Holiday Shipping: Will Your Parcels be Picked Up and Delivered on Time?

Days after “Black Friday” UPS put holiday shipping restrictions on Nike and Gap and directed drivers to stop Cyber Monday pick-ups at other large retailers that are already exceeding parcel volume forecasts through booming online sales.  

In a year marked by a pandemic-driven shift in consumer buying habits that has driven consecutive quarters of record e-commerce growth, parcel networks have been at or near capacity for months. An unprecedented holiday peak has been on the radar, but as expected, early promotions and efforts to bring parcel volume forward could never be enough.

And in the midst of a monumental peak period, the parcel carriers continue to adjust their strategy to not only drive revenue growth in high demand e-commerce service areas, but also protect volume and achieve competitive advantage as Amazon’s delivery networks continue to evolve. 

Let’s look at some of the latest developments in the parcel shipping environment. They may affect your ability to delight customers this holiday season.

E-Commerce Bloats Holiday Shipping Volume Beyond Capacity

Demand for the 2020 holiday peak shipping season is forecast to exceed 86 million packages a day – about 7 million packages outside current parcel network capacity. These estimates are validated by the National Retail Federation’s estimate that online shopping increased 44 percent during a five-day stretch that included Black Friday and Cyber Monday. 

Both UPS and FedEx prepared retail shippers for tight holiday shipping capacity, issuing advice for holiday shippers and encouraging clients to “shop earlier than ever with special offers or other incentives.” Yet, before December even dawned, both carriers were enforcing volume agreements and applying peak season charges and accessorial fees that create additional order fulfillment cost for shippers. 

In this environment it is critical that you have real-time understanding of your parcel shipping activity. While volume outside agreed-upon levels or historical averages may result in added cost during other parts of the year (as it did with COVID peak surcharges), packages exceeding a shipper’s determined space simply will not be served – at least until additional capacity becomes available.

Shipping Delays: Expect, Forewarn and Facilitate

Based on the recent trends observed, the average package delay rate during the 2020 holiday season may range between 14 percent and 18 percent. Consumers in densely populated cities can expect delays as high as 25 percent to 30 percent. 

Unless you create an expectation of delayed delivery, this can be a real problem for customer experience. Proactive communication with your customers about anticipated delays is one of the most important steps in preserving holiday shipping experience.  Use your website and email communications to help set expectations. 

That said, as consumers’ expectations on speed evolve, we are seeing an increased willingness to wait for a delivery, especially if it means free shipping. According to BoxPoll, more than half of consumers opting for free shipping (57 percent) considered five-day delivery to be “fast” – that’s up 8 percentage points compared to last year. One-third of respondents in the weekly survey said that seven-day delivery is “acceptable” at minimum.

Retailers are positioned to capitalize when they maintain awareness of shipping characteristics, alternative service models and, of course, their customers’ expectations. A “no-rush” option is a familiar part of the Amazon order process, and now other brands are following suit, even offering incentives for delayed or “slow service.” If a consumer considers five-day service “fast,” are you driving up cost by offering more service then they need?

FedEx Counters Amazon’s E-Commerce and Logistics Buildout

The FedEx acquisition of ShopRunner complements the actions that we have seen FedEx taking to remain relevant in e-commerce as Amazon continues to strengthen its logistics and fulfillment capabilities.  

The move reinforces the FedEx position as the anti-Amazon solution for companies seeking an Amazon alternative. Some of the carrier’s other recent activity following the same strategy includes:

  • Acquisition of GENCO to form the basis of Fulfillment by FedEx
  • Moving to a seven-day-a-week delivery schedule
  • Severing ties with Amazon for delivery to focus on other e-commerce volume
  • Pulling SmartPost deliveries into the Home Delivery network to bolster density and profitability.

With the global parcel market positioned to more than double by 2026, fueled by e-commerce growth and further accelerated by COVID-19, both FedEx and UPS will need to continue adding value to retailers’ unichannel solutions to keep volume when Amazon opens their delivery network to third party shipments. Amazon suspended its delivery service earlier this year due to the pandemic, but it is expected to reopen in the near future.

Of course, the parcel carriers are among an ever-growing contingent of organizations devising new strategies to compete with Amazon. Just in time for the holidays, WalMart is dropping the $35 minimum on free shipping for e-commerce purchases of electronics, toys and clothing made for participants in its WalMart+ membership program. The move – and the program – are both designed to compete with Amazon Prime.

Are You Positioned to Compete?

Make sure your holiday shipping success is not eclipsed by transportation costs.

Can you quickly determine how your parcel shipping volume falls within your capacity agreement with your carriers? Do you know how quickly your customers are getting their orders – and whether you are meeting your delivery commitments? Can you determine which SKUs are making money – and which are not?

Ongoing awareness of evolving trends in the parcel environment – from service disruptions to capacity shortages – is integral to your ability to pivot your small package shipping strategy. 

Understanding how those trends affect your transportation cost and service to end customers requires expert analysis and actionable intelligence. The latest enhancements to our technology platform puts the power of that information at your fingertips with best-in-class visualization of data gathered across your entire supply chain.

Schedule a demonstration today to see how our clients are able to identify business trends, understand the impact of cost and service on working capital, and recognize ongoing performance improvement opportunities.

6 Qualities to Look for in an E-Commerce Logistics Partner

With changing customer demands, new carrier surcharges, COVID, and other challenges taking a bite out of shippers’ bottom lines right now, those companies are best served by logistics partners that bring a high level of value to the table. Even better, they do this while helping shippers overcome their key pain points and achieve their organizational goals.

If your e-commerce logistics provider isn’t living up to expectations in these six areas, it may be time to find one that will.

  1. Technology Systems that Mirror the Carriers’ Own Systems
    This allows the provider to estimate cost impact and predictive modeling to the penny. Every time the carriers make a change, that change should also be made in your provider’s system.
  2. A Strong Team of Subject Matter Experts
    That team should include engineers and analysts that know how to leverage the carriers’ profitability areas to gain better advantages for you (versus what a traditional account rep can manage). Our experts regularly share their insight with the marketplace.

  1. Ongoing Analysis and Strategic “Thinkery”
    Look for a partner that thinks well beyond the “one and done” approach. Today’s business environment requires a partner that focuses on continued delivery optimization and cost mitigation.
  2. A Proactive Auditing Function
    Rather than relying on a reactive mindset (e.g., asking for the same refunds over and over again), your provider should be working with an “identify and repair” mindset to eliminate these potential issues and mitigate ongoing costs.
  3. Advanced Analytics and KPI Tracking
    As e-commerce continues to grow, you need a partner that is constantly innovating and adding functionalities like margin management, SKU-level profitability, KPI tracking, order performance management and high levels of supply chain visibility.   
  4. A Problem-solving Mindset
    When new accessorials or surcharges are released, your logistics provider should be measuring the impacts of those changes on your budget and helping you mitigate those impacts.

Master Your E-Commerce Supply Chain

Possessing these key qualities, we bring our client partners ongoing value as they race to meet demands for delivery speed, service and choice. Supporting your efforts to enhance customer experience, we also implement strategies to control costs so that you can maintain awareness of how each and every product and customer is performing. 

Our Parcel Experts created “You Shipped It, but … Did it Make Money?” to identify some of the emerging challenges that jeopardize your profit. It highlights our approach in the marketplace and gives you a glimpse into the level of analysis that we bring our customers. 

Let’s take a deeper look at the supply chain challenges you are experiencing. Reach out to our supply chain masters today to begin a conversation about your personalized solution.

Don’t Let Peak Surcharges Kill Your E-Commerce Profit

Shippers often don’t expect accessorial changes and peak season surcharges that carriers introduce at different times throughout the year. In most cases, seasonal demand swings and business peaks drive these cost changes. 

This year a global pandemic prompted peak season surcharges. Because these new costs coincided with skyrocketing demand for online shopping, many shippers lacked the visibility required to protect e-commerce profit on every shipment.

An Aug. 7 communication from UPS confirmed that more peak surcharges are coming for the holiday season. 

Here are three ways to keep these surcharges from killing your company’s profitability. They’ll become increasingly important as peak season surcharges could become a new year-round norm.

  1. Carefully Audit Every Carrier Invoice
    Go beyond examining the invoice number and dollar amount. Taking the position, “Okay, last week I shipped $75,000 worth of merchandise. That sounds about right,” isn’t a deep enough dive into your parcel invoices. 

    This high-level analysis doesn’t give you the insights you need to pivot effectively when surcharges are imposed. Get down to the actual package and charge level. This is one of the most important practices in managing peak season surcharges and protecting e-commerce profit.
  2. Share the Cost – Pass It or Promote It
    Don’t assume that these surcharges have to get tacked onto your “costs of doing business.”

    As long as it doesn’t affect your competitive position, pass the surcharge costs along to your customers. By strategically aligning products with marketing promotions, you can also increase order value, optimize shipment density and, ultimately, mitigate bottom-line impact of peak-season costs.

    If you do have to absorb the additional cost, be sure to factor that into the sale, versus waiting for your parcel carrier’s invoice to arrive and taking it right out of your profit for a specific order.   

  1. Team-up with E-Commerce Partners 
    Burdened by carrier surcharges and operating in a challenging business environment, shippers may be tempted to only deal with carriers when they have a gripe, a fee that needs to be refunded, or a surcharge that doesn’t apply (but was charged anyway). 

    These situations generally reach a positive resolution when shippers have win-win relationships with their carriers. This has been a practice for years in the truckload/less-than-truckload sector, where being a “shipper of choice” has become a popular stance for companies that are assessing their total costs of transportation.   

    The same applies in the parcel space, where we rely on accurate, up-to-date, supporting data when working with carriers on behalf of our customers (versus just managing issues in a one-off manner). 

    By serving as a link between shippers and carriers (who would otherwise be forced to work with thousands of different customers on an individual level), we are an extension of your parcel team. 

Master Your Parcel Program

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 e-commerce profit.

Manage Surcharges: 4 Things to Know for Holiday Season

Less predictable, peak surcharges are creating additional complexity for parcel pricing, especially as UPS announces its holiday peak season surcharges. These new charges come in addition to similar costs in place the past few months. Combined, it is a difficult environment to manage surcharges.

For example, a parcel carrier may announce a general rate increase of 4.9%, but this is an average taken across all services, weight breaks, and zones. In reality, many rate increases are above 6% when applied to a shipper’s actual volume. 

Predictable by nature, these annual increases are usually baked into the “cost of doing business” for shippers, many of which understand that the GRI impact on their transportation rates is at least an increase of about 5% annually. 

Now, carriers are introducing accessorial surcharges at different times throughout the year in response to seasonal demand swings and business peaks. These unexpected peak season surcharges can be difficult to manage, especially during a global pandemic when dynamic shifts are occurring across the marketplace. 

Here are four things all shippers should know about peak season surcharges in 2020.

  1. Peak Season Surcharges Becoming Routine It pays to stay on top of these variations and respond accordingly. Companies that take proactive measures to offset pending surcharges are often best positioned to maintain profitability, protect their bottom lines, and keep their customers happy (and coming back for more).

    Alongside existing peak surcharges implemented earlier in 2020, UPS announced it will increase surcharges for the holiday season. Starting Nov. 15, surcharges on Ground, SurePost and domestic Air services will increase to between $1 and $4 per package, depending on the shippers’ parcel volume. At a minimum, that triples the increases implemented May 31.
  2. Parcel Carriers Felt the COVID-19 Impact During the traditional holiday season, UPS and FedEx often start hiring up to six months ahead of time. They also require larger shippers to provide volume estimates to support capacity planning. Staffed and trained, the carriers position everyone for success during the busiest time of the year. 

    These proactive moves weren’t possible during the global pandemic, and that’s precisely why the surcharges surfaced quickly in 2020.
  3. Residential Deliveries Bear the Brunt of COVID Surcharges Surcharges surfaced quickly in 2020, with higher costs on residential deliveries and large package shipments to homes and businesses quickly consuming the carriers’ margins. In response, UPS and FedEx implemented peak surcharges for U.S. domestic residential shipments and large/oversize packages due to the increased demand. UPS implemented the new charges on May 31, and FedEx quickly followed on June 8. 

    Not all shippers were caught in this particular surcharge web. Some charges solely affected large shippers with significant increases in residential deliveries compared to their average pre-pandemic weekly volume from Feb. 2 and Feb. 29, 2020.
  4. Advance Peak Season Surcharge Planning Isn’t Easy Budget planning to manage surcharges isn’t easy in an environment where these increases can arise unexpectedly. No one was prepared for the massive impacts of COVID-19, for example, so shippers had little (or no) time to prepare in advance for the surcharges. 

    The good news is that even though individual companies can’t control parcel carriers’ surcharges, they can minimize the budgetary impact with accurate shipping data, experienced logistics partners, and quick responses to carrier announcements. 

Avoid Peak Season Surcharge Shock

As you plan your transportation spend for the remainder of 2020 and into 2021, be sure to factor in the reality of “unexpected” carrier surcharges. It doesn’t take a global pandemic to create peak season pressure on carriers’ profitability and spur added fees on your parcel shipments. At the same time, in the wake of COVID-19, expect significant changes in the last-mile delivery environment, especially in terms of pricing complexity.

Individually, a 30-cent surcharge on a residential parcel shipment may seem innocuous. Multiply that fee across thousands of packages, and it’s clear just how burdensome this unexpected fee can be to a company’s bottom line. 

Remember the proverb: forewarned is forearmed. Prior knowledge of a potential issue will always give you a tactical advantage.

To help you avoid surcharge surprises, 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.