is crucial for SMEs to remain competitive and sustainable. In this article, we will explore 12 proven strategies that SMEs can implement to reduce ocean freight shipping or logistics costs and increase their margins, focusing on the perspective of ocean freight logistics.

I. Optimize Inventory Management for Ocean Freight shipping:

Utilize Forecasting and Demand Planning:

  • Accurate demand forecasting helps SMEs avoid excess inventory and associated storage costs.
  • Implement demand planning tools to analyze historical data, market trends, and customer behavior.

Embrace Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI):

  • VMI enables suppliers to monitor inventory levels and replenish stock, reducing inventory carrying costs.
  • Collaborate with suppliers to implement VMI systems and establish efficient communication channels.

2. Enhance Supply Chain Visibility for Ocean Freight shipping:

Implement a Transportation Management System (TMS):

  • TMS software provides real-time visibility into shipments, enabling proactive decision-making and optimization.
  • Streamline processes, track containers, and manage documentation within a centralized platform.

Leverage Container Tracking Technologies:

  • Real-time container tracking systems improve visibility, reducing delays, and minimizing demurrage charges.
  • Utilize IoT devices or tracking platforms to monitor container location, condition, and estimated time of arrival.Consolidate Shipments for Ocean Freight:

3. Collaborate with Freight Forwarders:

  • Engage with freight forwarders who can consolidate shipments from multiple SMEs into full container loads (FCL).
  • Leverage their expertise and network to negotiate competitive rates and reduce transportation costs.

Explore Less-than-Container Load (LCL) Consolidation:

  • LCL consolidation allows SMEs to share container space and lower shipping costs.
  • Work with freight consolidators to pool cargo and optimize space utilization for cost-efficient shipments.

4. Optimize Packaging and Cargo Handling for Ocean Freight:

Implement Efficient Packaging Solutions:

  • Utilize packaging materials that are lightweight, durable, and optimized for ocean freight shipping.
  • Reduce package dimensions to maximize container space and minimize freight charges.

Opt for Unitization and Palletization:

  • Unitizing cargo and palletizing shipments simplifies handling and reduces loading/unloading time at ports.
  • Streamline processes by adopting standard pallet sizes and ensuring proper cargo securing.

5. Optimize Route Planning for Ocean Freight:

Evaluate Trade Routes and Transit Times:

  • Assess different trade routes, transit times, and shipping lines to identify cost-effective options.
  • Consider factors such as transit time, frequency, reliability, and freight rates when selecting shipping partners.

Utilize Port Pairing Strategies:

  • Optimize ocean freight rates by strategically selecting ports with lower fees, congestion, and shorter transit times.
  • Collaborate with freight forwarders to identify cost-saving port pairs for specific trade lanes.

6. Leverage Technology and Automation for Ocean Freight:

Embrace Digital Documentation:

  • Implement electronic documentation systems to reduce paperwork, increase efficiency, and minimize errors.
  • Use platforms that facilitate digital bill of lading, customs documents, and other relevant paperwork.

Explore Automation Solutions:

  • Adopt automation technologies for container handling, stacking, and movement within warehouses or port terminals.
  • Robotic process automation (RPA) can streamline administrative tasks and improve overall productivity.

7. Collaborate with Logistics Service Providers for Ocean Freight:

Build Strong Relationships with Freight Forwarders:

  • Develop long-term partnerships with reliable freight forwarders specializing in ocean freight.
  • Work closely with them to negotiate favorable ocean freight rates, consolidate shipments, and optimize logistics operations.
  • Leverage their expertise to navigate complex customs regulations and documentation requirements.

Engage with Third-Party Logistics (3PL) Providers:

  • Consider outsourcing certain third party logistics in supply chain management.
  • They can offer value-added services such as customs clearance, warehousing, and distribution, leading to cost savings and improved efficiency.
  • Collaborate with third party logistics in supply chain management to design customized solutions aligned with your ocean freight requirements.

8. Implement Lean Practices for Ocean Freight Logistics:

Apply Lean Principles to Processes:

  • Identify and eliminate non-value-added activities in international ocean freight shipping operations.
  • Streamline workflows, minimize wait times, and reduce handling and processing costs.
  • Encourage employee involvement and feedback to drive continuous process improvement.

Optimize Container Utilization:

  • Maximize container space utilization to reduce ocean freight  rates 40 and 20 container costs per unit.
  • Evaluate cargo dimensions and packaging to ensure efficient use of container capacity.
  • Implement load optimization software to improve stacking and securement within containers.

9. Evaluate and Optimize Warehouse Operations for Ocean Freight

Implement Efficient Warehouse Layouts:

  • Optimize the warehouse layout to minimize travel distances and improve productivity.
  • Organize inventory strategically to enable efficient picking and packing processes.
  • Utilize warehouse management systems (WMS) to enhance inventory visibility and streamline operations.

Explore Cross-Docking Strategies:

  • Implement cross-docking practices to reduce storage costs and expedite order fulfillment.
  • Coordinate with suppliers and freight forwarders to seamlessly transfer cargo from inbound to outbound shipments, eliminating the need for long-term storage.

10. Continuously Monitor and Analyze Performance for Ocean Freight Logistics

Track Key Performance Indicators (KPIs):

  • Establish relevant KPIs to measure and monitor international ocean freight shipping performance.
  • Track metrics such as on-time delivery, freight cost per unit, container utilization, and accuracy of documentation.
  • Regularly analyze data to identify areas for improvement and make informed decisions.

Conduct Freight Audits:

  • Perform regular audits of freight invoices and contracts to identify billing errors or discrepancies.
  • Verify freight rates, surcharges, and accessorial charges to ensure accuracy and avoid overpayment.

Other additional ways to cut logistics costs are as follows:

11. Collaborate with Logistics Service Providers:
Building strong relationships with logistics service providers can result in cost savings. Seek partnerships with providers that offer competitive ocean freight rates, value-added services, and expertise in your industry. Collaborative efforts can lead to better negotiation power and mutually beneficial cost reduction strategies.

12. Implement Lean Practices:
Adopting lean practices throughout the logistics process helps eliminate waste and reduce costs. Identify and eliminate non-value-added activities, optimize workflows, and empower employees to suggest process improvements. Lean principles such as 5S methodology can enhance efficiency and eliminate unnecessary expenses.


For SMEs, optimizing logistics costs and increasing profit margins in ocean freight operations require a strategic and holistic approach. By implementing the 10 strategies outlined in this article, including optimizing inventory management, enhancing supply chain visibility, consolidating shipments, optimizing packaging and cargo handling, leveraging technology and automation, collaborating with logistics service providers, implementing lean practices, evaluating warehouse operations, monitoring performance, and conducting freight audits, SMEs can significantly reduce logistics costs and improve profitability. These strategies empower SMEs to navigate the challenges of ocean freight logistics while maintaining a competitive edge in the market.


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