• 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? 
  • on Sep 30th, 2013 in Products & Services | 6 comments

    This is the time of year when retailers, nonprofit organizations, and other mailers step up their holiday advertising mailing campaigns. Volume spikes in this period, known as the fall mailing season, which then gives way to the even-busier holiday mailing season, when personal correspondence and packages spike. The U.S. Postal Service makes most of its money for the year in the period between Labor Day and Christmas.

    Commercial mailers work closely with the Postal Service to help it prepare, but the fall mailing season has always presented operational challenges. In some ways, it is highly efficient because facilities are staffed for busy times. But postal equipment, including mail tubs, trays, mail transporting equipment, and pallets, have to be in the right places at the right times. In past years, commercial mailers have complained about shortages of mail equipment. Ideally, mail sorting equipment should run at optimal throughputs for maximum efficiency, and the online system mailers use to set up mail entry appointments should work seamlessly. Still, mail delays can occur for a variety of reasons, including mail processing errors, inefficient use of automation equipment, congestion on the facility floor, and working from incomplete operating plans.

    The Postal Service’s fall mailing season plan attempts to eliminate roadblocks to swift processing and delivery. This year, it has ordered extra mail transport equipment and looked at ways to shift volume from heavily used equipment to under-used processing equipment. The Postal Service is also relying on the increased visibility from the Intelligent Mail barcode as a diagnostic tool to uncover bottlenecks. These tools helped it reduce mail delays in fall 2012 by showing “pinch points” and helping managers act on that information to reduce mail cycle times.

    This year, however, could prove especially challenging as the Postal Service continues with its network consolidation implementation. It has completed more than 150 facility consolidations and has moved more than 700 pieces of equipment in support of the consolidations. With the late date of Thanksgiving this year, the end of fall mailing season pushes right into the peak mailing season for the holidays.

    Mailers, what have your experiences been like so far this fall mailing season? Are there noticeable improvements in mail equipment availability, mail delivery times, and appointment opportunities? Has network consolidation posed any unexpected challenges?

  • on Sep 16th, 2013 in Delivery & Collection | 7 comments

    As online shopping has become the norm for many Americans, it has brought operational changes to both brick-and-mortar retailers and online retailers. Shipping costs are now a major consideration for companies. Retailers are working to control their shipping costs as their ebusiness grows, with the traditional retailers relying on their extensive network of stores to reduce shipping costs. Instead of shipping goods from centralized warehouses to far-flung customers, major retailers, such as Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Gap Inc., deliver from stores close to their customers whenever possible.

    Amazon.com is focused on building more local warehouses and is also investing in its own delivery fleet. Other retailers have made merchandise available to eBay to sell in select cities with its same-day delivery service, eBay Now. Shipping merchandise from locations close to where customers reside allows retailers to save on shipping costs, which are set based on the distances shipments travel.

    Customers are expecting ever higher levels of service. Same-day delivery to a growing number of customers helps retailers provide customers something close to the immediate gratification of an in-store purchase. So far, however, this service has been limited to customers in cities where a decentralized network can serve them.

    While lower shipping costs is good for the retailer and its customers, the shipping giants are likely to feel the pinch. One retailer’s reduction in shipping costs is a courier company’s reduction in revenue. Ultimately though, these e-commerce shipping strategies should improve the online shopping experience and accelerate its growth, which will boost the number of packages sent. That’s a boon for all package delivery companies, including the Postal Service.

    With its reliable delivery network that serves every address in the United States, the Postal Service should be well-positioned for this shift toward fast, local delivery of online purchases. However, some challenges in its network processing capabilities and delivery operations could hinder its ability to capture a larger segment of the package delivery market. What ways could the Postal Service capitalize on these trends? What improvements does it need to make to position itself as the leader in shipping services?

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