Part One: The ABCs of U.S. Customs Data- Issues & Shortcomings

Buyers Beware! Roadside TI Vendors May be Selling you a Pig in a Poke

Users of trade intelligence, in particular U.S. Customs Waterborne Import Manifest (bill of lading) data, need to be aware of the major shortcomings and pitfalls.  It’s important to learn the ABCs of the data.

With the recent proliferation of TI Providers offering access to Customs data via off-the-shelf BI software packages – some with subscription plans costing less than 99 cents a day – the veracity of the resulting reports needs to be seriously considered.  If a company saves a few thousand dollars by buying cheap data from a roadside TI vendor, and thereafter depends upon errant reports to base million-dollar global trade decisions, what is profited?

ABC company, which one does a BOL refer to?

Yes, the base data comes from the same source: DHS/CBP (Department of Homeland Security /Customs and Border Protection).  However, a veteran TI Provider, namely UBM Global Trade /PIERS, being the most reputable in the field, has invested significant resources over decades in various refinement and value added processes that help ensure quality, dependability and usability.  Whether these value added enhancements justify the pricing differentials involved is a matter for the market to ultimately decide.

What are some of the pitfalls?  Let’s take a simple hypothetical example: How many containers did ABC, inc. (American Business Corporation) import last from foreign supplier DCF, ltd. (Decent Chinese Factory)?  The answer is theoretically contained within the U.S. Customs data.

ABC. Broadcasting or Carpet care?

The first, most basic problem is that the names are not standardized on the bills of lading.  Consequently, there are literally dozens upon dozens of iterations for each importer name:

  • Amer. Bus. Corp.
  • American Business Corporation, Inc.
  • American Business Corp.
  • American Business Corporation, Incorporated,
  • ABC, Inc.

the ABCS of TI

Multiplied by the variances in naming conventions appearing for the corresponding trade partner:

  • Decent Chinese Factory, ltd.
  • DCF, Inc.
  • DCF, limited
  • Decent Chinese Factory

Depending upon the parsing and refining algorithms employed by the respective TI Provider (if any), there are also matters of matching location.  There may be 10 or more “ABC” corporations in the U.S.

  • American Business Corporation
  • Advanced Banana Clockworks
  • Aerospace Ballistics Controls
  • Atlanta Baseball Company

The nameless importer

Then there are matters of several divisions or locations with divergent business operations under the same conglomerate name.  Sometimes an NVOCC may be listed as the importer of record which is a violation of law that occurs thousands of times a day. Some 14% of importer names are suppressed and thereby appear blank on the BOLs.  The list goes on.  Yet, naming conventions are one of the relatively easiest problems to address!

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