Retailers, shippers, e-commerce companies, and others have gone to great lengths and made enormous investments to meet demand for super-fast delivery. But many still stumble — although perhaps less frequently than they used to — when shipments are misloaded into trucks and other delivery vehicles.
Misloads of shipments to stores, distribution centers, and other hubs can also have an adverse effect on customer experience — whether online or in-store — and result in lost sales when products are not in stock.
That is to say nothing of the operational problems caused by B2B misloads: When products end up somewhere they shouldn’t, there’s a domino effect. One store didn’t get what it wanted; another got products it wasn’t expecting (and now has a surplus or inventory it can’t move); and somewhere there’s a yet-unpaid distributor (because the former didn’t get it and the latter didn’t want it) that must manage the finger-pointing and time-waste getting to the bottom of things.
Misloads have always been an issue — packages destined for one location end up on the wrong truck, kicking off a long and winding journey. Misloads can lead to losing a package altogether, which incurs replacement costs. Even if found, the extra handling of misloads often correlates with increased incidents of damage while in transit.
The Million-Package-a-Week Crisis
In its most recent Pitney Bowes Parcel Shipping Index, the global shipping company estimated that 59 million packages are shipped each day in the United States alone. If even one-quarter of one percent of those is misloaded, as UPS executives recently estimated of the company’s own shipments, that’s nearly 150,000 packages detouring every day. Anecdotally, from our discussions across the industry, misload rates can reach 2%.
To be fair, these misload rates have been trending down over time, thanks to Herculean efforts by companies to streamline supply chain operations and introduce technology to minimize mistakes. But this is a case where the error rates alone don’t tell the story — sheer numbers do. With Pitney Bowes further estimating daily U.S. shipments will reach as many as 110 million by 2027, and if low-end misload rates remain the same, that’s more than a quarter-million packages going missing — even temporarily — every day. Many impacted customers won’t take it well.
Researchers in the Journal of Marketing Analytics, for instance, looked at the effect of delivery performance on consumer reviews and found — perhaps unsurprisingly — that customers gave much lower online ratings for orders delivered late than for orders deliver on time. Misloads erode customer confidence, and it takes time, effort, and money to rebuild trust.
In a social media-driven world, favorable views are the currency of success. That’s why the industry is focused on reducing misloads, so deliveries reach their destination on time. UPS, for one, is aiming to cut misloads in half or more. This requires end-to-end visibility into supply chains. Because knowing exactly where parcels are located at any point in time is now key to business growth.
But at what cost?
Tech Solutions for Minimizing Misloads
Companies are deploying many methods of dealing with misloads, although few can eliminate human error, and most are unnecessarily complex and expensive. But until they can arrive at a solution, misloads represent an invisible problem, because it’s hard to “see” the errors as they’re made.
Radio frequency identification (RFID) is viewed by many as a viable solution. Today, there are loading docks with vast arrays of commercial RFID readers, and workers toting handheld devices to keep track of everything that goes into trucks. That complex infrastructure is costly, however, and still exposes the shipper to mistakes caused by scanning staff in the distribution center.
A far more cost-effective, scalable, and completely automated solution is based on a totally new paradigm: ambient Internet of Things (IoT) technology. Ambient IoT technology combines inexpensive, self-powered, stamp-sized devices (called IoT Pixels); standards-based Bluetooth wireless communications; and cloud-based data collection and analytics.
Workers don’t need to scan anything, virtually eliminating human error from shipping and delivery operations. Ambient IoT Pixels communicate via an established mesh of existing wireless devices, such as smartphones and wireless access points, or through easily deployed, off-the-shelf, standardized routers installed in warehouses, distribution centers, delivery trucks, and more.
Because of its smart, scan-free coverage, only ambient IoT offers end-to-end visibility into potential misload issues. Ambient IoT allows shippers to see what’s on a truck all the time: when it’s loaded, after it leaves the DC, as it’s traveling across the country, etc. Meanwhile, scan-based solutions can only identify whether a truck has been loaded properly at the time a scan is initiated.
If RFID is like a snapshot, ambient IoT is a live video feed. With ambient IoT, even if a driver leaves a misloaded package at the wrong location, the shipper can spot the error and fix it in real time.
Ambient IoT for a Better Supply Chain Future
Already, users of RFID are transitioning to ambient IoT. And ambient IoT is beginning to permeate the foundational communication standards — Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, 5G/6G cellular — that connect people, things, and business.
Plus, infinitely scalable, ambient IoT includes capabilities that go beyond location services. In addition to tracking whether shipments have been loaded properly, ambient IoT includes sensor technology for monitoring conditions like temperature, carbon footprint, and humidity. Ultimately, the entire warehouse, distribution, and shipping ecosystem will exploit ambient IoT not only to stamp out misloads, but also to operate more efficiently, safely, and sustainably.
For all the challenges supply chains have faced in recent years, we can agree they’ve evolved into amazing, albeit complex, delivery networks. The fact that many consumers routinely expect same-day shipping options is testament to this evolution.
But success breeds risk, and the failure of products to reach their destination in a timely manner has a ripple effect, from bewildered calls to customer service, to negative word-of-mouth, to brand erosion and employee frustration, to actual business costs from reshipments or returns.
In this hyper-competitive time, companies know “most of the time” isn’t competitive enough. Reducing what’s left of misload problems through cost-effective ambient IoT technology will create a new era of positive, profitable customer experience that allows companies to focus on other growth opportunities.
Roee Zeiler is Chief Commercial & Financial Officer at Wiliot.