Q4 Forecast: Parcel Rates and Cost Impact

Not long ago parcel carriers were transporting 20-25 percent of their deliveries to residential addresses. By 2019, that number increased to about 50 percent. This year, 70 percent of all parcel carrier movements involve a residential address. The shift is largely driven by a consumer who is shopping from home either by choice, necessity or both. 

According to the Department of Commerce, U.S. retail e-commerce sales for the second quarter of 2020 were $211.5 billion, an increase of 31.8 percent over the first quarter of the year. During the second quarter of 2019, e-commerce sales increased just 12 percent over the same period in 2018. 

These are some telling numbers, and they paint a picture of a shifting consumer purchasing environment that’s pulling the major parcel carriers right along with it. For example, UPS saw its residential delivery volume increase 65 percent during the second quarter. This is just one of several carriers being asked to absorb and handle volume increases unlike anything their networks have ever experienced.

Here’s what shippers can expect on the parcel shipping front as 2020 winds down and the holiday season kicks into full speed.

2021 Parcel Rates: FedEx

FedEx Express (Domestic, U.S. Export and U.S. Import), FedEx Ground, and FedEx Home Delivery shipping rates will increase by an average of 4.9 percent. FedEx has increased these rates 4.9 percent every year since 2007. FedEx Freight will increase rates by an average of 5.9 percent. 

These are a sampling of the changes becoming effective Jan. 4, 2021:

  • Institute a 6 percent late fee to U.S. FedEx Express and FedEx Ground customers who don’t pay their invoice within their agreed upon payment terms. UPS implemented this fee in 2003.
  • New $16 Additional Handling Fee for packages where dimensions are greater than 105 inches in combined length plus girth. 
  • Additional handling charge for weight increased 6.25 percent to $25.50.
  • Additional handling charge for packaging increase 7.7 percent to $14.
  • DAS for Home Delivery is 7.5 percent from $4 to $4.30.
  • Oversize charge for Home Delivery has increased 8.3 percent from $120 to $130.
  • Residential Delivery charge for Home Delivery charge increased 8.75 percent from $4 to $4.35.
  • The ground minimum package charge (zone 2, 1 pound list rate) has increased by 6.44 percent to $8.76.
  • 2Day and Express Saver (3 day) shipments will take larger increases.
  • Longer zones have larger increases than shorter zones for Express services.
  • Surcharges have increased by more than the announced 4.9 percent for the ones most commonly applied.

Even though the GRI is 4.9 percent your true rate increase will be somewhere between 4.9 percent and 8 percent depending on usage of these additional services. This is the type of analysis Transportation Insight provides to our clients. Every year a GRI report is generated for our clients to aid in understanding the impact these rates will have on their transportation spend.

When Peak Season Lasts All Year

Carriers typically experience peak season about six weeks a year. Because of COVID-19 carriers have been running at peak season pace for several months straight. There’s never been this level of capacity utilization in the small package network, and it’s clear that carriers weren’t ready for it. As a result, the massive increase created management difficulties for the carriers which, in turn, implemented COVID-19 surcharges that create new cost management challenges for shippers

These charges went into effect in the U.S. during the first quarter of the year, with UPS and FedEx creating a peak season operating plan for spring and summer (to handle the demand of home delivery while simultaneously experiencing the collapse of their commercial delivery volume). This created major problems: commercial deliveries are traditionally carriers’ most profitable and have been reduced to a fraction of their “normal” levels. 

Tracking the cost impact of these surcharges isn’t always straightforward. UPS created a $0.30 charge for residential and SurePost packages while also raising by $31.45 a surcharge on difficult-to-handle parcels (e.g., extra-large boxes). FedEx imposed its own surcharges on large shippers and added a $0.30 charge for express and ground residential deliveries, and a $0.40 addition for SmartPost deliveries.  

Navigating the New Gauntlet

With COVID still impacting the shipping environment, carriers rolled out holiday peak season surcharges. For 2020, these charges will be broad-based and targeted at the shippers that more significantly impact the parcel carriers’ networks. 

Charges for UPS will range from $1, $2, and $3 for ground residential and SurePost packages. These charges will begin Nov. 15 and continue through Jan. 16, 2021. UPS is also tacking on an additional handling charge of $5 per package, a large package surcharge of $50, and an over-max-limit of $250. These charges will be in effect through Jan. 16. 

FedEx began its holiday peak season surcharges of $4.90 on Oct. 5 for packages needing additional handling. Oversized package incur a $52.50 surcharge and unauthorized packages cost an additional $350. These rates will be in effect until Jan. 17. In addition, FedEx’s residential ground packages incur surcharges capped at $4 per package, while residential express shipment surcharges are $5. The latter charges are both based on specific formulas. 

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) will implement its own peak season surcharges beginning Oct. 18 and running through Dec. 27. The fees still need to receive regulatory approval, but we expect them to be passed. The USPS fees will be applied per package and will pertain to all commercial shippers.  

Maintaining Profitability

For the first time, we’re also seeing small package regional carriers implementing surcharges. Because these fees are based on formulas and difficult to compute, planning for, managing, reporting and auditing the surcharges is difficult. Unfortunately, the combination of COVID-19 and an e-commerce boom overturned the parcel industry’s apple cart, and the change will be forever felt as parcel shippers navigate this new gauntlet.

For most companies, speed is the most important supply chain deliverable. They’re looking to move volume to the end consumer to achieve speed at an acceptable price point. We’re also seeing many companies: 

  • Exploring opportunities for faster growth or service into specific markets.
  • Going direct to consumers
  • Pivoting to maintain Amazon Prime designations by complying with requirements taking effect in February.

Managing these complexities on your own has become a major headache for parcel shippers – especially when logistics management isn’t your core business. Not prepared to make long-term commitments in technology, infrastructure, and employees, more companies are turning to third-party logistics providers (3PLs) to move quickly and affordably in this customer-centric business world. 

Third-party fulfillment allows companies to ramp up quickly to meet demand. It also creates a more elastic fulfillment environment that can be scaled up or down, depending on the volume of freight that’s moving through the operation. A 3PL will also help you lay out a master plan in advance, and then adjust accordingly as rate hikes, surcharges, and other variables come into play.   

In light of the rising costs of parcel shipping—and the myriad surcharges that went into effect in 2020—the biggest questions that shippers are asking themselves right now are: Where should I place my inventory? And, what SKUs should I be stocking in order to meet customer demand?  The companies that find the right balance between these two points will then be the ones that maintain profitability through this uncertainty…and beyond. 

3 Ways to Manage Surcharges

Here are three ways to manage surcharges during parcel carriers’ peak season and it’s impact on our profit margin.

  1. Manage Surcharges: Face Peak Season Head-on.
    Review the terms and conditions of the agreements you have with your carriers. Work with your logistics partner to stay on top of these new charges, and to come up with ways to offset, absorb, or pass them along to your customers. We help customers understand those charges, why they were implemented and how they affect profitability (via good reporting and data analytics). Analysis comes with a roadmap for minimizing the impacts. 

  1. Dissect Charges on Your Carrier Invoices
    Many times, carrier invoices are so lengthy that the charges are lumped together. It’s not unusual to see duplicate charges, for instance, or duplicate tracking numbers being charged multiple times. And with the COVID-19 peak surcharges, the carriers are billing in multiple different ways, including paper invoices, follow-up emails and averages over multiple transactions. 

    Dissecting those charges and ensuring that everything was charged correctly can be time-consuming and onerous. Our audit team constantly reviews the applicability of the charges and the actual rates that were charged to ensure accuracy. 

  1. Use best shipping practices. It can be tempting to take orders and push them out the door without giving much thought to how much it costs to ship those packages. 

    Most companies understand that transportation costs take up a big chunk of their operating budgets. Few take the time to examine the true cost of shipping those goods

    Factor both predictable/annual rate increases and unpredictable carrier surcharges into the equation, and you get a recipe for poor profitability. To avoid this problem, always use best practices centered on the cost of shipping each and every package. 

Master Your Parcel Program

With regular invoice auditing and business intelligence reporting, you can remove most of the uncertainty from the current surcharge environment while also preparing for any new fees that may be coming. 

Deploying additional best practices in your parcel program can supplement your ability to proactively plan for mitigating the cost impact of peak season surcharges. See our infographic for more tips that will help you monitor and manage surcharges.

To help you control costs in an ongoing peak season surcharge environment, we created Manage the Surge: Avoid Surcharge Shocks, Power Performance. It explores the how and why behind parcel carriers’ cost-recovery tactics. Read it today for the strategies you need to power a parcel program response that offsets these costs and protects your profit.

Improve E-Commerce Experience Without Sacrificing Profitability

With Amazon commanding 47% of U.S. e-commerce sales and on track to grow its online sales by 20.4% to $282.52 billion, pursuing this formidable opponent makes sense to a lot of companies. Unfortunately, many of them are sacrificing profits in their attempt to compete, with transportation and fulfillment costs consuming a large part of their budgets.

Opportunity or Liability?

In many cases, the risks of racing Amazon have literally turned into liabilities, effectively slowing progress and forcing companies to rethink everything from their online order interfaces, shopping cart conversions, and final-mile/same-day order fulfillment management.

The brick and mortar world has really ramped up its game, but Amazon has conditioned us, as end consumers, that those efforts just are not good enough.

4 Practices to Protect Profitability

The good news is that there are steps that companies can take to improve e-commerce strategies without sacrificing profitability. Here are four that your company can start using today: 

  1. Develop an above-par order fulfillment strategy. Amazon built its order fulfillment strategy around offering choices to its customers. In doing so, it made the online shopping experience all about the customer and his/her decisions. The e-tailer provides high levels of supply chain visibility as shipments move from Point A to Point B, maintains good inventory control, and understands its cost to serve. One good metric to use, when judging the efficiency of your order fulfillment processes, is the “Perfect Order,” or one that is on time, complete, intact, and includes the right shipping paperwork. In an environment where order fulfillment can comprise over 60% of the typical warehouse’s total direct labor, even small gains in this area can lead to profitability improvements
  1. Now, deliver on that strategy (on every order). Not only does shipping have to be free and fast, but if it includes a hovercraft and a promise to get a package to your doorstep within an hour, then all the better. We’re at a point where anything less simply doesn’t meet customer expectations. There’s little (if any) room for error on this step. Retailers that want to convert digital consumers know that competing on price and customer experience just isn’t enough anymore; they have to also be able to compete on speed and choice. Handled improperly, same-day delivery can be a logistical nightmare and major risk for retailers. It’s also a necessary evil for them, and something that they all have to be able to do for at least some of their customers. Making that happen requires locations and/or warehouses positioned close to those buyers; a modification of existing fulfillment procedures; a smart, profitable BOPIS strategy; and ensuring that the right product is in the right place and at precisely the right minute.

  1. Focus on continuous monitoring and improvement. Companies can no longer wait until quarterly review meetings to uncover a problem that happened a month ago. Smart companies use daily scorecards to gather, compare and disseminate meaningful, actionable intelligence (e.g., what products were shipped? How quickly were orders fulfilled? Did we pick all of our orders yesterday? If no, how can we make that up today?). By taking an introspective look at their e-commerce operations and developing metrics based on those results, retailers can adapt faster in a world that demands speed, accuracy and delivery on promises. 
  2. Make the right transportation choices. If your company can’t access data that provides strategy around carrier contract alignment and then facilitates choosing the most economical transportation mode, it’s probably losing money. And, if it’s channeling all of its resources into getting same-day and next-day shipments out the door as quickly as possible − without worrying about whether or not those are the best and most economical decisions − it’s losing even more money. These are huge risks in an era where companies are being forced to go head-to-head with Amazon and Walmart, both of which offer same-day and one-day delivery to 72% and 75% of the total U.S. population, respectively. Retailers should be using technology (i.e., transportation management systems or TMS) to select not only the most economical mode, but also one that meets customers’ delivery expectations. Leveraging transactional audit across all modes, provides companies consolidated, visibility to know the rate they paid, identify service gaps, and improve their ability to make good transportation decisions going forward.

Following these guidelines, companies can effectively improve the e-commerce experience without sacrificing profitability − all while satisfying a lot of happy, repeat customers.

Ready to learn more ways retailers can improve e-commerce performance to satisfy customer demands for service and choice? Download Transportation Insight’s e-commerce guide.