The Cost of Freight Damage—and How to Prevent It

Jul 10, 2023

Freight damage throws a wrench into even the most meticulously planned supply chains. Its effects can diminish a company’s productivity, tarnish its image, cause harm to the surrounding environment and even sever once-strong customer relationships.

Here’s the good news: the widespread operational chaos caused by damaged freight is often preventable with simple changes to both shipper and carrier processes. Below you’ll find our team’s keys to shielding your business against the effects of in-transit freight damage, as well as the advantages of partnering with a 3PL for long term success.

Freight Damage’s Far-Reaching Effects

Freight damage invites the obvious cost of replacing inventory — if a pallet of product is unsellable, receivers are unlikely to accept it. However, replacing damaged goods is far from the only expense businesses suffer when their shipments arrive in rough shape.

Missed delivery deadlines, dissatisfied customers and contract breaches with retailers or distributors can bring your business under hefty penalties. Freight damage also creates inventory discrepancies and complications in a company’s warehousing operations due to inaccurate stock counts.

If damaged products manage to make it into the hands of the customer, any previous sense of trust or loyalty to a brand can quickly evaporate. A recent study revealed the vast majority of customers are holding brands to higher standards of customer service than they did before the pandemic. Moreover, even one bad experience can reduce their brand loyalty by up to 68%.

Five Keys to Minimizing Freight Damage

The best way to combat the negative effects of freight damage is to implement preventive measures throughout your transportation processes. These best practices will better protect your freight and reduce the losses associated with unsellable goods:

1. Appropriate Packaging

To prevent freight damage, start by evaluating your packaging. It’s easy to overlook packaging as it comprises a small percentage of supply chain expenses, but effective packaging reduces total overhead costs and minimizes the risk of damage.

The details matter when it comes to packaging. If there is empty space in the packaging, be sure to fill it with foam or other filling materials. Excess slack and compression ought to be avoided. Many packaging options also include a minimum weight for their contents — ensure you follow these guidelines to maintain product integrity. Spill-resistant seals, such as adhesive tape, are equally important for keeping products in place during transit.

Not only should packaging be appropriate for the product but it should also be right for the mode of transportation that you’re using. For example, if your pallets are stacked, packaging should consist of a corrugated material that will hold up to the weight.

2. Evenly-Packed Pallets

Ideally, units are stacked on pallets so that there are no gaps (meaning freight will not slide out of place).

Pallet load stability refers to a palletized unit’s ability to remain upright and intact in transit. Several factors can influence a pallet’s load stability, including truck acceleration and deceleration, pallet materials, weight limits and weight distribution.

Traditional wood pallets can suffer design issues leading to destabilization. Wood warps when wet, creating an uneven surface for freight. This can result in slight changes to a pallet’s dimensions, which in turn impacts transportation costs if the reported size and weight of your shipments are found to be inaccurate.

All pallets have weight limits. Avoid overloading them to maintain structural integrity. Likewise, weight should be distributed evenly across the pallet to ensure load stability. Unevenly packed products can break pallets or fall off. Once properly loaded, pallets should be organized and stored carefully with bulk items secured. Racks should have adequate weight limits and support bars as well.

3. Optimized Warehousing & Storage Practices

Maintaining strict warehousing standards and observing the careful use of forklifts and other equipment when loading and unloading freight makes a significant difference in the long term condition of your products.

A warehouse must adequately shield goods from weather. The roof and doors need to be in good condition to prevent water from seeping in and spoiling products and their packaging. Additionally, a warehouse needs to be well-lit and clean to avoid accidents that might topple or otherwise damage freight.

Properly warehousing freight takes into consideration any special needs a product may have, such as air conditioning or refrigeration.

Improperly handling freight with a forklift can cause damage as well. Forklift damage can be avoided with appropriately loaded and balanced pallets. Clearing warehouses of debris and carefully planning layouts prevents forklifts from making tight turns down narrow aisles.

4. Proper Loading, Stacking and Wrapping

Proper palletizing, or stacking and packing products on a pallet, will help avoid freight damage in the warehouse and in transit. Always stack packaged products in aligned columns — pyramid-shaped stacks tend to tumble, as do misaligned stacks. Heavier boxes should be at the bottom of the column to maintain stability.

The downside of stacking in columns is freight is likely to shift. Stretch wrap, applied manually or with a machine, minimizes shifting. Banding with plastic or steel strapping can serve the same purpose.

Not every product is packed in a conventional box, so some freight may need different considerations for palletizing. For example, bags maintain the most stability when stacked in an interlocking pattern. They must be secured tightly with banding or stretch wrap to prevent shifting.

5. Simple, Straightforward Labeling

Good labeling makes proper warehousing and palletizing possible. Labels tell carriers exactly how to handle freight, so they can avoid mishandling and damaging the products.
In addition to a clear delivery address and weight, a label should have reference numbers for the sender and receiver. These allow the receiver to quickly identify and sort freight upon delivery.

If products are clearly labeled hazardous or fragile, they’ll be more likely to receive the special handling required for safe transit.

Reduce Freight Damage Occurrences with a 3PL

Through proper packaging, load securement, documentation, training and equipment maintenance, businesses can minimize the risk of damaged freight and give their supply chains a noticeable boost in efficiency.

A good 3PL can help execute these strategies efficiently for your business and ensure freight is managed properly throughout its journey, both through years of hands-on experience and the latest in WMS and TMS tech. These integrated systems expand your company’s supply chain visibility, showing the location and condition of your freight in real time.

First Class Logistics is an experienced 3PL with the knowledge and resources to help your business minimize freight damage. Contact us today to learn more.

Simplify your Next Shipment with First Call Logistics

Building and managing cost-efficient supply chains is a full-time job. First Call’s rare combination of in-house assets, expert problem-solving and track record of stellar customer service makes us the 3PL of choice for business partners with a wide range of shipping needs.

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