In a recent Marketplace article, Online competitors move in on shippers
, Lenora Chu reports that traditional moving companies have fewer customers because of increased competition from virtual reverse auction sites like uShip, the popular shipping resource mentioned in the American Public Media’s (APM) podcast
According to Matt Chassen, uShip’s CEO, that’s because “…people are just changing their behavior and going to places like uShip where they can try to get better pricing and more competitive quotes.”
But what problems and pitfalls can they expect when they get there? And how much risk are they assuming when they shop for the cheapest moving service at these kinds of virtual venues?
Shortly after the APM report aired, uShip listed 2,615 “US National Movers” and 78,475 US Regional Movers in their well publicized “Provider” index. According to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) records, the number of national movers indexed at uShip is approximately half of all of the interstate carriers licensed to move household goods.
Many of the member and non-member companies’ listed at uShip are anonymous individuals, usually independent owner-operators (a/k/a truckers), or small mom-and-pop businesses advertising the use of some type of transportation from somewhere in the U.S. – you hope! A significant number of the transportation service providers (TSPs) do not include their location, company size, or DOT qualified driver and equipment capacity. Frequently an unlisted cell phone is the only means of contacting the vendor.
A review of the “National” and “Regional” movers indexed at uShip reveals that many small companies that advertise they can move the contents of your home locally or long distance have failed to list their Department of Transportation (DOT) or motor carrier (MC) identification information as required by federal law in the consumer protection regulations for the transportation of household goods in interstate commerce (49 CFR, Part §375.207 What items must be in my advertisements?
or mandated by the several state statutes that regulate household goods movers.
For instance, only eight of the twenty-five TSPs showing on the first page of uShip’s “US National Movers” list legally displayed the USDOT number assigned by the FMCSA that authorized them to operate as a for-hire motor carrier to transport household goods.
Of those eight, only three companies actually had the necessary insurance and common or contract operating authority required to move used household goods and motor vehicles between states.
Between them they shared only four (4) straight trucks, two (2) tractors, and one (1) trailer to potentially service the transportation needs of the hundreds of thousands of inexperience, uniformed consumers all across North America who visit these types of virtual marketplaces each month frantically trying to find the ‘best deal’.
It took 24 minutes to perform a thorough carrier check using FMCSA’s SAFER system on the 25 companies listed on “US National Movers” first page. At that rate it would take an experienced professional a minimum of 41 hours or just over 1.75 days to complete the same ‘due diligence’ just on the remaining interstate movers on uShip’s list.
Unfortunately, the average consumer drawn to these popular online shopping resources where “carriers compete for your business” doesn’t have a clue where to start doing their background check.
When selecting a reputable service provider, practical reason, common sense, and good judgment frequently don’t stand a chance against the overwhelming power of the almighty dollar – especially in today’s economy. Unregulated virtual bulletin boards and popular find-a-service websites are successful because it’s usually the lowest “rock bottom” price that quickly tips the scales of Lady Justice in the minds of their users. She can’t see the bad guys because of the blindfold.
Actually Steve’s one of the most active members of the ol’ school of industry professionals who’ve been fighting this growing incursion of illegal, unlicensed, and unregulated rogue movers for years at the local, state, and federal level ever since Congress decided to make the trucking industry ‘more competitive’.
Unfortunately, with more and more enforcement employees being downsized, laid-off or furloughed because of empty federal and state coffers, there’s not much that Steve, his association members, or any of his thousands of concerned industry colleagues can do for a public that’s hell bent on using the internet to shop for cheap.
When I first listened to Ms. Chu’s American Public Media report about how virtual marketers like uShip’s Matt Chassen are giving traditional movers a headache, two names popped into my head – Elizabeth Smart and Shawn Fanning.
Elizabeth is the 14 yr old kidnapped from her bed in her family’s upper-class neighborhood of Federal Heights in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2004. She was held for nine months by an unemployed day-laborer and self-appointed preacher that her father had hired off the street to help him finish a five hour roofing project.
Shawn is the part time computer programmer and collegiate slacker who, in 1998, formed the uber-popular Napster
, one of the first successful peer-to-peer file sharing platforms. Napster, you might recall, was the target of several music industry-backed lawsuits, which ultimately ended up causing the cessation of the service. Eventually it also resulted in bankruptcy and expensive $26 million dollar settlement for the company and many of the penny-pinching users who shared files illegally.
Both were essentially good people who became victims of an environment that they had no control of.
The news is filled with similar reports each week of other good people who’ve been robbed, maimed, or murdered by someone they found at an online bulletin board, virtual marketplace, or community chat room and allowed into their home.
If you’re considering using one of these popular virtual marketplaces or online bulletin boards to plan your intra- or interstate relocation, first read the ‘Terms of Service”. Thoroughly!
Then insert the phrase ‘Caveat emptor’ in your browser and say a prayer because it’s quite likely that you really have no idea what you’re buying.
Before starting this look at how the popularity of virtual marketplaces is giving "traditional movers a headache”, I contacted uShip to ask for help to determine either the USDOT or MC# of one of the carrier’s included on their "Regional Movers" transportation service provider list.
In the fifth and final part, we’ll discuss the outcome of that request and why it probably isn’t the legitimate moving industry that needs the aspirin.
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