The commoditization (and devaluing) of trade data and trade data based products is accelerating, perhaps inversely proportional to the quality and number of suppliers and products in the marketplace.
Let’s look at one of the most treasured (and perhaps useful) types of trade information – U.S. Customs Waterborne Import Manifest Data. Automated Manifest System data, sometimes called “AMS”, is information collected daily by DHS (Department of Homeland Security) U.S. Customs for and about each and every ship and shipment bound for the U.S.. Thousands of imported shipments are logged everyday. Each manifest contains information about the foreign shipper (exporter), the receiver (importer), details on the product shipped and various logistical specifics on routing.
“Back in the Day” when I founded CenTradeX in the summer of 2000, only PIERS offered such information. Primarily, it was distributed to customers via a stack of CDs each and every month. The user hunted through an Excel type interface for specifics on a particular product, shipper or importer. For elite customers, PIERS offered a plethora of prepared reports. (One of their customers once showed me a CD containing over 57,000 such reports). Slowly, PIERS converted such customers to an on-line system which also served to reduce rampant piracy.
In the last 5 years, available technological resources have grown exponentially. Correspondingly, vendors offering access to and products based upon the U.S. Customs Waterborne Manifest Data have proliferated like bunnies. On the one hand, this has led to increased competitive pressures which have driven innovation forward, quality upward and prices downward. On the other hand, there is a widening gap between data and intelligence.
I stayed awake until 2:00 a.m. one evening recently, trying to catch up on all (that I could find) of the NEW vendors offering AMS data… WHEW! The data has gotten incredibly cheap. The quality of companies /products are mixed. Some look like they are solo operations run out of someone’s garage. Others are incredibly slick.
The first competitor (not including my company CenTradeX) on the scene was Zepol. Started by two young fellows out of Minnesota – they had a simple business plan – improve on PIERS’ search utility and undercut PIERS’ price by 20%. Slowly they made headway. They were followed by Datamyne, Import Genius and Panjiva, which appeared in the last several years. Now, add to the list Manifest Journals, Cybex, Info Drive India, IE Intelligence, Trade Intelligency, Data Trade, Trade Mining, Import Intel, TradeKey, Vanguard…
At the peak of the pyramid in price and quality /value is PIERS (of course) – a handful of “G Notes” will buy you the best. Second tier providers include Datamyne, Zepol, Import Genius and Panjiva whose prices range from a few Benjamins to a couple of Clevelands (the President on the now defunct $1,000 bill). Cascading down the food chain are the bottom feeders, like Manifest Journals, Cybex, Info Drive India and the others, which offer access to AMS data for as low as $30.10 a month.
The current or prospective user of “trade intelligence” products and resources must decide upon which “values” he values most. It’s cheaper to harvest the wheat yourself… you can purchase the raw AMS data directly from U.S Customs for $100 per day. Maybe even start your own company. Heck, the last three CEOs of PIERS did just that. They either run or have founded companies in the list above.
*This post was originally published during the first week of May, 2011.