• on Jan 26th, 2015 in Pricing & Rates | 3 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 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 | 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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