Simplifying Shipping Operations Using a Freight Forwarder or Broker

April 5, 2024

Shipping challenges have likely been an issue since the very first product had to make its way across a distance to a customer. During the pandemic, many issues were brought to light from container shortages and port congestion, to shortage of drivers and other carrier workers tasked with managing freight. Each of these issues affected pricing and lead times.

Current issues affecting pricing and lead times include carrier union negotiations (higher wages usually mean higher costs for the customer), fluctuating fuel prices, and crises at various ports. Attacks on ships in the Red Sea, reduced water levels in the Panama Canal, and the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge have led some carriers to divert shipments to other waterways. Due to these problems, some companies have switched maritime shipments to air or rail—when possible—and have raised costs accordingly.

So, how can shippers best navigate transportation issues in order to economize and streamline their operations? A 3PL that provides freight brokerage or freight forwarding services can be a valuable asset, negotiating carrier rates and finding the most efficient way to get product to its final destination. Let's take a minute to explain the difference between freight forwarders and freight brokers, then highlight some advantages that they can provide.

Freight Forwarders

Freight forwarders work with shippers to coordinate the transportation of products with one or more carriers. Forwarders are able to warehouse freight themselves, while they arrange outbound transportation. Once in the hands of carriers, forwarders track freight in real-time. They are able to notify shippers about any issues and can contact carriers, if shippers need to make adjustments (such as change destination addresses). At times, forwarders act as brokers; however, brokers can never act as forwarders.

Freight Brokers

Freight brokers also coordinate shipments with carriers on behalf of their clients. Like forwarders, they track shipments and communicate with shippers and carriers as needed. Unlike forwarders, brokers do not take possession of freight. Brokers take on less risk, since they do not physically handle goods.



Whether you use a freight forwarder or broker, you will benefit from their expertise in transporting freight using one or more forms of transportation within the US and internationally. Brokers and forwarders have to be able to understand the complexities related to shipping specialized freight and they must be aware of carrier reputation when finding suitable shipping partners.

Cost Reduction

Both experienced brokers and forwarders should be adept at negotiating rates with carriers and be able to offer shippers more competitive rates than shippers can negotiate on their own. Additionally, forwarders and brokers can arrange for freight consolidation—combining multiple LTL shipments going to the same location—in order to further reduce costs.

Saving Time

Shippers can save time by using forwarders or brokers, who are experts at what they do. Forwarders, especially, are equipped to handle the documentation needed to import or export goods, while shippers would have to devote extra time (and potentially other resources) to understanding and completing them.


Forwarders and brokers typically have access to a global network of carriers, with whom they have formed relationships. They also will likely have contacts with other logistics partners and customs brokers, allowing them to offer shippers reliable and efficient end-to-end logistics solutions.

Mitigated Risks

Successful forwarders and brokers must be able to plan shipments in order to best reduce or navigate supply chain challenges. They are responsible for keeping abreast of shipping regulations. They also need to be able to handle existing delays, navigate around problem areas, anticipate and avoid routes susceptible to inclement weather, and be aware of carrier incidents that may affect shipping. Additionally, when forwarders take possession of freight, they—not shippers—are responsible and insured for any damages that occur while the freight is in their possession.

Learn More

If you are a shipper that is not already benefiting from a partnership with a 3PL that offers freight brokerage or freight forwarding services, contact our Transportation Management team to learn more about how we can help you improve your shipping operations.