One of the circumstances under which corporations waste substantial amounts of money on transportation is when their sales personnel and other officials need to return packages back to their offices or to other facilities at the conclusion of a meeting, convention or trade show exhibit. They usually do not carry bills of lading or shipping documents with them. Therefore, they are at the mercy of the hotel or exhibit site for advice on the most economical method of shipping. My recent experience at the conclusion of the Transportation Consumer Protection Councils Annual Conference in Orlando illustrates the problem.
In the course of checking out to catch my flight home, I asked the hotel desk clerk for assistance in shipping a box back to my office. I was directed to the Administration office, where I was given an express carriers airbill. When I told the secretary that I did not want to ship by air but wanted to ship via the carriers ground service, I was told that the airbill was the proper bill to use for ground service. When I insisted that it was not the proper document for ground service because there was no box to check for ground, she insisted this was the only bill that the carrier gave them for guests to use.
Knowing there is a huge difference between the cost of shipping via ground and the other overnight, second- or third-day air services and having no time to argue, I wrote ground on the airbill and raced off to catch my plane. I beat the package home, but not by much. It was delivered overnight, and I received a bill for $64.75, plus $10.65 for an incorrect account number (I did not give the hotel an account number!) or a total of $75.40 compared to the ground charge of $18.98!
Calls to various other hotels and express companies produced various explanations for this wasteful practice, which is probably costing the business community and others millions of dollars annually. In fact, some hotels will not allow their guests to use their own preprinted bills of lading but insist they use those supplied by the hotel, probably because the hotel gets a discount on the total volume it ships via each carrier. As a result, express shippers are not being given a fair opportunity to choose between expedited service and slower (and much less expensive) ground service. (The law requires that shippers have a fair opportunity to choose between a full value rate and a limited liability rate for loss and damage claim purposes, but that law does not apply to overcharge claims! Carriers need not inform shippers of their rates before shipping unless the shipper requests that information!)
Whether or not express carriers are intentionally supplying hotels and convention facilities with a supply of more expensive airbills and not making ground bills of lading available, the fact remains that many hotel guests are not being afforded an opportunity to make a choice, and as a result, the shipping public is being gouged.
The remedy, therefore, is to be certain that all corporate officials and employees who travel be supplied with a set of preprinted bills of lading for the carrier with whom the corporation has a discount or incentive program. Every secretary or employee who ships documents or packages should also be supplied with those bills of lading. However, they must be accompanied by a brief memorandum explaining the difference in express charges for a typical shipment via ground versus air express service.
Be a hero in your company! Take one example of the savings made possible by shipping ground versus overnight air to or from the most distant city and multiply it by the number of trips that all of your corporate employees make annually. Then route that memo to your CFO and CEO. Prepare another memo for administrative staff members (many of whom route their end-of-the-day mail via the carrier that has the most convenient drop-box enroute to their home rather than the most economical method of shipping). Estimate the savings that can be realized if all support staff made informed decisions when selecting the type of service actually required, rather than routing everything via the fastest (and most expensive) service.
Send me a copy of your corporate memos, and tell me the reaction from your management.
William J. Augello, Esq. is an adjunct professor at the University of Arizona, a member of the Board of Directors and Faculty of the Institute of Logistical Management, Executive Director of the Transportation Consumer Protection Council, Inc. and of Counsel to Augello, Pezold & Hirschmann, P.C. of Huntington, New York. He may be reached by phone at 520-531-0203 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.