Ask the Experts: Top 6 Freight Shipping Tips
03/05/2020 — Jen Deming
Every day at PartnerShip, we field tons of questions from both new and experienced shippers looking for freight shipping tips related to product classification, density calculation, carrier tariffs, and more. As your shipping partner and expert resource, we've seen it all, but some key takeaways stand out above the rest. We asked two of our most knowledgeable freight veterans, Polly and Trevor, what they thought were the most important, can't-live-without freight shipping tips for businesses today. That way, you can anticipate challenges before they start and prioritize what common obstacles shippers face today.
Shipping Tip #1 - Freight transit time is an estimate
When a shipper wants to schedule a freight move, one of the first things that comes to mind is "when will it deliver?" It's an understandable question that needs to be answered so that the shipper can communicate with the delivery location. When quoting a shipment, the carrier often provides a transit and delivery estimate based on the shipment date. But, there are many things that the truck may encounter while in route that can cause a delay. Our Truckload Brokerage Manger, Polly, helps arrange hundreds of shipments a month and warns shippers that traffic and inclement weather can both affect pick-up dates and transit times. Additionally, standard freight services operate during business days and don't travel over the weekend, so this has to be considered when estimating arrival.
When you are using LTL or partial truckload services, be aware that your shipment will be sharing space with other loads on the truck. If for any reason loading is held up at any locations before yours, you may experience a delay or a missed pick-up as a result. If timely delivery is imperative, there are just-in-time and expedited options to consider. We want shippers to understand that they must be informed on potential delays on either end of the shipment and to build in extra time to ensure delivery success.
Shipping Tip #2 - Anything "above and beyond" costs money
Freight shipping is a complicated business. However, one fact is fairly straightforward: the carrier's responsibility to your freight is to pick it up and get it to where it needs to go. As our Revenue Services Manager, Trevor, can attest to, the more complicated the shipment and the more extra services you need, the higher your bill is going to be. Specialty equipment such as flatbeds or refrigerated vans are going to cost more than a standard dry van, just because they are less common and they do require more work from the driver. Accessorials such as driver assist in loading and unloading, limited access locations, and residential delivery fees cost extra because these require more flexibility, maneuverability, and effort than a typical dock pick-up.
Predictably, guaranteed delivery or expedited services will cost more. Working through weekends or holidays will always be a bit more expensive because it extends the hours of service. With ELD enforcement in full effect, drivers must be more careful about the restrictions on the hours they work. Often because of this, a team of drivers may be required to fulfill the delivery requirements, and that is very likely to cost more.
Finally, it's important to know that last minute requests will likely affect your costs in procuring a truck. Depending on availability, if it's tough-going trying to find the truck you need (especially if it's something more specialized than a dry van), the request is likely to work out in the carrier's favor. Working with carriers directly, Polly often sees drivers charging premiums for available trucks knowing a customer needs coverage immediately.
Shipping Tip #3 - Damage will happen, it's just a matter of time
Damage is a dirty word in the freight business, but it doesn't take very long for most shippers to realize it's almost unavoidable. The very nature of freight shipping is risky. Often, loads are moved to and from terminals and are loaded on multiple trucks. More hands on your freight means more risk of damage, so it's important to offset as much of this risk as possible by properly packaging and setting up claim filing success.
If your business is shipping especially fragile items such as built furniture, machinery, or electronics, start with crating as much of the load as possible. While custom crating may be costly, limiting damage will be worthwhile in the long run. If your shipment consists of multiple crates or pallets, be sure to label your paperwork and the pieces accordingly so they are kept together at each terminal. In the case that you are especially worried about the security of your freight, it may be worthwhile to look into more secure services like partial options or a dedicated truck.
Lastly, shippers must be aware that shipping personal items is rarely accepted by a freight carrier - especially since it's nearly impossible to designate liability. If your shipment experiences damage, you're not likely to get a satisfying payout. If you want to move personal effects, research local white glove delivery or moving services who specialize in these types of moves rather than a standard freight carrier.
Shipping Tip #4 - It's a carrier's market, make them want to work with you
With more and more freight entering a network with limited carrier capacity, available trucks are harder to find. Those who are able to move your shipment are going to have the upper hand and can pick and choose who they want to work with depending on a variety of factors. It's up to shippers to make themselves desirable to the carrier.
Because the ELD mandate has tightened the hours that drivers are able to work, shippers who are extra considerate of their time are going to be appreciated the most. Detention is frustrating for the driver, and expensive for a shipper. If a business can streamline their loading/unloading process to avoid that risk, a driver will note the efficiency of that location. Remember that the reverse is also true. If a driver is consistently delayed because your team is unprepared, or the driver has to help with loading to keep to a tight timeline, the extra effort will cost you.
On a related note, if the shipper or receiver is willing to extend warehouse hours to accommodate driver delays or early arrivals, carriers are more likely to take on the load. It's hard to accurately predict an exact transit or arrival time due to factors like weather or traffic. If a driver is less stressed to make a delivery window or is allowed to unload early so they can get back on the road, all the better.
A few additional things that will help increase your chances of becoming a preferred shipper? Working with truckload carriers daily, Polly says that a friendly warehouse team, prepared storage space, and a comfortable waiting area all help. Throw in perks like free Wi-Fi and access to coffee, and you're golden. Feeling appreciated goes a long way.
Shipping Tip #5 - Documentation is everything
In freight shipping, documentation can serve legal purposes, direct carriers to delivery, and exist as product invoices for receivers. Making sure you have accurate information on every piece of shipment documentation is important, from address labels to unit count. The Bill of Lading (BOL) is one of the most important shipping documents because it serves all three purposes listed above and then some. The BOL also helps determine the cost of your shipment based on class and commodity as well as additional services listed. In navigating claims and billing adjustments daily, Trevor stresses that making sure this important piece of paper is accurate is the first step in preventing bumps in any part of the shipment process.
Your freight invoice is also a very important piece of paperwork. Checking your final freight bill or invoice from the carrier is key in auditing your pricing, classification, extra fees, etc. It's a valuable resource to review where you can improve freight operations, check for errors, or minimize extra freight costs.
Proof of delivery receipts and inspection reports are also very valuable carrier-provided documents to review, especially should you need to submit a claim. Photos taken at pick-up and delivery are necessary as well for building your case against a carrier should your shipment become damaged. Every piece of documentation that is required throughout the freight shipping process can make or break a shipper should problems arise. Trevor insists that if you're looking for the most streamlined experience, ensuring every document is filled out correctly with accurate information must be a top priority.
Shipping Tip #6 - Freight quote vs freight rate
The last distinction we would like to make for shippers is understanding the differences between a freight quote and a freight rate. Trevor prepares invoices daily and stresses that a quote is an estimate and is only as good as the details provided.
A final bill is invoiced after the carrier charges the broker, or the shipment has been moved, and it can differ from the original quote due to discrepancies in the provided details. Even minor adjustments in weight or class can greatly affect a final invoice. If the weight was estimated, or a class number isn't researched properly, you may see a huge change in your final bill.
Additional services like liftgate, driver assist, residential delivery, and more can all show up after the fact because shipment locations weren't researched properly. Additionally, if services were requested by either party after the quote was made, you'll see that adjustment in the final rate as well. Understanding that a freight quote can be flexible based on the many variables that affect a final freight rate can prepare shippers for any discrepancies.
While there's so much that we want our shippers to know when arranging their freight transportation, these key items are the most important. Staying informed and keeping these freight shipping tips in mind better prepares you for potential challenges while keeping your costs low. If you have questions along the way, you have a knowledgeable resource in PartnerShip. With an expert team including Polly and Trevor available to answer your most complicated freight questions, we can steer you in the right direction. Call 800-599-2902 or contact us today for more information.