Popular Mechanics did an interesting article/experiment on how companies handle shipping packages. Specifically, they used a set of sensors to record things like temperature and acceleration, to see how well the packages were handled (or mis-handled) during their voyage.
I think this is a really cool article because I once had an idea to do something similar for a start-up company. The idea was for a customer to receive a small tracking device which he would then place inside his package before shipping. This device would then be returned to the company to check if the package was handled correctly. The target audience is for items that are fragile or require very special handling, such as scientific instruments. Parameters I thought we could track would include acceleration (for drops/large bumps), water/humidity, temperature, magnetic field (for scientific instruments...?), and GPS location. Most of these sensors are already available in many hand held smart phones nowadays. It would also be interesting to couple this with some type of shipping insurance, since the data from a recorder would provide excellent, concerte evidence of mis-handeling.
That being said, while I find this to be an interesting article, to some extent the real question is "who cares?" We all know that these shipping companies throw our stuff around. But we also know that our orders are placed in lots of packaging to prevent damage. I love buying stuff online... books, computers, electronics. Lots of expensive and seemingly fragile stuff, yet I would say 99.9% of everything I have ever ordered has come in perfect, working condition. Maybe we should just turn a blind eye to how things are handeld mid-transit if, in the end, the company can deliver on its promise to sucessfully deliver them un-damaged. Sometimes, isn't it better just to not know what's going on?