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In my two previous articles, "What is Trade Data" and "How to Use Trade Data", I discussed what types of trade data exists, what questions it can answer, and what the general uses are. Once you have made the decision to use trade data in your company, the next step is to determine what type of data you should use and what the important features are to consider when choosing a trade data provider.
U.S. Census or U.S. Customs Data?
import export data of trade data provided by the United States government are U.S. Census and U.S. Customs data. In short, the difference between these two datasets is that U.S. Census data is a high level, aggregate view of the movement of goods to and from the United States and U.S. Customs is a shipment level, detailed view of the products being imported. Depending on the research you are conducting, U.S. Census data will answer different questions than U.S. Customs data and in some case when the data is used together, great insights can be found.
Choose U.S. Census data if you need the following:
The total value of shipments being imported/exported for a product or group of products.
The top trading partners for the U.S. for products or groups of products.
Data based on Harmonized Tariff Code or H.T.S number.
Information including truck, rail, or air shipments (these are not included in U.S. Customs Data).
The balance of trade between the U.S. and a trading partner.
Information on exports, currently there is not a complete set of export data as it is not released by U.S. Customs in the same manner as import data.
Choose U.S. Customs data if you need the following:
Specific shipment details, i.e. you want to see how products are being listed on shipment documents.
Research a competitor's or supplier's imports into the United States.
Find companies in a specific region who are importing.
Search for product based on description (H.T.S. Codes are not provided in U.S. Customs data).
Establish supply side market shares for companies.
Continuously monitor shipments for an importer or supplier.
How timely should I expect the data to be?
U.S. Census data is completed and released approximately 45 days after a month's close. Most providers then quickly incorporate this information into their tools. The data is updated once a month and then there can be revisions to the official information from the Census Bureau at a later date.
U.S. Customs data is released to providers on a daily basis and different providers expose this information for their customers within a couple of days or it could take several weeks. No providers have a live feed to the data as it takes U.S. Customs a couple of days to distribute the information. In addition, some providers augment the raw data with outside sources which can dilute the raw data from U.S. Customs and causes delays in distribution.
What are the features to look for in a trade data provider?
Choosing a trade data provider is like buying any other business tool; the features and functionality of the tool matter. Once it is determined what type of data set is needed, U.S. Census, U.S. Customs, or both, it is important to note that even though the source data is the same, the interface that is used to find the information can greatly affect the accuracy of the data retrieved, the time it takes to complete a project, and the ease at which the data can be pulled. Companies should consider the overall value when selecting a trade data provider along with these factors:
Timeliness of the data (How old is the newest information?)
Support level of the provider (Will the provider include training and prompt customer service?)
Accuracy of the data (Has the provider changed or truncated the data?)
Accuracy of searches (Are you purchasing a search engine or an advanced trade data tool?)
Breadth of data (Does the provider limit access to only a slice of the dataset or provide several years of historical data?)
Trial Subscriptions (Will the provider allow you to use the tool before you purchase it? A video demonstration or a sample report of data is not a full representation of the tool.)
Ultimately, using trade data of any kind will improve a company's knowledge base and provide the information necessary to make the correct decisions needed in a changing marketp