Are you an ImportGenius or Should You Go Straight to the Source?

Jason Busch and Lisa Reisman (Metal Miner/ Aptium Global) jointly authored this post.

ImportGenius (hat-tip Ryder Daniels) has caused quite a stir in the past week. The web-based information service claims to provide "timely, detailed shipment data for every container that enters the United States" to provide information to "importers, exporters, entrepreneurs, freight forwarders, bankers, private investigators, foreign factories" and others. The site suggests that some might use it to "keep tabs on competitors by “gaining access to records on nearly every container that entered the United States from 2006 to the present". This information can provide "access to lists of all of your competitors' suppliers and all of your suppliers' U.S. customers." Companies also might use the data to detect if their suppliers are shipping counterfeit or grey market products into the US.

But how ingenious is this really? The site appears to be aggregating information that is already somewhat publicly available or can become available if a company follows the procedures outlined here. On the other hand, ImportGenius also appears to have a very easy to use interface (which is something we can’t always say about applications made available to the public by the government). They're also very good at marketing it, we’ll give them that.

Techcrunch -- in its typical fawning analysis -- suggested in a recent post that that it is a "disruptive shipping database". But there is nothing about the database that contains proprietary information! They appear to have an excellent query capability to a database which most companies have the right to access free of charge via the ABI (Automated Broker Interface). Still maybe it will prove an ingenious business model for a couple of reasons. First, those that tend to access this information traditionally are not sitting in the sourcing organization. They are sitting in an international trade/compliance function or are outsourced completely altogether. This application is relatively low-cost and allows other interested parties to glean access to information that typically the international trade/compliance function doesn’t care about.

Second, working the "free" option to make it useable and elegant will take time. ImportGenius has done the work already. But the brilliance is, without question, their marketing genius. As Techcrunch highlights, ImportGenius recently used their information to post a blog on a recent round of Apple's import activities into the US. Indeed, to analyze "Apple's current shipping records to deduce that unusually large shipments of 'electronic computers' (a classification that Apple has never used) have been arriving this spring," is quite clever, especially with the rumored introduction of a new MacBook and iPhone this June. What might these electronic computers be? ImportGenius suggests they very well might be the new 3G iPhone.

But how useful is this type of data, really? Companies often name a different consignee specifically for these reasons. The database would not necessarily reveal transshipped cargo to an intermediary location or use a different export company (or create one) to manage the overseas logistics and trade finance. Most companies we know in the import/export trade tend to provide as few details as possible on the bill of lading and commercial invoice. The descriptions may or may not tell a good story. Many consumer packaged goods come from trading companies or export companies which would not reveal the manufacturer's name. But anyone who imports any significant volume of goods would be silly not to check out this company. At the right price, this might make a lot of sense.

- Jason Busch and Lisa Reisman from MetalMiner also contributed to this post.

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