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A prevailing challenge of every shipper is keeping cargo safe, intact, and free from damage. After all, consider the pathways that cargo travels. It's often transferred several times from one mode of transportation to another within a single leg of transport. A shipment may originate in Asia, be packed in a carton, combined onto a pallet, loaded into a container, then transferred onto a ship, into a freight yard, then onto a truck and into a distribution center. There, it is loaded onto another truck, arrives at another warehouse, and finally sent to the last destination before it can be sold to the public. Along the way, it is handled by numerous persons – sometimes even robots. This journey is rough-and-tumble for cargo, and it risks being damaged, stolen, or lost.
There are times of the week and throughout the year that cargo may be more prone to theft, and various environments where it may be more prone to damage. According to Travelers Insurance, cargo thieves in the U.S. may strike on weekends, especially holiday weekends when security may be scarce. Cargo may be mysteriously detoured to other locations where it can be recovered at a later time, giving thieves more time to transfer cargo to another trailer, hide it away in another location, or even sell it to another party often before law enforcement, or even the shipper, is aware the cargo is missing.
That being said, cargo and shipments are always at risk for loss. The best defense against loss aversion is a good offense. A good offense means maintaining high visibility and control of cargo and goods in every stage of transport.
According to recent research conducted by the National Retail Federation, organized crime rings work very deceptively to steal cargo. They report that such loss is at an all-time high. More specifically, the financial impact of organized retail crime is considerable, costing retailers $777,877 per $1 billion dollars in sales. In their study, nearly three in four respondents said they’ve seen an increase over the past 12 months. More than seven in ten see the need for a federal law to combat organized retail crime.
The Port of Long Beach in California has one of the largest volumes of cargo and is one of the largest ports in the U.S. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has a dedicated force to address cargo thefts. They say that owner-operators are key targets and thieves prey upon their truck containers as they sit idle in parking lots.
In addition to the incidences of theft, the safety of cargo is of great concern to shippers and transporters alike. In the age of cloud-based platforms, the risk is decreasing as new technology becomes available that aids in the visibility and control of shipments from remote locations. Consequently, the tenuous path of the shipment detailed above may be monitored to the very degree of temperature that such cargo is subject to, in real time.
In fact, temperature-controlled perishables, such as produce and pharmaceuticals, pose the greatest risks. New Internet of Things (IoT) sensors are able to alert managers of temperature excursions to control cargo shelf life and safety; this type of surveillance is becoming much more widespread as such technology comes of age.
Without real-time monitoring and proactive alerts, shippers can experience devastating consequences. Such was the case for Amazon Fresh, Amazon's 11-year-old service of delivering food products, including fresh food, to its customers. When Business Insider magazine investigated the service, they found that it was slipping and that many customers had bad experiences with the service. Amazon Fresh customers in areas such as Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C. complained of the quality of the delivery and in some cases spoiled produce.
Thus, the entirety of cargo safety includes trusting that such goods will be intact and available as expected, free from theft. Of course, this includes perishable items that need to be delivered free from spoilage or damage. The accessibility of IoT networks, digital platforms, sensors, and advanced technology diminishes the prospect of cargo liability. Making use supply chain monitoring to track cargo as it moves through lengthy and often complex logistics is a best practice that will pay dividends in the years to come.
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