• on Dec 30th, 2013 in Delivery & Collection | 19 comments

    The 2013 holiday season turned out to be a particularly eventful one for e-tailers and the shippers that deliver all those packages to your door.

    Factors like fewer than average shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas and an increasing comfort level with online buying helped push holiday e-commerce up significantly. In fact, demand exceeded expectations and stressed shippers’ capacity, causing some late deliveries of their goods.  

    Package delivery is clearly a growth industry and the Postal Service expects its piece of that business to rise 6 to 7 percent annually through fiscal year 2017. But is the Postal Service ready for all these packages? Can it meet the growing demand, or is it hampered by a delivery infrastructure that is largely geared toward letters and flats? We recently took a look at the issue and the results were mixed.

    Our audit report, Readiness for Package Growth – Delivery Operations, found the Postal Service has done a good job of managing package growth in terms of mail volume and workhours. But it could make some changes to better handle future increases. For example, to-the-door delivery works well but curbside mailboxes were primarily designed for letters, flats, and small parcels, and they can’t easily accommodate multiple or large packages. We suggested the Postal Service look at modifying cluster boxes to accommodate more packages.

    We also encouraged the Postal Service to explore investing in shelving space on delivery vehicles to accommodate packages and to continue to develop an advanced dynamic routing system. Dynamic routing analyzes individual addresses to tell the carrier how to get to them more quickly. The tool takes into consideration things like traffic congestion and left-hand turns, both of which can eat up time and fuel. These and other steps outlined in the report should help the Postal Service expand services and increase revenue to meet growing customer demand.

    So, what was your experience over the holidays? Were you among the many Americans who bought more gifts online than in previous years? Were your delivery services reliable or did any part of the experience discourage you from future online buying? What changes would you like to see in delivery and returns?

  • on Dec 9th, 2013 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 4 comments

    Today’s consumers are a demanding bunch – expecting to get what they want precisely when and where they want it.

    These changing expectations are putting the pressure on both brick and mortar retailers as well as online retailers. Pressure grows to deliver goods faster, cheaper, and with more flexibility. Now, customers expect free shipping and overnight delivery or, in some cities, same-day delivery.

    It seems same-day delivery might not be fast enough for some. Amazon.com is toying with the idea of delivering packages within 30 minutes – via drone.

    In an interview on a recent CBS “60 Minutes” news program, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos discussed his Prime Air unmanned aircrafts, which he claims carry packages up to 5 pounds – the weight of most parcels Amazon.com delivers – and have a range of about 10 miles. This could make them viable in more densely populated areas. Bezos thinks he could get this service up and running in about 5 years.

    So is all this drone delivery talk just pie in the sky or a potential delivery path worth considering?

    The technology is getting there. It’s already being tested in other parts of the world. In Australia, a textbook rental company, Zookal, plans to use drones to deliver textbooks to students as early as March 2014. Meanwhile, Silicon Valley startup Matternet is testing drone delivery in Haiti and the Dominican Republic and sees the potential for using these small, electric crafts to deliver goods in populated areas where they can make multiple deliveries within their limited range of a few miles.

    But it’s likely to be some time before U.S. skies look like something out of “Star Wars,” with thousands of small, autonomous aircrafts zipping around and dropping packages at our doorsteps. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) isn’t moving too quickly to open the skies for commercial drone purposes, and understandably so. The thought of unmanned vehicles flying in areas with lots of air traffic raises significant safety concerns.

    Still, innovation is all about experimenting. Many people in the late 19th century thought the light bulb would never catch on. What are your thoughts on these delivery drones? Is driver-free, aerial delivery the answer to the growing demands of consumers? Is this a feasible option for the Postal Service in the coming years? Or could it be more like the Postal Service’s ill-fated test of “rocket mail” from the late 1950s where a cruise missile loaded with mail launched from a submarine? That experiment didn’t gain traction. 

  • on Nov 25th, 2013 in Pricing & Rates | 1 comment

    Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they say. Maybe so. It’s just not usually FedEx that is doing the imitating or the flattering. But with its new “simple and predictable” flat rate shipping option, FedEx seems to be trying to look like the U.S. Postal Service in one particular way.

    The FedEx One Rate bears more than passing resemblance to the popular Priority Mail Flat Rate, suggesting FedEx is shifting strategy to become more aggressive in the light-weight retail package segment it once largely ceded to the Postal Service.

    And yet, the products aren’t identical. For one thing, FedEx One Rate isn’t quite as simple as Priority Mail Flat Rate. Unlike Priority Mail Flat Rate, One Rate has weight limits: 10 lbs. for an envelope and 50 lbs. for a parcel. It also charges based on distance across three zones of travel. Your package is going through more than one zone? You’re paying more.

    Then again, FedEx One Rate comes with free packaging, like Priority Mail, and FedEx is waiving some – but not all – associated surcharges, like residential and fuel surcharges. Customers who find that surcharges add significantly to the shipping cost will likely smile.

    All in all, customers should be well-served by having another retail shipping option this holiday season. The National Retail Federation expects retail sales in November and December will rise 3.9 percent over last year to $602 million - $738 per shopper – and some of those purchases will certainly be gift-wrapped and put in a shipping box.

    While the FedEx product appears less simple, it could have other features that customers might prefer. A customer might find the hours at a nearby FedEx Kinko’s more convenient than the local Post Office. And, FedEx’s enduring image as a reliable shipper might make FedEx One Rate more appealing to some. Still, others might prefer the simplicity and certainty of the Priority Mail Flat Rate, with its one-price-goes-anywhere approach. Too early to tell.

    But maybe you can give us an idea:

    • What are your holiday shipping plans this year?
    • Do you plan to use one of these simplified packaging products?
    • Does convenience outweigh simplicity? Or vice versa?
    • What other retail package services would you like to see? 

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