Q&A: Red Hands Trump Light Fingers

Q: That was a good article about the carrier who was having chronic “shortages” at destination, apparently because of pilferage at destination. It brought back memories.   

We ship mixed orders of business consumables — some full carton, but mostly pick-and-pack in mixed cartons. More than half of our customer locations are serviced nationwide drop-ship from wholesaler. One drop-ship customer would find something “missing” in every other shipment sent. It was usually something small and potentially personally valuable — a box of hot cocoa, a 25-pack of CDRs, a scientific calculator, etc. She placed the orders for her office, and was the one who received the shipments and distributed to her various end-users.    

Our solution: We coordinated to have our carrier take photo/video right down to the contents of the boxes, repack and reseal, before delivery to this end-user — every single box, right before delivery, on the back of the truck, in her parking lot, with her office building in the background.   

It didn’t take very long to get resolution. The morning after her next order delivered we received an e-mail stating a flash drive was missing from her shipment. We responded with video of the flash drive being put back into the carton that delivered to her five minutes later, and a suggestion that possibly somebody else at her location might have checked her boxes during that day.  

Our pick-pack accuracy level went up to 100 percent with this location immediately thereafter.   

A smartphone camera goes a long way!


Q: I noticed your response and think it was a good one.   

I do have an alternative to your suggestion that the victimized carriers band together for a full investigation, as was common in my trucking days. Here’s how it was rectified:

Taking that the bill of lading is the contract of carriage and governs what is short and what is not with proper documentation, the driver arrives at shipper to load and once loaded he writes on the B/L “SL&C” or “Shipper Load and Count” and the trailer seal number is noted. Once the driver arrives at receiver, he or she writes — or even better has the receiver write — “Seal intact upon arrival,” date and time.    

If a shortage claim is received, simply copy the B/L with a letter attached and deny the claim. Now the shipper and receiver can have at it for their “shortages.”  

This process created a 99.8 percent claim-free environment. Your thoughts?


A: Both are good answers in other circumstances.   

The drawback to my first correspondent’s proposal is that it speaks from the shipper standpoint, whereas my original correspondent was a carrier whose shippers couldn’t have cared less about his side of the story. The carrier’s customer was the consignee, the shippers weren’t involved in the shortages or the claims, and getting them to go through the gyrations of unpacking and photographing each load wasn’t going to happen. The receiver was also uncooperative.   

My second correspondent speaks of “my trucking days” as though they’re long past, and I expect they are. In the brave new world of today, it’s not uncommon for shippers to flatly refuse a carrier’s “SL&C” notation on the bill of lading. And even if they allow it, the consignee also may decline to annotate the B/L as proposed regarding the seal status.   

To be sure, both of these things aren’t of great legal consequence. Even without the B/L notations, it’s the facts that will govern in court. If the shipment was in fact loaded and counted by the shipper ... if the seal was in fact intact ... the result is the same; the only difference is an extra burden of proof on the carrier.   

Here, however, is where my current correspondents’ answers fall short: This receiver was in denial of even the possibility that its dock personnel were being light-fingered. Neither of my correspondents’ solutions would have altered this, creating a conflict between the carrier and its receiver/customer. My proposal involved catching the culprits red-handed, which at least would have minimized the element of conflict.   

There’s still no telling how the customer will react, as I pointed out originally. As in my first correspondent’s recalled case, the stuff that was going missing was mostly personal consumables and disposables, which certainly suggests pilferage; and it was from multiple shippers, which suggests where the pilferage is happening. Even so, what my original correspondent needed was proof, which is where I focused.   

To put it another way, red hands trump light fingers. It’s still the best I can come up with.

Consultant, author and educator Colin Barrett is president of Barrett Transportation Consultants. Send your questions to him at 5201 Whippoorwill Lane, Johns Island, S.C. 29455; phone, 843-559-1277; e-mail, BarrettTrn@aol.com. Contact him to order the most recent 351-page compiled edition of past Q&A columns, published in 2010. 

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