• on Jan 26th, 2015 in Pricing & Rates | 4 comments

    Steve Jobs was famous for the ingenious simplicity of his designs. And, of course, his single button iPhone, now the standard in smart phoning, is a great testament to the value of simplicity.

    As in design, simplicity in pricing, and a related simplicity of choices, are appealing to consumers. There is even empirical evidence that consumers will buy more when they aren’t overwhelmed with too much clutter and too many choices.

    The U.S. Postal Service has enjoyed some success with simple pricing. The best example is the Flat Rate Box. The combination of uncomplicated messaging – “If it fits, it ships” – and ease of use – a handful of shape offerings, each with a single price attached to it – have made the Flat Rate Box a critical piece of the Postal Service’s growing package business.

    And so far, the Postal Service is sticking primarily with weight-based pricing for packages, and not introducing any further dimensional (DIM) weight package rates. FedEx and UPS both just moved to the more-difficult-to-calculate DIM weight pricing scheme on ground shipments.

    Still, most Postal Service pricing is far from simple. There were 8,779 different package prices alone in fiscal year 2014, up 22 percent from two years earlier. Of that total, a quarter are retail prices and three-quarters are commercial prices. Furthermore, nearly 1,100 Parcel Select prices are not used, and 5,840 prices for packages weighing more than 20 pounds are never or rarely used. We recently looked at package pricing at the Postal Service and found its complexity might intimidate customers. We urged the organization to consider eliminating prices that are rarely or never used. We also suggested periodic evaluation of market demand to see if it makes sense to introduce other Flat Rate products.

    But, it’s also worth considering whether pricing can be too simple, at least for commercial customers. While individuals welcome pricing that’s easy to calculate, businesses that ship large volumes can benefit from a range of options, which gets them closer to customized pricing. It also helps them shave off every possible penny of shipping expenses. And, of course, some degree of complexity is necessary so prices appropriately reflect costs. Such is the case with zoned rates for Priority Mail, because packages traveling across regions or zones cost more to deliver than those moving within a zone.

    So, turns out pricing simplicity may not be quite that simple.

    Do the Postal Service’s pricing options meet your shipping needs? Do you find pricing too complex? Or, do you wish there were more options? Should the Postal Service introduce more Flat Rate Box or other specialty packaging items? 

  • on Jul 14th, 2014 in Pricing & Rates | 7 comments

    No one can accuse the U.S. Postal Service of following the pack. It not only dismissed the strategy of pricing packages based on size as well as weight (referred to as dim weight pricing); it actually plans to lower prices for a good portion of its flagship Priority Mail products.

    Few were surprised when UPS recently followed rival FedEx’s lead and announced it would price parcels based primarily on how much space they take up during transport. The new pricing scheme is expected to generate significant revenue for the two integrators. Industry observers were curious to see if the Postal Service would jump on the dim weight bandwagon, or if the agency saw a better opportunity in trying to poach customers with its simpler pricing scheme. Few predicted the Postal Service would lower prices.

    Not all Priority Mail prices are going down, however. Retail prices on Priority Mail flat-rate boxes will in fact increase by 1.7 percent on average, if the Postal Regulatory Commission approves the Postal Service plan. For example, the small flat-rate box would increase 35 cents to $5.95 on September 7, if approved.

    Still, small mailers could save by printing their own labels either from the Postal Service’s Click-N-Ship online offering, or from PC Postage products, permit imprints, or digital mailing systems. Using an online option moves customers into Commercial Base pricing, where they will get lower prices, on average, under the Postal Service proposal. The biggest price cuts – about 2.3 percent on average – would come in Commercial Plus prices, which require a commitment of 50,000 pieces in a year.

    The Postal Service’s Priority Mail has seen solid growth over the past 3 years (25 percent in revenue). But postal officials have indicated they want to capture more business shippers and this price cut is one initiative meant to attract those commercial customers. Some observers think that, even without the proposed price break, the Postal Service would have won customers from UPS and FedEx once their prices increased. But others suggest the reduced rates might entice even more business customers to try the Postal Service.

    Should the Postal Service lower its Priority Mail prices, keep them the same, or raise them slightly given an expected migration from UPS and FedEx? 

  • on Nov 25th, 2013 in Pricing & Rates | 2 comments

    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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