Be a better vendor and supplier: Proactive strategies that prevent and address freight damage

DATE: 08.21.2023

Be a better vendor and supplier: Proactive strategies that prevent and address freight damage

Cultivating a positive experience with your brand matters at every level of business.

Damaged freight is a surefire way to tip the balance to a negative brand experience. When a shipment doesn’t arrive in the promised condition, it leaves the receiving and procurement department scrambling to cope with the mess and fallout. What is the extent of damage? What do we do with it? Which address do we use to ship returns? Do we report this to the shipper or the carrier?

Your commitment to best practices in shipping speaks volumes about your brand, starting at the receiving dock.

When goods arrive in pristine condition and are packaged to withstand the hazards of the journey, "that assures me I invested in the highest quality product and brand," says Ashley James, Shipping and Receiving Coordinator at Liberty Plastics.

However, there are times when you can do little to prevent goods from getting broken or destroyed in transit. That's because in reality, once your freight leaves the dock, it's out of your hands.
“You have no control over who handles it and how it’s handled,” James says.

What you can do is lay the groundwork to reduce damage in transit and friction on the receiving end when it does occur. And that starts with considering how your customers and clients would prefer to receive and process your products.

That’s where you can become a better vendor, a better supplier and a better brand.

The other side of the shipment: How damaged freight disrupts business

Understanding the real costs of damaged freight to your brand requires a look at how its effects play out upon arrival.

“When products arrive damaged, it’s not fun,” James says. “It’s a hassle for receiving clerks as well as the unloader — and sometimes even for the driver delivering the load.”

Goods that arrive damaged interrupt the workflow and divert resources away from the job at hand, requiring the need to assess, store and process the damaged freight, she says, including:

  • Inventorying parts and pieces to ensure the contents in the package match the paperwork

  • Taking photographs that clearly demonstrate the severity and extent of damage

  • Locating forms to document the damage, and obtain signatures and send them to the responsible party.

Next comes the step of deciding what needs to be done with the damaged goods, James says. Keep or return?

Return: Most frequently, and as timeline allows, the customer will decide to return the shipment and initiate reverse logistics, she says. If critical details needed to initiate the return are difficult to locate, such as your receiving address, you’re adding tasks and frustration.

Salvage: When project deadlines are nearing, the other option is retrieving any usable parts or components and using them as intended, James says. That can also be a frustration because they're left without the complete order they had planned on. 

Damaged freight: Who's responsible? 

When dealing with damaged freight, we often think of it as a carrier problem. However, filing a claim does not guarantee you'll get the outcome you want. While reporting the damage creates an extra task for buyers, this can also increase your business costs.    

“No one wants to be the responsible party for damaged freight, right?” James says. “It’s always considered a loss, and covering that loss is usually costly.”

When the cause of damage is unclear 

Cost recovery of goods damaged in transit depends largely upon the situation and the extent of your coverage. But it’s important to remember that even if you are not at fault, covering the damage becomes someone else’s business expense. 

That's precisely why some carriers fight the claims when the source of damage is unclear, James says. 
“Again, once a product leaves the dock, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what happened to cause the damage,” she says.

Read the fine print 

Another obstacle to recovering the cost of damaged freight can be found in the fine print of your carrier agreement. Know and understand the limitations and exclusions, such as severe weather events, along with any carrier liability limitations defiled by law.

Get insured 

To cover any gaps in carrier liability, shippers often have the option to purchase freight insurance, which would provide additional reimbursement for the value of shipped goods..

How to be a better carrier: Proactive steps to smoother experiences at the receiving dock

How do you minimize damage, control costs and improve relationships with your customers? One place to start is by examining all facets of how shipments are received, and then work to remove obstacles by anticipating what happens when freight arrives damaged.

Evaluate carrier performance 

Evaluate and track carrier performance on an ongoing basis, so you can pinpoint which firms have the strongest track record delivering goods on time and intact. James also says when damage does occur, the good carriers will conduct a thorough investigation and can often identify a likely cause. 

Document and prepare 

Before shipments leave the gate, preparation can save everyone headaches down the line. James and her team have started to implement a few countermeasures against increased occurrences of freight damage.
"Though these countermeasures take extra time, they're a great way to be proactive to the situation,” she says. 

First, she photographs the shipment. Then, she leads a walk-around inspection with the driver and loader, and has them sign an agreement stating there’s no damage, and the products and pallets are well-banded and wrapped. This provides her with all the documents and evidence she needs to make a strong case to the carrier. 

Other proactive pre-departure measures can include:

  • Email detailed receiving instructions to the buyer, so they can take immediate action in any situation. Instruct them to require the driver stand by for the delivery inspection. This is also an opportune time to remind buyers to document any damages to the Bill of Lading before they sign.

  • Apply “Inspect for damage before accepting” labels to outer packaging.

  • Double-check the Bill of Lading for correct details, including dates and quantities. Also, review all carrier clauses, document any changes to quantities and note the condition of the freight.  

Evaluate your packaging  

The rigors of freight shipping create many unpredictable conditions. Things like crane lifting, loading and unloading, shifting contents, weather conditions and extreme temperatures can inflict damage to goods during shipping. This underscores how safeguarding freight is a shared responsibility between the shipper and the carrier.  Again, once it’s out the gate, the freight is out of your hands. But you can take control with more durable packaging options.   

First, evaluate your current packaging by considering various factors of shipping your goods, including:

  • Mode of transportation (international, open car, intermodal)

  • Environment and climate conditions (exposure to moisture, temperature, dust)

  • Mass and volume (including bulky and irregularly shaped materials)  

  • Valuation and cost

  • Fragility

  • Presence of hazardous materials

  • Duration of transport

Ultimately, it comes down to whether the packaging is compatible with the mode of transportation.

If your packaging is not durable enough to meet the demands of shipping, Liberty Plastics is your new resource for durable solutions that can help you become a better supplier — and fulfill the orders your customers are counting on.

Wave-Core™: Enhanced protection for reliable arrivals   

Wave-Core™ is fabricated from ultra-rugged HDPE plastic — corrugated to enhance structural strength and reduce weight. Here’s a look at how our custom wraps, sheets, covers and bins provide shipped goods with the support, protection and exceptional impact resistance they need to withstand the hazards of shipping.  

  • High-value flexible wraps for industrial spools protect high-value aerospace film for international shipment.

  • Durable water-resistant covers shield lumber against exposure to mold, rain and frost damage during outdoor storage.

  • Stackable shipping bins for landscaping stone for durable protection against breakage and cold weather conditions.  

Let us design your packaging solution

How can Liberty Plastics help you become a better supplier? Contact us to discuss how we can help design your ultimate shipping solution.