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If you’re in the biotech or life science industries, you likely work with CROs (contract research organizations) and CMOs (contract manufacturing organizations) to outsource any number of activities, from research and development to manufacturing. Often, when you sign a contract or order a product, shipping is an afterthought. After all, distributors and vendors process and ship all the time!

But if you rely on a CRO/CMO’s shipping, you’re at the mercy of their processes. You likely won’t know arrival times, costs, insurance or how much (and when) you’ll be billed. Here, we’ll review six questions to ask about distributor shipping, and explore alternate options if you need more visibility and control.


When will my shipment arrive?

Everyone, especially in a lab, where devices and instruments are involved wants to know when shipments will arrive. You need visibility on when to expect shipments from a CRO/CMO — exactly when and where you will receive it — so you plan everything else on your end. There’s nothing more frustrating than waiting around, or getting questions from colleagues, with no idea when a shipment will arrive. If timing is crucial, you might think twice about letting your distributor handle shipping. When your CRO handles shipping, they ship on their account using their preferred shipping company. That means they get the notification emails and only they can interact with the carrier if there are issues.

Can I choose the service level?

What service level is best for your shipment? Commercial ground? Priority? Overnight?

More than likely, you have a preference based on how quickly you need the material and how expensive or replaceable it is. Unfortunately, if you rely on partner shipping, you won’t be able to choose or know the service level your package will receive. If service level is a priority, you may want to consider other options.

Am I overpaying for shipping?

CROs, CMOs and CDMOs usually aren’t in the shipping business, so they use their shipping accounts with major carriers leaving you with whatever rates they have. If saving money on shipping costs aren’t a priority for you, however, your distributor’s shipping is likely sufficient.

Should my CRO, CMO or CDMO ship internationally?

International comes with its own set of questions: What paperwork is required? What licenses are required? Who determines the harmonized tariff code (the code that determines the percentage of taxes) — the recipient or CRO/CMO?

Duties and taxes are significant; you want to make sure you’re paying the right amount. Sometimes the distributor might have to handle shipping internationally because the contents are proprietary materials that only they know the details on. But if you want to import the item and then later to ship it somewhere else you’ll have to go back to the CRO to get the harmonized code and any other info, which can be a major headache.

If there’s a problem, how will I find out?

Troubleshooting a shipment isn’t usually your highest priority — until it is. When a shipment is out the door for a CRO/CMO/CDMO, it’s out of sight and out of mind. If a problem arises, it will be on you to find out, reach out to the carrier and figure out what’s wrong — all tasks that are not your job. It can be even more complicated when you’re not the shipper, the CRO is and sometimes carriers won’t be able to work with you, but need the CRO to call.


How will you keep track of shipping costs?

Your accounting department probably needs to attach a P.O. number to the shipping charges to match them with an internal cost center. If your CRO is handling shipping, this often won’t happen leading to back and forth conversations by your team to figure out what shipment went with which purchase order.


As you can see, there are many instances where letting your CRO, CMO or CDMO manage shipping works just fine. But for instances where you need more visibility, control and peace of mind, consider working with a company like Mercury Business Services. Mercury offers a comprehensive solution that allows you to focus on your work, and leave the shipping and logistics to the professionals.


Shipping Best Practices