Navigating Small Parcel Rates and Capacity ‘Perfect Storm’ in 2021

The first quarter of 2021 promises to bring much of the same volatility and uncertainty to the small parcel rates and capacity environment . With the holiday season behind us, many service providers are now fully entrenched in a worldwide vaccine distribution effort in a shipping environment that was already more expensive and capacity constrained than it was a year ago.

Here’s what all shippers should know as we move out of the small parcel rates chaos of 2020 and into a New Year that promises even more challenges – and opportunities!

Small Parcel Capacity Lessons Learned from the Holiday Season

The 2020 holiday season was like no other. Record volumes of e-commerce orders  pushed major small parcel carriers to levy new fees while also capping volumes in order to balance their networks. Affecting ground, express, and postal service, very few shippers escaped the impact.

“As Americans increasingly shop online because of the coronavirus pandemic, private express carriers FedEx and UPS have cut off new deliveries for some retailers, sending massive volumes of packages ordered past deadlines to the Postal Service,” the Washington Post reported.

With capacity at a premium in the small package environment, shippers were left to their own devices when it came to getting their goods out the door and monitoring the cost and service impacts. We were called upon to help many companies as carriers took a brutally honest approach and let everyone know that they were buckling under the strain.

We’re really gridlocked all over the place ,” a Postal Service manager told the Washington Post. “It’s bad. I’ve never seen it like this before.”

Navigating the Perfect Small Parcel Storm

With carriers implementing caps in order to avoid being overwhelmed (or completely collapsing) and volume congestion riddling networks nationwide, shippers had to swallow a bitter pill: meeting consumer expectations for next-day or two-day service wasn’t happening. Shippers with contingency plans in place going into the holidays fared best as elections and vaccine distributions claimed an extraordinary amount of parcel and mail shipping capacity during the fourth quarter of 2020.

As with any crisis, there are always lessons to be learned. If 2020 taught shippers anything, it’s that it pays to listen to your small parcel carriers. Pay attention to their market moves and announcements. Then factor those insights into your overall transportation planning. We saw a similar uptick in awareness levels in 1997, when a 13-day UPS employee strike crippled the nation’s parcel network.

Fast-forward 23 years and COVID-19 had a similar impact – albeit more sweeping and longer in duration – on an industry that now includes multiple parcel carrier options. This time around, we saw that companies capable of distributing their shipping volume across FedEx, UPS, DHL, the USPS, and other providers (versus relying on just one) fared best during the 2020 holiday season.

Moving forward, smart shippers will continue to integrate flexible tactics into their supply chain planning, knowing that a “squeeze” on one end of that value chain will equate to a diversion at the other end of that sequence. This is where regional carriers and last-mile delivery services are helping to pick up the slack and, as a result, are now being taken more seriously than ever before. We expect this trend to continue in 2021 as companies shore up their transportation plans and work to avoid the challenges of 2020.

Small Parcel Rates: Network Visibility is the Key

Even with the vaccine distribution, COVID, and other outside forces impacting the small parcel landscape right now, we do expect a competitive, more rational, parcel shipping landscape to emerge later this year.

Small Parcel Rate Guide - Insight Fusion

We could see a retreat in surcharges and other extra fees, but only when volume begins to wane and the environment starts to normalize. We also expect more competitors to enter the parcel marketplace and grab some of the opportunities that the larger carriers are overlooking right now. As this takes place, shippers should get some benefit from the heightened competition.

Regardless of the current small parcel shipping environment and the challenges that it’s inflicting on shippers and end customers, supply chain visibility continues to rise to the top as the ultimate combat tool. In an environment where next-day and two-day deliveries are the norm – and where these options are getting more expensive – the company that understands its total shipping costs is the one that will be best equipped to offset the “perfect storm” of capacity constraints, rising rates, and surcharges.

A critical tool for any market conditions, supply chain visibility includes all aspects of your transportation network—from the time the goods leave the loading dock until they reach their final destination, and all points in between. “The COVID-19 pandemic has moved supply chain and logistics technologies to the public eye like few times before,” Crunchbase states, “as shortages at grocery stores and the distribution of a possible vaccine highlight the importance of moving goods and essentials.”

End-to-end supply chain visibility also helps companies pinpoint areas of concern (i.e., is fulfillment causing the delay?), and address them quickly. It also gives shippers accurate insights into carrier performance and enables good decision-making on that front. Transportation Insight, for example, breaks down the data by geographic region and individual carrier to come up with the best possible options for shippers.

In other words, we’re not just throwing small parcel rates and other information over the fence to our customers. We take a highly consultative approach that helps companies shape successful supply chain strategies in any market conditions. As we move further into 2021, expect new parcel shipping opportunities and challenges to emerge. Those companies that align themselves with a knowledgeable, tech-enabled logistics partner will be best positioned to leverage these opportunities and circumvent the challenges.

Tap into our team’s insight to support your freight and parcel management practices. Download our Q1 ChainLink 2021 for multi-modal trend forecasts and cost impact analysis. Read it today  for supply chain strategy guidance, as well as the latest changes in small parcel rates and other transportation modes.

For more detail, listen to our SME Roundtable discuss transportation trends in our latest digital event.

Holiday Shipping 2020: 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 – and continue serving them well through 2021 and beyond.

E-Commerce Bloats Parcel 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?

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.

Fulfillment Strategies: Is Your 2021 E-Commerce Plan in Place?

Fulfillment Strategies: Is Your 2021 E-Commerce Plan in Place?

This is important for many reasons, not the least of which is the big uptick in e-commerce that’s occurring in 2020, and that will likely continue well into 2021. Already increasing year-over-year, U.S. e-commerce sales were up 43% in September 2020, having grown by 42% the prior month. This growth impacted manufacturers, distributors, and retailers, many of which were unprepared for the onslaught. 

If you spent most of 2020 just trying to get through the pandemic, it’s time to dust off your supply chain, logistics and transportation plans and make sure your fulfillment strategies align with your 2021 e-commerce goals.

Changing Business Models 

As a whole, the pandemic was a wakeup call for these companies that were forced to question some of their fundamental assumptions. 2021 could bring an entirely new set of supply chain, logistics, and transportation challenges with it. 

“As many executives heave a sigh of relief, they are also preparing for a dramatically different environment in 2021,” Industry Week points out. 

“Recent economic challenges have forced manufacturers to change their business models, seemingly overnight, to stay competitive and prepare for not just recovery, but unprecedented growth,” it continues. “However, it may be difficult for manufacturers to keep up with both a snap-back in demand and a huge appetite from customers for innovative products and solutions.”

Navigating the New Fulfillment Normal

Under normal circumstances, companies can add labor and shifts to make up for throughput problems in their warehouses and DCs. With social distancing guidelines in place and the need to keep employees healthy a huge issue for companies right now, simply throwing labor at the problem doesn’t work anymore. 

These realities directly impact customer service which, in turn, affects margins and revenues. When customers feel like they’re being kept in the dark or that they’re not in control of the ordering and shipping process, they’ll take their business elsewhere. 

Here are six more strategies that all companies should include in their 2021 plans: 

  • Get your parcel shipping act together. In a world where nearly all customers expect their goods in three days or less, and where 30 percent of them expect them next day, you can’t reduce shipping costs at your customers’ expense. With this emphasis on delivery expectations, companies have to create parcel strategies that acknowledge the fact that shipping is the highest cost component of any e-commerce order.   
  • Watch your accessorials and peak surcharges. With the parcel carriers continuing to roll out increasingly-complex pricing strategies and inflating rates due to the lack of competition, shippers also have to keep a close eye on accessorials and peak surcharges at the package level. Understand how it’s impacting your costs and how to adjust and adapt moving forward into 2021. If SKU-level profitability is an important KPI, for example, then add that to list of metrics to measure. 
  • Consider a multi-carrier solution. There’s a lot of good value to be had by working with regional carriers and freight consolidators. Varying your approach also helps support customers’ delivery expectations. Amazon, for example, has worked hard to ensure high levels of visibility that starts when an order is placed and that doesn’t end until the package is on the buyer’s doorstep. With more of these customers having same-day and next-day delivery expectations, the multi-carrier approach can help support your overall fulfillment strategy and even make it more affordable. 

  • Rethink your fulfillment approach. To meet your customers’ fulfillment needs, you can either offer a higher shipper service level or you can change how your product is fulfilled and positioned (i.e., either with a bicoastal or multiple fulfillment level location plan). Whether you’re fulfilling it yourself, using a third-party logistics provider (3PL), or a hybrid approach, the key is to look to 2021 and beyond when setting up these networks. 
  • Use advanced technology tools. To get a head start on 2021, companies can tap into the tools that help automate, personalize, and engage virtual transactions, and that fuel their e-fulfillment engines. Cart integration, for example, automatically answers buyer questions like: How much is it going to cost? What are my shipping options? And, is there an opportunity for me to pick it up in-store? Through that integration and automation, the customer gets the choice and the control that they’re looking for today.
  • Focus on more than just the sales process. Companies should also consider post-purchase experience and post-purchase engagement tools, both of which automate the customer buying journey. These data-centric tools also lighten the workload for your customer service team. Finally, having shipping analytics right down to the individual order level puts the power of business intelligence (BI) into the shipper’s hands, and allows it to make good decisions based on accurate, relevant information (versus just guesswork).  

While it’s easy to get mired in the complications of 2020 right now, you’ll be much better prepared if you break the mold and start planning for the future today. That way, you’ll be in the right position and ready to pivot—in whichever direction is necessary—when 2021 comes. 

UPS Announces Last Day to Ship

A later-than-usual Thanksgiving on Nov. 26 condenses the shipping season by almost a week. Meanwhile, continuing effects of COVID-19 drive more buyers online to fill holiday wish lists – and many of them will avoid the personal contact of store shopping altogether.

Combined, these factors predict a capacity crunch for the small package networks. Already experiencing service delays and disruptions, these networks will not see relief until after the New Year, even as parcel carriers bring on thousands of new workers.

Be mindful of the “last shipping days” announced by UPS and FedEx, but that may not be enough to avoid a disappointed holiday customer in 2021. That’s why the world’s largest retailers are turning the holiday shopping clock from Black Friday toward a “Black October.”

Navigating this year’s peak season during the middle of a pandemic will require companies to be more creative and flexible. Forward-thinking shippers should be prepared to adjust. 

Retailers Drive Christmas Creep, Protect Experience

Amazon’s Prime Days on Oct. 13-14 delivered $3.5 billion in sales to small- and mid-sized businesses, with a 60 percent uptick in sales over last year. The move expedites holiday shopping – and product shipping. It also adheres to latest guidance from UPS: “encourage your customers to shop earlier than ever with special offers or other incentives.” FedEx echoes the same advice for shippers preparing for the 2021 holiday season.

Promotions like Walmart’s “Big Save Days” and Target’s “Deal Days” are all designed to pull parcel volume forward and avoid a costly catastrophe caused by a lack of capacity in December. 

If your organization is focused on protecting customer experience this holiday season, keep these five things in mind: 

  1. It is more important than ever to make sure that you proactively and clearly communicate the potential for delays. Every year the national carriers suspend their on-time guarantees during the holiday period. Earlier this year they suspended the guarantees due to COVID-19 complications and disruptions.
  2. Retailers can ship-to-stores for curbside pickup.
  3. Retailers can also ship-from-stores to shorten the distance that the package travels in the carrier’s networks and thereby reduce the potential for delay.
  4. Shipments can be made to alternative delivery locations such as certain retail partners, your customer’s office, or to one of the many parcel lockers.


5. Finally, if you operate multiple DCs across the US, it will be important to have the right inventory at the right locations to speed delivery and avoid split orders.

In a time where lockdowns have driven e-commerce shipments to levels never seen before, companies will need to deploy an all-of-the-above strategy to navigate it appropriately.

Know the Last Days to Ship

Now more than ever, it is important to make every possible effort to avoid deadline shipments. If you anticipate a last-minute holiday rush, make sure your UPS shipments go out on or before these dates to give your parcel the best possible chance to arrive by Dec. 24:

  • UPS Ground: As early as Tuesday, December 15* 
  • UPS 3 Day Select®: Monday, December 21 
  • UPS 2nd Day Air®: Tuesday, December  22 
  • UPS Next Day Air®: Wednesday, December 23

*Note UPS advises that most UPS Ground shipments have a later “last recommended shipping dates.” Shippers can track their transit time and cost here

FedEx released its holiday schedule ahead of UPS, and both schedules align closely. We detailed 7 tips for holiday delivery success shortly after the FedEx announcement. 

Regardless of the service provider you trust with your shipments, through full transparency and good information, you can effectively manage customer expectations while also syncing with the carriers that will deliver the goods to their doorsteps.  

You Shipped it – Did it Make Money?

Protecting customer experience this holiday season will require timely shipments and thorough communications throughout the sales cycle. 

Protecting your organization’s profit while responding to these customer expectations requires additional awareness and proactive measures.

  • Be aware of the Peak Season Surcharges and more importantly the differences for UPS, FedEx, Regional carriers and now the USPS.
  • Perform a detailed analysis to estimate the surcharges financial impact and to mitigate any negative effects on profitability.
  • Identify specific SKUs that will be negatively impacted and make decisions regarding those items to protect profit margins.  
  • Raise the cost of the item.
  • Increase the free shipping threshold.
  • Pass some or all of the additional cost to the customer.
  • Ensure carriers agreements are best in class and that invoices are audited for compliance to them.
  • Make sure you have the right box sizes so that the packaging is only la
    rge enough to adequately protect items during transit.
  • Work to eliminate operational errors that create avoidable costs such as incorrect addresses, unnecessary declared value and unauthorized packages.

To help shippers protect profit on every customer and every order, we created “You Shipped it … But Did You Make any Money.” Open it today for more guidance on making sure your peak season ends in the black.

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. 

Last Days to Ship? 7 Tips to Meet Holiday Deadlines

According to MarketWatch, Deloitte is forecasting a 1% to 1.5% year-over-year sales increase for the upcoming holiday season, during which time total retail sales will be about $1.15 billion (between November 2020 and January 2021). Meeting holiday shipping deadlines will be more important than ever.

“E-commerce sales, which have been strong throughout the coronavirus pandemic, are expected to climb 25% to 35%, reaching $182 billion and $196 billion,” Deloitte predicts. “Regardless of the scenario, however, consumers’ focus on health, financial concerns, and safety will result in a shift in the way they spend their holiday budget.”  

Here are seven tips for making sure your holiday packages get to their destinations on time.

7 Tips for Holiday Delivery Success 

The new realities of the current shipping environment have created ongoing service delays and disruptions, both of which have compounded into an overall capacity crunch for small parcel carriers. Working through this issue will require forward-thinking companies to adjust accordingly.

For example, shippers will need to be more creative and flexible to cope with the combination of COVID and the normal peak season. FedEx, UPS, and other carriers are hiring a lot more workers for the season, but we still expect to see some capacity issues. With the uncertainty, it will be more important than ever to inform customers when to expect shipments and be extremely transparent. 

Here are seven tips that will help you get your packages to their destinations on time: 

  1. Know the cutoff dates. FedEx’s last days to ship calendar is online here and UPS publishes its holiday deadlines here. The USPS plans to release its cutoff dates for holiday shipping sometime in October. Be sure to factor in these last days to ship dates when planning your holiday shipments. 
  2. Talk to your carriers. Proactively communicate with carriers regarding any expected increase in volume and any additional equipment requirements (e.g., feeders or bulk-type pickups). This will help your carriers plan ahead and provide some assurance that there will be capacity to accommodate your volume spikes (or, allow you to make alternative arrangements). 
  3. Next, talk to your customers. Companies should proactively communicate anticipated delays and properly set customer’s expectations on their websites and in any email communications. This could be as simple as featuring the holiday cutoff shipment dates prominently on the first page of your website. 
  4. Know the limits. Shippers should clearly understand any potential volume limits or caps that may be put in place by the carriers. Because these constraints can impact your ability to deliver on time, be sure to discuss them with your carrier. 
  5. Explore your options. Shippers should also understand their carrier options and negotiate favorable agreement terms to properly leverage all national, regional, and postal carriers. Having a “Plan B” in place is always a good idea during the busiest times of the year. 

  1. Start your product promos early. Don’t wait until the last minute to kick off your holiday promotions. Starting early will help you pull volume forward to avoid peak shipping periods and allow time for expected delays. 
  2. Factor in holiday business schedules. For example, USPS is closed for all of the major federal holidays. With delivery times varying between its services, knowing the cutoff dates and hours of operation are both important. 

Maintaining Transparency  

Reflecting on how parcel carriers performed for the 2019-20 holiday shipping season, UPS’ SurePost and FedEx’s SmartPost both assured 100% delivery for holiday orders that were shipped on or before December 14 or 9 (respectively). However, we also saw that as the cutoff date approached, those commitments slipped. This is something to keep in mind as you lay out your plans for the 2020-21 season. 

Using the tips outlined in this article, you can strike a nice balance between growing your company’s holiday sales while also letting customers know that there is a risk of passing the carrier’s “suggested date” for accepting pickup for a Christmas delivery. Through full transparency and good information, you can effectively manage customer expectations while also syncing with the carriers that will deliver the goods to their doorsteps.  

Peak Season Performance Requires Visibility

To make sure holiday shippers are aware of the latest trends affecting their transportation cost management, we convened a roundtable of our parcel experts. Watch or listen to our webinar “Peak Season: Are You Ready?” to hear Todd Benge, Robyn Meyer, Toni Caputo, Bernie Reeb and myself address the unprecedented challenges emerging his year.

This digital event shares strategies to help you protect profit and enhance customer experience. Watch it today to make sure you are getting charged correctly and manage the capacity risks that threaten to derail your performance.

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.

Peak Season Surcharges: 4 Things to Know

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.

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 for 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.

Mitigating Parcel Challenges in a Post-Coronavirus World

Consumers are now using e-commerce as their primary channel to buy everything from groceries and small electronics to home appliances and even cars. Most of those items move through one of three parcel networks: FedEx, UPS, or the U.S. Postal Service. Because of the sheer amount of parcels being processed and handled across the United States, we’re seeing natural “log jam” points come alive, resulting in delayed delivery and dissatisfied customers.

With the challenges mounting, is it possible to mitigate issues and maintain customer satisfaction? It’s possible – but it’s critical for teams to work together and understanding the challenges currently in play.

UPS Experiences Backups In The Northeast

The Northeast region of the United States was heavily impacted by the spread of COVID-19, forcing major cities like Boston and New York to virtually shut down overnight. Although those cities are starting to open, there remains a major backlog of parcels waiting for sorting and delivery.

At one UPS facility in Rhode Island, at least 40 UPS trailers remain on the dock, waiting to be processed. The parcels in these trailers represent a substantial amount of packages, destined for many different destinations across the northeast. Potentially, that could reflect over tens of thousands of customers who are frustrated because the items they ordered are not being processed for delivery.

The northeast isn’t the only facility experiencing problems. In Tucson, Arizona, employees at one facility is expressing concern about an outbreak of COVID-19. The local union claims 36 employees tested positive for Coronavirus, while three have been hospitalized for COVID-19 symptoms. If this facility shuts down for cleaning and sterilization, it could also create problems for parcel delivery in the Southwest as well, including the major population centers of Los Angeles and Phoenix.

Trouble Continues for the U.S. Postal Service

Packages sent through the mail are also facing delay threats due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Postal Service is chartered by the U.S. Congress to deliver first-class mail, and in 2019 they delivered over 143 billion pieces of mail to 160 million addresses across the country, including parcel delivery through Priority Mail and other products.

But the COVID-19 outbreak has forced massive changes in their structure and how they manage their workforce. According to data from the USPS, at least 60 postal workers have passed away due to COVID-19 complications, 2,400 have tested positive for Coronavirus, and 17,000 employees – or three percent of their workforce – were temporarily displaced on quarantine. While there’s no way to measure the human loss, the number of employees affected by this virus is forcing the Board of Governors to work up a plan to keep employees healthy despite a decline in profit.

The profit drop comes from a reduction in one of their most successful business areas: Direct mail advertising. At one point, direct mail advertising made up 23 percent of revenue for the Postal Service. As companies look to save money and find new ways to get in front of consumers, they are pulling away from pre-sorted and direct mail advertising, putting a major impact in the USPS budget. The future of the Postal Service is now in question, as they are experiencing both a cash and personnel crunch like never before.

Managing Difficulties and Driving Customer Satisfaction

Although the COVID-19 pandemic is creating challenges, it’s nothing that we cannot overcome. With a combination of actionable insight and sound decision making, it’s possible to still drive customer satisfaction by understanding and controlling the current situation.

To start, it may be useful to start a relationship with a secondary carrier. Opening a new door with a carrier can expand your options, especially when it comes to expedited parcel delivery. For example: although UPS has an expansive ground network, FedEx can offer more daily flight connections. Understanding the tradeoffs and opportunities give you an upper hand in determining how to ship parcels to consumers, and through what options.

From there, constant analysis of parcel delivery optimization can help you determine how effective your plans are, and how to improve them even further. Through service and compliance audits, you can find out how quickly your packages are moving, if they are moving within guaranteed service parameters, and if how many packages end up lost or damaged.

Finally, understanding the current parcel situation can help you mitigate and manage customer expectations. Expressing the potential problems and managing an understanding of when parcels may be delivered can help customers better plan for the issues, driving better loyalty in the end.

Bringing it All Together With a Trusted Partner

Navigating the parcel world in a post-Coronavirus world doesn’t have to be intimidating. The experts at Transportation Insight can help you identify change opportunities in your parcel delivery program, and lead to long-term success. Schedule a consultation with us today, and learn how our decades of experience can quickly improve your parcel program.

Parcel Volume Caps Emerge Amid Retail Slump

Bound for a stay-at-home society quarantined under COVID-19 guidelines, a whipsaw in residential delivery volume is a burden on small package carriers like FedEx and UPS which are accustomed to commercial service driving operational revenue.

In response to the dynamics of the current norm, service providers across the e-commerce supply chain are taking unprecedented steps to control their own financial performance while still delivering a satisfying shopping and delivery experience.

Effects of the COVID-19 disruption are still emerging, even as organizations work to pivot their processes to meet the needs of a post-pandemic supply chain. Shippers that understand how shifts in consumer demands manifest across small package networks can pivot their supply chain strategy to control costs, avoid risk and capitalize on opportunity.

Retail Sales Plunge During April

U.S. retail sales dropped 16.4 percent during April, the largest drop of its kind since 1992. The April decline doubled the previous record for one-month tumble in the sales indicator – set just a month prior during March’s 8.3 percent record drop.

While the U.S. Department of Commerce reports the sharpest dips for clothing, electronics and furniture stores, society’s continued migration toward the online sales platform accelerates.

Month over month, the online segment posted 8.4 percent growth in April as Americans shopped from home for an expanding diversity of products, from groceries to office supplies. Compared to last year, the changes in consumer behavior accelerated by COVID-19 has increased e-commerce sales 21.6 percent.

DHL, which provides local e-commerce delivery in major U.S. markets, reported volume increases of 36 percent compared to February numbers. Increase is sharpest in the Northeast, according to a release that also stated that an increase in e-commerce orders over the past five weeks has pushed DHL’s parcel volume to peak season levels.

As U.S. businesses begin reopening their doors, monitoring the evolution of consumer buying habits after COVID-19 will be an important piece in maintaining an optimal parcel shipping strategy. Will the U.S. embrace on-site shopping again, particularly in malls and other brick-and-mortar establishments? How much of your retail sales will continue to come through the e-commerce channel?

Whether your organization is an e-commerce legacy or you’re seizing new market share, serving online customers requires an expert understanding of the service implications on transportation costs. In the hurry to serve peaking customer demand, it is easy to lose sight of profitability at the order and item-level. Lacking that visibility could prevent you from capitalizing in growth areas emerging in the same environment as broader economic changes.

FedEx Limits Parcel Shipments for Kohl’s and Others

FedEx limited the number of items that about two dozen other retailers can ship from certain locations. Applied in certain geographies where volume is heaviest, the move comes as retailers across the nation have increasingly begin using closed storefronts to fulfill online orders.

For retailers, this alternative fulfillment strategy facilitates sales even when other conditions pre-empt an on-site purchase. When fulfillment alternatives are included in supply chain contingency planning, retailers can quickly pivot their network to serve emerging customer segments or specific geographies, and still maintain optimal transportation cost.

“These customers have seen significant volume growth since the spread of Covid-19,” FedEx said last week in a notice to its Ground workers reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. “In a time of already high volume growth, capping the number of packages to be picked up at these locations will limit any negative impacts to the FedEx Ground network.”

While retailers are able to keep inventory moving off shelves though online fulfillment, the volume increases in certain parts of the country have challenged FedEx facilities that were not prepared to handle a rapid increase. This is most prevalent along the East Coast and West Coast, particularly the Pacific Northwest, where the COVID-19 impacted has persisted the longest.

Customers initially affected by FedEx shipping limitations included: Kohl’s, Belk Inc., Neiman Marcus Group Inc. and Nordstrom Inc., retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch Co., Bed Bath & Beyond Inc., Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. and Eddie Bauer, and other sellers like Groupon Inc. and Young Living Essential Oils LLC. The limits varied at each location.

In an environment when parcel carriers are limiting volumes, shippers can improve critical business decision making through on-demand access to dashboards that reveal real-time access to your order volume, historical transportation transactions, carrier volume requirements and accessorial trends. Increased visibility to these and other Key Performance Indicators can deliver improved cost management and increased awareness of cost-service trade-offs.

Supply Chain Master Can Map, Mitigate Risk

Organizations that are re-calibrating their supply networks to address the weaknesses and opportunities emerging during COVID-19 can benefit significantly from the support of a supply chain expert.

Our unrivalled expertise gained across thousands of supply chains allows us to offer guidance when the way forward is unclear. We’re currently helping hundreds of clients assess their small package program to make sure they have the network in place to meet e-commerce delivery demand today and tomorrow. Deploying a best-in-class technology platform to gather, manage and analyze your parcel data, we provide evidence to support your go-forward strategies.

Leveraging this technology alongside deep parcel industry knowledge and multi-modal expertise, shippers can effectively identify any existing supply chain gaps impact performance and cost management.

To learn more about how we can map your strategies for e-commerce success in the face of supply chain disruption, talk to an expert today.