Damaged Parcels? - Help is Available

by Michael Everson February 23, 2010

Over the years, shippers who have been using UPS and FedEx may have experienced a time where one or more of their products would have an ongoing problem of being damaged in transit. Often the carriers are quick to deny claims based on what they determine is “inadequate packaging”. There is a fine line between what the carrier considers inadequate and what the shipper considers adequate. Damages can be a huge profit killer. Not only is there the extra internal cost of a re-shipment, the customers confidence in the shipper can suffer. Even though the situation may be handled well by the shipper, a damaged product may just be the reason an additional purchase is not made.
By denying claims, the carriers have forced shippers to improve the way in which their products are packaged. Is the improvement cost effective for the shipper? Shippers have had to improve the quality of their packaging or ultimately stop shipping those problematic products. One method shippers have used is “trial and error”. This can be an expensive learning curve. Often shippers will over pack the product to a point where the cost of the packaging can sometimes exceed the cost of the product. The result is a lot of wasted money spent by a shipper trying to fix a packaging problem on their own.

My wife recently purchased a blender and it arrived via UPS in a corrugated carton with a 175 pound certification printed on the bottom. If you don’t know what I am talking about, just pick up any cardboard box you see and look on the bottom for the printed certificate. The certificate tells you if the box is single wall or double wall. There is a newer standard called the Edge Crush rating. This refers to the “stacking strength” of the carton. Also on this certificate are the dimensions (L + W + H) of the box and the maximum weight the box will hold. A 20 pound blender in a 175 pound burst rated single wall container is a good start to protecting the contents inside. Keep in mind these ratings only apply to a new carton. Any carton previously used for shipping is now suspect as to its ability to safely transport the contents again.

Before opening the box, I performed the shake test and listened for noise. No noise means everything was packed the way it should be from the distributor. Opening the box, we discovered the blender was in the manufacturers shelf pack. This is the carton used to put the blender on the shelf at a retail store. Opening the shelf pack, the blender was packaged to prevent movement and to protect the components inside.

Why am I going into such detail? The manufacturer packaged the product to a standard they believed would be adequate for palletized or containerized shipping. The reseller/distributor we purchased the blender from knew from experience the factory packed carton would not survive the trip in a small parcel environment. The blender was over packed in a carton designed to withstand the rugged trip through a small parcel carrier’s sorting and distribution facility.

How do shippers learn to package their parcels properly? Left to trial and error, some shippers would be out of business very quickly. Different products have different packaging requirements. Fortunately, the carriers offer a service to help shippers improve their packaging.

FedEx Design Services will create a new package design, including engineering drawings and a prototype package in as little as 15 days. They even advertise they will do this at no charge. (FedEx does not provide this service for hazardous material items) Other services include a testing lab in which they will subject a parcel to drop, impact, compression, and vibration tests to evaluate its ability to survive the FedEx air and ground shipping environment. More information about FedEx Design Services can be found at the link below.

FedEx link: http://fedex.com/us/services/packageshipment/index.html

UPS also offers a testing lab and will perform the same series of tests as Fed Ex. In addition, UPS has a testing process to simulate temperature extremes. A significant amount of specialty food items are shipped via the carriers. Think about a package sitting in a trailer over a January weekend in Minnesota, or central Texas in August. Many food items would have a tough time surviving one or both of these conditions.

If you use air services such as Next Day and Second Day, conditions are able to be simulated to measure any adverse affects to package contents at high altitudes. More information about the UPS Testing Lab can be found at the link below. Be sure to watch the video of the test lab.

UPS link: http://www.astm.org/LABS/BROCHURES/146400.pdf 
Video of UPS Test Lab: http://compass.ups.com/features/article.aspx?id=2925 

No one wants to receive a damaged package. Shippers don’t want their products damaged, and believe it or not, the carriers don’t want to see parcels damaged in their distribution system. There is a way for shippers to work with the carriers to develop safe and effective packaging methods to get the product to the consignee in good condition. Working with the carriers to improve the survivability of the products they ship is a smart way for shippers to keep their customers happy.

Michael Everson is President and CEO of Data Trak Technologies located in St Paul Minnesota. For over 18 years Data Trak has been helping businesses of all sizes automate and improve the efficiency of their outbound distribution and shipping operations. You can reach Data Trak at 651-639-0091 or email sales@dtsna.com. Data Trak’s web address is http://www.dtsna.com and http://www.digitalshipper.com

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