• on Jan 26th, 2015 in Pricing & Rates | 2 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 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?

     

  • on Sep 26th, 2013 in Pricing & Rates | 9 comments

    The U.S. Postal Service’s governing body, the Board of Governors, voted this week to request permission to raise postage prices above the inflation-based price cap to generate $2 billion in revenue in 2014. It is asking the regulator, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC), to allow the Postal Service to raise the price of a stamp by 3 cents (to 49 cents), which is 2 cents more than the annual inflationary increase. Prices on other single-piece and commercial mail products would also increase. This request is known as an “exigent” price increase because it will exceed the statutorily mandated price cap that is tied to growth in the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

    By law, the Postal Service can only raise prices on its market-dominant products, such as First-Class Mail, advertising mail, and magazines, by the annual growth in inflation. The law allows it to ask the regulator for a price increase above inflation for “exceptional or extraordinary” circumstances. In a public letter to customers, Board Chairman Mickey Barnett described the “precarious financial condition” of the Postal Service and the “uncertain path toward enactment of postal reform legislation” as primary reasons for seeking price changes above inflation. Barnett said if comprehensive postal reform legislation were to pass, the Postal Service would reconsider its pricing strategy.

    The Postal Service filed for an exigent price increase in July 2010, saying the economic recession was an exceptional circumstance that threatened its viability. The PRC rejected the proposal and the Postal Service challenged the rejection in federal appeals court. The court remanded the original case back to the PRC, but at that time, the Postal Service did not pursue it.

    If the PRC were to approve this current request, the Postal Service would raise prices on January 14, 2014. On average, postage rates would increase 5.9 percent – or 4.3 percent above CPI. Mailer groups are expected to oppose the exigent price increase. The PRC has 90 days to issue an opinion on the Postal Service’s exigent price increase proposal.

    What do you think? Share your thoughts on the proposed exigent price increase.

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