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Freight tracking: What you need to know

01.06.2021 | By AJ Todd | 7 min. read

Learn how to optimize your supply chain with less-than truckload and shared truckload freight tracking

Table of Contents

Assuming your company doesn’t own a private shipping fleet, transporting and tracking freight requires a bit of good faith. First, you trust your carrier partner to handle your freight safely, and report any damage promptly. You also trust the carrier to scan your shipments at each hub and terminal when he or she is moving the freight via less-than truckload service. Most importantly, you have enough faith in over-the-road shipping to trust your shipment won’t mysteriously disappear en route to the destination.

Most businesses, however, can’t operate on good faith alone. That’s why it’s important to move your freight with a company that allows for reliable, transparent, and frictionless freight tracking. This is especially true if you ship essential goods during a pandemic and your customers rely on prompt delivery. (Take notes from these three shippers who delivered freight on time and damage-free during coronavirus!) Besides, the benefits of freight tracking can significantly improve your business operations.

freight tracking 

Freight tracking ultimately benefits your business

Freight-shipment tracking plays a crucial role in supply chain management. Knowing where your shipment is, and when it will deliver, helps warehouses prepare for arrivals and facilitate smooth operations. Smooth warehouse operations are an indication of a well-oiled supply chain. And companies with well-oiled supply chains are better positioned to meet consumer demands, especially during times of crisis. (Our Harris Poll survey discovered that consumers will buy from any brand that can supply essential goods during product shortages.)

If you are shipping directly to a customer, freight tracking lets you stay on top of the delivery status and inform the receiver in case of delays. After all, the best way to be prepared is to be informed! Transparent freight tracking helps ensure a positive shipping experience that results in repeat customers and ultimately benefits your business.

There are many advantages to tracking freight, including (and certainly not limited to) supply chain optimization, increased customer satisfaction, and overall peace of mind. Want to know how to easily implement freight tracking in your daily operations? Here are all of your questions about freight tracking and how to track your own shipments, answered.

freight tracking 

How does freight tracking actually work?

This in-depth article explains how PRO number freight tracking works, but let’s dig into it here. Although freight tracking isn’t quite the same as parcel tracking, they share a similar origin story: A package needs to move from point A to point B.

First, shippers pick a trusted freight carrier to move their shipments. Shippers can partner with a third-party logistics (3PL) provider, broker, or carrier directly to move their freight. After nailing down the lowest shipping rate, the shipper will confirm the order with the shipping company.

After order confirmation, the carrier assigns each package a PRO (“progressive rotating order”) number. The PRO number is a tracking number with seven to 10 digits that identifies your freight shipment. This is arguably the most important piece of information for shipment tracking. If the shipment contains multiple pallets with different PRO numbers, the carrier may use just one PRO number to track the entire shipment.

After generating the PRO number, the carrier adds the number to the shipment’s Bill of Lading (BOL). The BOL is a document that contains all of the shipment’s information, including the shipper and receiver’s names, pickup and delivery addresses, dimensions and weight, packaging information, value, and a description of the goods.

The next step is generating shipping labels. To create a shipping label, the carrier combines the PRO number with its Standard Carrier Alpha Code (SCAC) to form a scannable barcode. Carriers place these shipping labels on the outside of each pallet for easy scanning. Then, the freight is ready to ship.

Depending on whether freight moves via less-than truckload (LTL), truckload (TL), or shared truckload service (STL), the shipment will either travel directly to its destination or make multiple stops along the way. Every time the carrier loads or unloads the shipment, he or she will scan the shipping label. This automatically updates the freight’s location on the carrier’s tracking system, so shippers can track freight from pickup to delivery.

freight tracking 

How to track an LTL shipment

Due to the high potential for delays in the LTL shipping system, LTL tracking can be a little complicated! Make sure to check out our step-by-step guide on how to track LTL freight for comprehensive instructions.

Because LTL shipments travel through the hub-and-spoke system, the freight is likely to move on more than one truck and trans-load at multiple terminals. For this reason, we recommend keeping an eye on your shipment by making an online account with your carrier to access its freight tracking system. (Flock Freight® makes this easy — we’ve integrated our real-time freight tracking software directly into our quoting platform.) Depending on the carrier, you can even sign up to receive shipment status updates through email notifications.

freight tracking

If your carrier doesn’t offer online tracking, be sure to note the contact information for its customer service team in case questions or concerns arise. Or, if you’re working with Flock Freight, we automatically pair you with a dedicated account manager in addition to our outstanding customer support team.

When it’s time to track a particular shipment, have the PRO number handy. You’ll input the shipment’s PRO number into the carrier’s tracking system to check the shipment status, flag any issues for customer service, and get a delivery estimate. If, for whatever reason, you don’t have the PRO number, you may also be able to track shipments using your purchase order number, customer reference number, or shipment reference number.

If you want to know where your freight is at all times, you can attach GPS tracking beacons to your shipment. You may not be able to get the GPS beacon back, though, depending on the shipment’s final destination. Still, it may be helpful to use a GPS tracking beacon once or twice to identify inefficiencies in your freight’s shipping route.

Did you know that an accurate Bill of Lading is one of the best ways to insure your freight against loss or damage? In an ideal world where all BOL’s are accurate and all freight arrives intact, the BOL would exactly reflect the shipment’s contents upon delivery. However, should any pieces of your shipment disappear or break en route to the destination, the carrier is only liable to compensate you for what the BOL lists. (Think of it like a shipping receipt!) Shippers are ultimately responsible for the BOL’s accuracy, based on the information they give the carrier. Not sure how to make a foolproof BOL? This blog walks you through the process. Or, if you ship with an exceptional 3PL like Flock Freight, we automatically create a comprehensive BOL for you through the Flock Platform. All you need to do is download and print it!

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Familiarize yourself with freight-tracking lingo

During shipment tracking, it’s helpful to understand what each delivery update actually means. Here’s a quick glossary for you.

  • Estimated delivery: When providing a rate quote, the shipping company will also give you an estimated delivery date. The company estimates the delivery date based on the scheduled pickup date and the distance to the freight’s final destination.
  • Ordered: You (the shipper) have confirmed and agreed to use a certain company to transport your shipment.
  • Dispatched: The carrier is on its way to the freight’s pickup location.
  • Picked up: The carrier successfully picked up the shipment!
  • In transit: This allows you to see the city and state of your shipment’s last known location, so you can watch its progress from pickup through delivery.
  • Out for delivery: The shipment is out for delivery and will arrive that day.
  • Delivered: Success! The carrier successfully unloaded the shipment and delivered it to its final destination.
  • Shipment delayed: This could happen for any number of reasons both within and outside of your control. Check the shipment status online, contact your account coordinator, or reach out to customer support for more details. After investigating the cause of delay, inform the rest of your supply chain partners so they can prepare for a change of plans.
  • Refusal by consignee: There could be several reasons for a consignee delivery refusal. For instance, the consignee may require a delivery appointment (which the shipper forgot to request) or require a liftgate (and the delivery truck lacks one). Again, reach out to the carrier’s customer service team for assistance.

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The difference between TL and LTL tracking

If you’re well-versed in the LTL and TL shipping methods, it may be immediately apparent why TL tracking is more accurate than LTL shipment tracking. If not, let’s dive a little deeper.

standard ltl shipping

Despite its low costs and appeal to shippers that aren’t able to fill a full truck with their freight, standard LTL shipping is a bit convoluted. LTL freight travels through the hub-and-spoke system (illustrated above) on its way to delivery, stopping at multiple hubs and terminals and trans-loading at each one. Because carriers handle freight at each stop, LTL shipments face an increased risk of damage. As freight moves through this complicated network, shippers must rely on a large number of parties to handle the shipment safely, scan it at each stop, and, most importantly, not misplace it entirely. When it comes to shipment tracking, LTL tracking is about as complex as the network it travels through.

Truckload shipment tracking is a different story. TL shipping is also known as “Exclusive Use,” referring to the fact that the truck moves freight from a single shipper, who doesn’t share the trailer space with anyone else. TL shipments are load-to-ride, meaning once a package enters the truck, it doesn’t exit until it has reached the final destination. Because carriers don’t make any stops along the route and only handle the freight at its origin and destination, the risk of damage for exclusive-use shipments is far less than that of LTL shipments. TL tracking is also much more accurate than LTL tracking thanks to the minimal number of stops and parties involved.

And, ever since the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) mandated the use of electronic logging devices (ELDs) back in 2015, tracking truckloads is now more accurate than ever. ELDs automatically record and upload truck locations to carriers’ fleet management software, helping dispatchers stay on top of truck status in real time. Due to the accurate tracking capability of ELD technology, locating TL freight (which never leaves the trailer) is especially easy, compared to pinpointing freight traveling via LTL service. With zero freight trans-loading and only one truck to keep track of, TL shipment tracking is a walk in the park.

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How to track a shared truckload shipment

Flock Freight is the only logistics company able to guarantee shared truckload shipping: the fastest, greenest, and safest way to move LTL freight. Shared truckloads move LTL freight the TL way, meaning packages only load and offload once and avoid trans-loading at terminals. Because shared truckload shipments skip the hub-and-spoke system entirely, they’re much easier to track than LTL shipments.

shared truckload shipping

To track a Flock Freight STL shipment, simply log into the Flock Platform, click on your Quote History, and locate the shipment by its reference number, date requested, pickup date, origin, or destination. After clicking on the reference number, you will see the shipment’s order details, tracking status, downloadable Bill of Lading, as well as a shareable link to let others track the shipment. If you have any immediate questions or concerns regarding your freight, you can speak with any of our customer support representatives via the live chat box.

The Flock Platform combines your current and past orders, quotes, shipment documentation, and tracking information in one place. Shippers can also use the Flock Platform to get an instant rate quote, find and download their Bills of Lading, or effortlessly check delivery status updates. In addition to these benefits, shippers get access to a dedicated customer service team and an account manager in case they have questions or concerns about their freight.

At Flock Freight, we’re dedicated to giving our shippers a frictionless shipping experience. Compared to LTL shipping, STL service delivers freight on time and intact at never-before-seen rates. In today’s market, one out of every 100 LTL shipments incurs damage or gets lost. When shippers move freight via shared truckload with Flock Freight, that damage rate drops to one out of 10,000.

As we mentioned before, freight shipping requires a bit of good faith. Why not skip the smoke and mirrors of LTL tracking and get lower-priced, TL-style tracking with shared truckload service instead?

Opt for a seamless freight tracking experience by shipping your next load with Flock Freight.