• on Nov 3rd, 2014 in Delivery & Collection | 10 comments

    For the major express companies, preparation for the next holiday season started right after the last one ended. If you’re one of the many Americans whose packages arrived after Santa did last year, you are undoubtedly glad to hear this. In 2013, an unexpected surge in online orders, combined with winter storms and sparse airplane capacity, resulted in FedEx and UPS missing deliveries for Christmas.

    While online retailers certainly share some of the blame – they promised more than was reasonable – UPS and FedEx are investing heavily this year to avoid a repeat of last year. For the first time, UPS will operate a full domestic air and ground network on the day after Thanksgiving (not just its air network). It’s also adding 95,000 seasonal workers and 6,000 package delivery cars, plus increasing its available aircraft. FedEx recently announced a sharp increase in its number of seasonal workers.

    Retailers are also making some changes, including in-store pick-up options and better “distributive fulfillment” efforts, which lets them ship from their brick-and-mortar stores rather than distribution centers. These offerings reduce the distances packages travel.

    The U.S. Postal Service came out of last year’s holiday season smelling sweet. A Business Week article called the Postal Service’s performance stellar, noting that it made adjustments throughout December – including adding deliveries on three Sundays in the month – to accommodate package surges. Of course, the Postal Service doesn’t operate its own fleet of airplanes like UPS and FedEx. So it’s not necessarily the carrier of choice for overnight deliveries.

    Still, many pundits believe the Postal Service could win some new customers this holiday season due to its strong performance last year. The Postmaster General recently told USA Today the Postal Service expects an 8 percent increase in packages over last year. Further, the Postal Service’s recent lowering of commercial Priority Mail prices may have already convinced some companies to switch. However, unpredictable weather close to Christmas and increased volume could pose challenges similar to last year. Would a less-than-stellar holiday performance from the Postal Service hurt its potential in the coveted commercial package market? How can the Postal Service prepare for these potential challenges? Will the changes retailers are making help? 

  • 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 Jun 9th, 2014 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 4 comments

    Dim weight. Sounds like something you might call your not-so-smart cousin. It’s actually a way to price parcels based primarily on how much space they take up during transport and delivery.

    FedEx is the first major carrier to announce plans to charge prices based on the dimensional weight of all its ground shipments. Retailers and other shippers are bracing for a nasty hike in shipping costs come January 2015, when the FedEx changes take effect.

    Shipping costs are heavily influenced by how much cubic volume a parcel takes up in the back of a truck or plane. If parcels are roughly uniform in density (weight in relation to size), then charging by weight makes sense. But if parcels are light yet bulky, such as shoes, diapers, and many other goods ordered online, then weight-based pricing doesn’t reflect costs. Dim weight pricing will let FedEx charge more for these light yet bulky packages – for example up to 30 percent higher on a 32-pack of toilet paper – that take up more space in the truck.

    Analysts say FedEx’s change will result in the most dramatic rate spike the parcel shipping industry has seen in decades. And these increases will affect either online shoppers or retailers, or both. As the Wall Street Journal recently noted: “Someone will have to swallow the estimated hundreds of millions of dollars in extra shipping costs.” Could free shipping for consumers become a casualty of this pricing change?

    Analysts expect UPS to follow suit with a similar pricing strategy. If so, the Postal Service and small regional carriers could see an uptick in volume – albeit higher-cost and lower-yield volume – as shippers look for ways to reduce the expected sticker shock from dim weight pricing. The move also could accelerate Amazon’s reported plan to launch its own fleet of trucks and drivers for local deliveries.

    Do you think FedEx’s change in its pricing structure will benefit the Postal Service? Or is it likely to primarily shift less-profitable packages to the Postal Service? Should the Postal Service consider a move to dim weight pricing for its ground services as well? Or would it hurt the Postal Service’s standing as the lowest-priced competitor?

     

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