In reading news reports, it sounds like UPS & FedEX have their work cut out for them in recovery of image, which is interesting considering they probably only had a service failure on a teeny tiny amount of deliveries. Our retail company has relied heavily on UPS, USPS, and FEDEX for 12 years, and as a former UPS loader I have a different perspective. And this may be the only post you read that isn’t bashing UPS or FEDEX. After hearing a few stories, It sounds like in some ways, UPS did make mistakes, and many, many packages did not arrive in time for Christmas giving. And if you’re angry, believe me I understand, I used to be the one getting the calls from po’d customers.
A Freezing Cold Welcome
Winter storms should have to take some of the credit, because winter delays DID BACK THINGS UP and at the end of the day, there’s only so much they can do. Remember this map that was floating around Facebook telling Florida how much it was hated?
For December 20th, 2012 (UPS’ busiest day) it was reported that UPS handled 15.8 MILLION packages in one day. What happens within a global infrastructure when you have to just STOP for several days because of weather conditions? Even with only a portion of that volume it doesn’t take long before things are just beyond fixing. Realistically there is a limit to just how many planes, trains, and people you can add to the mix to fix things when you’re delivering 300 packages per second – which is SIX TIMES faster than a hummingbird flaps its wings.
And the delivery delays happened even though UPS apparently “doubled” their efforts, too
From NBC: UPS anticipated delivering 132 million bundles in the week before Christmas, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, and to meet that wave of holiday cheer, Abell organized 55,000 part time workers, 23 extra planes and what amounts to a second fleet of delivery trucks.
The Sheer Volume Is STAGGERING
Fed Ex reports delivering 275,000,000 packages between Thanksgiving and Christmas. If they are operating at 99% that means that 2,750,000 packages are late or lost. Honestly, they probably operate closer to 99.99% – that’s still 275,000 late or lost. And to really bring this into perspective, based on prior reports, UPS has been known to have 3 to 4 times the volume of FedEx. If that was true this holiday season they handled 962,500,000 packages… ALMOST 1 BILLION. And if the estimates are true, together FED EX and UPS handled 1.25 BILLION packages. While those are likely global figures, that is 3.9 packages for every man woman and child in the USA.
Imagine if you can real live Santas in Brown and Purple uniforms delivering to every address in America. And this doesn’t take into account the numbers of packages handled by the USPS (whose delays have somehow stayed out of mainstream media).
A Measure of Efficiency
Consider this: at that volume of 1,250,000,000 packages, a 99.999% satisfactory delivery percentage still results in 125,000 lost or late packages. If only a mere 3% of those are blasted via Social Media, that’s still 3,750 stories for the media to latch into. But really only a “few” when you look at the overall numbers. David Shaywitz writing for Forbes said
“A small percentage adds up to thousands of packages, and beyond that, seems profoundly substandard for an industry that competes on reliability”
Ouch. Profoundly Substandard?
I can’t get no satisfaction
Clearly spouting satisfactory delivery rates of 99.99% or 99.999% doesn’t satisfy the consumer (or media), who pins their hopes and dreams on material gifts. If they were expecting 1 gift to arrive it’s a 100% failure – for them. And if they got all their gifts but one, they still see it as a 100% failure. It’s not a “drop in the bucket” to them. They simply don’t care. Welcome to our “me-centric” world.
(On a side note, I once had a bridezilla like customer tell me I ruined her entire wedding because a party favor had been discontinued. WOW, if a missing party favor RUINED EVERYTHING, imagine what happens when she runs out of toilet paper or toothpaste on the honeymoon. I pitied the Groom-To-Be).
Greater Online Spending
People were really spending more online this year, too. HOORAY! The media has been floating percentages ranging from 9% to 15% increases in online shopping in 2013. And we heard it first hand from one of our vendors. They sent out an email on December 12th that basically said they’d have to stop taking orders, they were at capacity. Even though they had doubled their inventory, added new equipment, and were running 24×7 they would not be able to take any new orders. It would take them 8 days around the clock to finish the ones that had already come in. Great problem to have, right? Unless you’re the customer.
What is guaranteeD DELIVERY, anyway?
In truth, it is the perception of a promise. They guarantee delivery by a certain time … customers believe that this is their guarantee, but it’s not, really. Guaranteeing time is like stopping a watch to stop time, you can’t. The real UPS guarantee (see section 48) is in how they make it right, if our service failed we’ll refund you, if you ask:
“In the event UPS fails to attempt delivery within the time published on the UPS website, or as provided when 1-800-PICK-UPS® is called, UPS, at its option, will either credit or refund the transportation charges for each such shipment to the payer only, upon request, provided the set forth in the UPS Service Guarantee are met.”
“UPS may cancel or suspend the UPS Service Guarantee for any service(s), and for any period of time, as determined by UPS in its sole discretion, and without prior notice.”
“If the package is not delivered on the standard scheduled delivery day, you can request a credit of shipping charges.”
But if you used Amazon Prime or some other FREE SHIPPING service, there’s nothing to refund, you can’t turn back time and deliver on time, nor can they give you back fees you didn’t pay. So you’re stuck, and frustrated. In steps Amazon, to try and make that right, too.
“Amazon.com is refunding shipping charges and giving shoppers $20 gift cards if their holiday packages didn’t arrive by Christmas as promised.”
Our world is changing
While no one whose package is missing will believe it, only a small number of online shoppers are really affected. But it feels bigger, because we are changing, almost DEVOLVING. We want more, better, cheaper, and faster than EVER before. We have devalued everything, even the convenience of not having to go out and fight the crowds to get that perfect gift.
Will UPS and FedEx recover? Of course they will. Most businesses fail WAY more often than 99.999% of the time and they’re forgiven.
Imagine that just as you’re putting the turkey in the oven for Christmas Dinner 5 extra guests show up. Well you probably could handle that, but what if it was 50? How would you overcome it? You can run down to the Chinese Restaurant and order more food, right? But a service delivery company can’t just order 10 times the number of planes for our down to the wire, oh my God, I gotta have this for Christmas shopping.
So before you give up on online shopping and share in the #UPSFail or #FedExFail hashtag wars, think about the grand scheme of things, in the 90’s you couldn’t “track a package” you shipped it and prayed it would arrive. And usually it did. In about 2 weeks. Now we have this massive infrastructure that on most days allows packages at ground rates to deliver across the country in as little as 4 days.
Don’t misunderstand, I’m not letting UPS & FedEx completely off the hook, now they have to make it right for their customers, they have to keep their promise. What I am saying is that once it happened, once the floodgates were opened, there was simply nothing more they could do to fix it. And today as I wait for my doorbell to ring, to deliver the table I had planned to eat Christmas Dinner on, I’ll smile, and thank my UPS man profusely for getting it here in one piece.