• on Jul 6th, 2015 in Delivery & Collection | 2 comments

    It’s Christmas in July for the retail industry. Holiday decorations might not hit stores for a few more months, but retailers are now working on their 2015 holiday plans. 

    And you can bet that shipping strategies are a big part of those plans. Online sales made up about 10 percent of the $616 billion in holiday sales last year, so shipping plans are a top priority for retailers. In addition, more and more retailers are eyeing the international market, which means cross-border shipping is part of the mix as well.

    As for its plans, the shipping industry is likely to heed the ghost of Christmas past to avoid repeating mistakes. UPS reportedly just started informing certain retailers that it will not give discounts on oversized items, such as furniture and grills, this holiday season. These items don’t move on the company’s automated conveyor belts and require more costly manual handling.

    UPS is especially anxious for a spotless 2015 holiday season after 2 years in a row of missteps. In 2013, a surge of last-minute online orders and bad weather led to delivery failures. This past year, UPS spent too much money on extra hires and added automation to avoid the same mistake. While service was strong, the company reported disappointing financial results. 

    For the U.S. Postal Service, our recent audit report provides some insights into what worked well in the 2014 peak holiday season and what could be improved this year. By most accounts, the Postal Service had a successful 2014 holiday shipping season. It processed a record 865.4 million packages during the December 2014 peak period with strong service performance. While the number of packages increased by more than 88 million, delayed packages decreased by 1.8 million compared to the previous year. In addition, service improved in six of the nine package categories the Postal Service measures. 

    Still, it could do better to ensure packages are processed on time so as not to put revenue at risk. Package processing machines should be timely installed and fully utilized during the peak season. In addition, enough temporary workers should be hired to meet peak demand.  

    How soon do you plan to start your holiday shopping this year? Do you expect to do more online shopping this year? If you used online shopping last year, how was your experience?  

  • on Mar 2nd, 2015 in Mail Processing & Transportation | 5 comments

    If you’re a shipper, you may have noticed your fuel surcharge fees aren’t going down in step with the declining price of oil. That’s because both FedEx and UPS tie their fuel surcharges to the price of diesel, which hasn’t dropped as far or as fast as gasoline prices. Furthermore, both shipping giants recently adjusted how they calculate fuel surcharges, resulting in surcharges that won’t drop as much as they would have under the previous calculation. In some cases, fuel surcharges are even going up.

    Fuel surcharges are common in the transport industry, from taxis and airlines to moving and delivery companies. Many of these industries instituted fuel surcharges to smooth out costs when fuel prices were skyrocketing. But in times of low fuel prices, like now, customers see these surcharges as a blatant money-grab.

    Right about now, you may be noting the U.S. Postal Service doesn’t have a fuel surcharge. It also didn’t go all in on dimensional weight pricing (See our previous blog). And it’s not likely to chase the next big thing in pricing: “surge” or “peak” pricing. For the 2015 holiday season, UPS said it plans to follow the Uber model and hit shippers with “peak” prices on its busiest days. This comes after UPS said it experienced higher-than-anticipated 2014 peak season expenses. FedEx is expected to follow suit. For consumers, this could mean the end of free shipping, at least on last-minute orders around the holidays.

    So, the Postal Service might look even more attractive these days with its relatively straightforward, consistent pricing. Of course, the Postal Service isn’t a public company, so it’s not under the same pressure to deliver profits as UPS and FedEx are. But customers are not too interested in the whys and wherefores – they just want low-priced, reliable, fast delivery.

    Do you think the Postal Service is well-positioned to lure away commercial package business from FedEx and UPS? Does the lack of a fuel surcharge put the Postal Service at any kind of a competitive disadvantage? Or is it only advantageous? Do you see the Uber surge or peak pricing model getting a foothold in other industries? 

  • on Nov 3rd, 2014 in Delivery & Collection | 12 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? 

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