March 2000 | Case Studies | I.T. Toolkit

iLink Global: Rockin' and Rollin' with E-Logistics

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iLink Global acts as a logistics bodyguard for e-commerce fulfillment of rare collectibles and fine art purchases.

Imagine all the carriers, shipping all the world...

Imagine entering an online auction site and purchasing the piano on which John Lennon composed his poetic masterpiece "Imagine."

Then, imagine the expectations for moving that musical artifact from London to California or Caracas—wherever the winning bidder happens to fancy. Not to mention all the opportunities for disaster that are inherent in cross-continental transit.

When the piano is auctioned online in April, iLink Global, Chicago, Ill., will be the logistics bodyguard assigned to manage and master every detail, requirement, and carrier necessary to complete the move.

iLink Global, launched in the fourth quarter of 1999, is a global shipping partner for e-commerce sites that provides total, comprehensive logistics solutions: real-time, landed price quotes; compliance to meet all customs and regulatory requirements; best-choice carrier and shipping management; full tracking and tracing; and 24/7 customer service.

"We chose iLink because we deal in rare, costly, and unusual items that must be delivered with kid-glove handling," says George Noceti, CEO and founder of GAVELNET.com, San Francisco, a web-based auction site that specializes in premium collectibles and fine art. "Our bidders are located worldwide so we need global expertise."

GAVELNET.com hosted a rock n' roll auction in January that featured more than 50 rare finds, including record albums "Hey Jude," signed by the Beatles, and a Janis Joplin-signed "Big Brother and the Holding Company." Bob Dylan's 12-string Martin guitar, signed and dated in 1969, as well as Bonnie Raitt's Fender Strat Custom Shop Purple Haze guitar, one of only 300 made, were among the fragile valuables sold to online bidders.

By integrating iLink's e-logistics services into its web site, GAVELNET.com enables bidders to see what their shipping costs will total immediately upon entering bids. The price quoted includes freight, insurance, packing, duties, and taxes so the customer knows the complete landed cost of the purchase before committing to the transaction.

Delivery times are estimated between five and seven business days for any destination in the world. iLink automatically identifies and assigns the best carriers to deliver shipments in pristine condition.

"The future of e-commerce hinges on the ability to deliver globally," says David Stukel, CEO of iLink. "Hundreds of e-commerce sites have avoided the opportunity to sell to 5.5 billion offshore customers. They are in dire need of shipping strategies to enable full participation in the fast-growing global Net economy.

"We have become the full-service shipping partner to a number of B2B dot.com sites that recognize the need for sophisticated, comprehensive services, not simply for software," he says. "By providing a carrier-neutral network of leading providers we can cover all segments of transportation for our customers."

When iLink moved 25,000 gallons of paint from Norfolk, Va., to Calcutta, India, it reduced its customer's shipping cost by $5,000 while meeting the schedule and handling requirements of the order. Needless to say the customer, Liquidation.com, was "thrilled," according to CEO Billy Burke.

Pricing for iLink services are transaction-based. The technology can be integrated into client sites at no cost, making it extremely user-friendly for small, start-up dot.com initiatives.

"There is no software to purchase and zero investment to make," says Stukel. "Our clients can ramp up quickly with the technology; basically in three to five days the full product offering can be integrated into the client's site."

iLink gives customers an all-in-one alternative for outsourcing. Companies can establish a distribution infrastructure in a foreign country virtually overnight without any investment in facilities or support resources.

ComAuction Inc. of Dowagiac, Mich., provides an e-commerce B2B arena for auctioning materials, goods, and services, and is ideally suited for the transaction of obsolete and surplus equipment, as well as liquidation overruns. The ability to provide real-time shipping quotes and multi-modal shipping to any location in the world is a value-added competitive advantage.

"Our goal is to be the most user-friendly B2B auction site on the Internet," says Fred Polmanteer, CEO of ComAuction. "At other auction sites, the buyer and seller are often responsible for arranging shipping. With the integration of iLink's e-logistics engine into our web site, customers no longer have to worry about shipping hassles."

While giving customers a hassle-free solution and creating a competitive edge may be reason enough to integrate the iLink Global technology, the product's greatest advantage is that it mediates the serious ramifications that can occur when shipping between countries. As lucrative as it promises to be, global shipping poses a literal threat to corporations that is far too great a risk to consider without professional expertise in the area of global trade compliance.

The U.S. Customs Service and Foreign Trade Division of the Bureau of the Census recently awarded Automated Export System (AES) certification to iLink's U.S. Customs interface technology, validating the company's expertise in the area of electronic filing for import and export processing.

"Companies often forget, particularly in global e-commerce, that there are always a minimum of two governments, two sets of regulations, and two currencies in every international transaction," explains Gary Smith, chief compliance officer of iLink Global. "There are also numerous issues that must be taken into consideration, from denied parties—such as those entities, companies, and people that the U.S. government prohibits doing business with—to embargo countries, and whether those embargoes cover unilateral or multilateral transactions."

For instance, a dot.com auction based in the United States could find itself in trouble if it allowed a transaction between a seller in one country and a buyer in another country if either of the parties fell outside the boundaries defined as acceptable by this government. And ignorance is no excuse, according to Smith, who points out that a company is held culpable for what it ships even if it did not fully understand the requirements and regulations.

"Failure to understand is not a mitigating excuse in the eyes of the U.S. government," says Smith. "In the areas of export compliance, there are large subjective areas that have to be addressed—such as whether a product or component might be used directly or indirectly in support of weapons for mass destruction. We can help companies understand and transact business and still be compliant with all the regulations."

Smith shares a story of a recent scenario when iLink was able to intervene and prevent an auction site from making a costly mistake. Like many of the neutral marketplaces created for B2B e-commerce, the site allowed buyers and sellers to maintain anonymity. In this particular transaction, however, the buyer was an entity in Iran—unbeknownst to either the auction site or the seller. The Global Trade Compliance Division of iLink identified the potential problem and alerted the client, averting a potentially harmful transaction.

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