The ABCs of Preventing Shipping Damage, Part I

Damaged-BoxBreaking up may be hard to do. But breaking products during transit is all too easy.

According to a recent study conducted by StellaService, as many as one in ten ecommerce packages arrives damaged – a fact that shouldn’t really come as a surprise when you consider how many times products change hands between production and final delivery.

However that doesn’t mean your company’s shipments have to add to these negative statistics. As the first half of the following “Dictionary of Damage Prevention” suggests, there are numerous ways your company can minimize “the breaks” and maximize customer satisfaction.


Always take the time to do shipping trials

Even fully optimized and simulated shipping scenarios can be prone to unfortunate surprises. Prior to going live with new types of products or packaging, send some trial shipments to ferret out potential weak spots. Although it isn’t 100% necessary for packages to contain the exact products you’ll be shipping, they should at least include contents with similar properties including things such as sharp corners, sensitive finishes or highly absorbent fabrics and ingredients. After all, those are the kinds of factors that will often be the biggest contributors to damages, claims and returns.


Box cutter orientation is more important than you think

Box cutters may be ubiquitous but proper use of them isn’t. That’s why these devices are often the cause of scratches, tears or other forms of expensive product damage. Take the time to inform all associates who will be handling your products about the right and wrong ways to use these cutting-edge devices – and about the importance of following your company’s prescribed protocol for opening boxes or pallets every time.


Cushioning can make all the difference

Relying on an exterior box, crate or wrapped pallet to provide 100% of the protection for your products is like thinking that a house will automatically protect you from extreme weather because it has four walls and a roof. Pay attention to what’s going between your products and their external packaging, too, because ample cushioning can serve as a key line of defense against the wear and tear of a long transit.


Devices such as impact, shock or tilt indicators can help discourage careless handling

Your products can’t tell you when they’ve been jolted, mishandled or improperly loaded. But these inexpensive devices can. Usually attached to the outside of boxes, they’ll indicate when a potentially damaging condition or behavior has taken place so you can pinpoint how and where the damage occurred. Just as important, they’ll remind product handlers to proceed with caution when handling your items. 


Evaluate and analyze your damage trends

A wise man once said that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Although your company clearly can’t undo shipping damages that already have occurred, the data collected from these past mistakes can help determine what you should do differently in the future.


Fill your containers and trailers as efficiently as possible

Empty space can pose a real problem in containers and trailers during transit, because every major void around your packages, crates or pallets increases the risk of product shifts, collisions or falls. With this in mind, take a thorough approach to cubing container loads and trailer loads. In addition, use airbags or other types of dunnage to fill in any remaining spaces.


Go with air-ride

Roadway vibration is inevitable, especially when you consider the fact that nearly half of the country’s paved roads don’t offer a good quality ride. But that doesn’t mean that a large amount of the friction-related damages caused by vibration – such as abrasions, scuffs or leaks – are unavoidable. By sending goods via air-ride rather than spring-ride equipped trucks, your company should be able to pave the way for a smoother, more damage-free journey.


Humidity shouldn’t be ignored

Excessive condensation can easily build up in trailers or containers if they’re exposed to extreme variations in temperature and humidity. When this happens, it can lead to warping, corrosion or product-ruining mold. Consider including desiccants in shipments that will be passing through different climatic conditions. They’ll help keep your cargo considerably drier. 


Industrial equipment isn’t always interchangeable

Although many pieces of industrial equipment may look equally capable, assuming that one vehicle can fill in for another is a recipe for disaster. Handling loads with the wrong kind of equipment makes it considerably more likely that loads will tip or get broken. Don’t allow the people who work in your DCs (or your providers’ DCs) to make do with substitute equipment unless it has been approved to handle the kinds of products you want moved, including the various tasks these movements require.


Just because products and shipping packages are designed to be stackable, it doesn’t mean they’re completely safe from stack-related damage

There are a lot of wrong ways to stack products. These include exceeding weight limits, keeping products on hand for extended periods of time (because cardboard can lose up to half of its strength if it sits in a warehouse for too long) and storing products in interlocking patterns or misaligned stacks (both of which can lead to a substantial loss of compression strength). Make sure you avoid these and other common storage mistakes.


Keep package opening simple for consumers

If the packaging you use is too difficult to open, customers are more likely to damage it and quite possibly the item within when getting their purchase out. Help preserve your packaging’s protective properties, which will be useful for damage prevention if an item has to be returned, by placing clear instructions for how to open packaging on the outside of your shipping boxes. 


Let lean project teams do damage control

Lean projects are all about eliminating waste and inefficiency, and few things are more wasteful than product damage. If your company, carriers or 3PLs have professionals with lean training, encourage them to consider tackling at least one project related to your products’ damage reduction. The insights they uncover could ultimately save your company a great deal of money.

To be continued …

Will O’Shea is Chief Sales & Marketing Officer, Last Mile for XPO Logistics