The U.S. Postal Service is expecting much higher package volume this holiday season – roughly 12-14% percent more than last year. That includes packages that are delivered on Christmas Day – in fact, last year, the USPS delivered over 75,000 packages on December 25th.
We checked in with Cliff Rucker, United States Postal Service Vice President of Sales, to learn more about this year’s holiday shopping season. We also asked him about the Postal Service’s response to changes that rival carriers are implementing next year called dim weight (dimensional weight), including a new advertising campaign.
Cliff Rucker oversees the direction and management of the Sales organization, including market competitiveness, business development, and sales for all commercial mailers, including small, mid – sized and large businesses. He is also primarily responsible for meeting the Postal Service’s customer acquisition and revenue goals.
EcommerceBytes: The USPS is running an interesting ad where it asks, “How much does a 1-pound box weigh?” What is that campaign all about?
Cliff Rucker: UPS and FedEx will soon change their pricing mechanism for ground shipments, so the Postal Service is taking out advertisements to remind businesses about its affordable alternatives.
In late December 2014 and early January 2015, UPS and FedEx plan to expand their use of dimensional weight pricing. Dimensional weight means that shipping companies will charge customers by a package’s actual weight or its dimensional weight – the amount of space it takes up – whichever is greater.
USPS is responding by running ads in business magazines and other publications that promote the Postal Service’s “broad range of efficient and economical options.” One ad begins by asking, “How much does a 1-pound box weigh?” The answer: “11 pounds, if you use the wrong shipping company.”
The ad campaign fits with the Postal Service’s aggressive push to grow its package business, including adjusting some shipping prices to attract more business customers and investing in new package sorting equipment and other upgrades.
EcommerceBytes: Regarding those investments in new package sorting equipment and other upgrades, can you give me more details on these initiatives?
Cliff Rucker: As ecommerce continues to grow, so does the demand for package delivery. To meet this growing demand, the Postal Service will be investing in new package sorting equipment and continue to innovate ways we can improve the flow of package delivery to offer the best customer experience.
EcommerceBytes: Can you explain DIM weight pricing and what online merchants need to know?
Cliff Rucker: This means that the shipping companies will charge customers by a package’s actual weight or its dimensional weight – the amount of space it takes up – whichever is greater.
In some cases, shipping costs could rise 30 percent, Forbes reported. In an example published by the Wall Street Journal, a 1-pound square package with 12-inch sides is currently priced by weight and costs $6.24 to ship the shortest distance. In 2015, using DIM weight pricing, this package will cost $8.83 for the same distance – a 41 percent increase.
EcommerceBytes: If UPS and FedEx feel it necessary to move to DIM weight pricing, what’s different about the USPS that it doesn’t have to?
Cliff Rucker: At the Postal Service, we do our best to cater an individualized solution to our customers’ needs – instead of making them change to meet ours – by offering several outbound and return pricing options that can provide great savings.
EcommerceBytes: Do you have tips for online sellers – including low-volume shippers – on how to keep costs down?
Cliff Rucker: To avoid paying higher costs, consumers should choose a shipping provider that offers a spectrum of reliable shipping options so they can get the best price. For example, the Postal Service offers:
Ounce-Based Pricing: First-Class Package Service, using Commercial Base or Commercial Plus pricing, is an option for consumers who ship a high volume of lightweight packages. Whether you’re an online retailer looking for a cost-effective way to fulfill orders, or a business that routinely ships packages that weigh up to a pound, First-Class Package Service may be just the solution your business is looking for.
Zone Pricing: With free shipping supplies that can be ordered online, Priority Mail Regional Rate is a low-cost shipping alternative for commercial and online customers. Best for small, dense packages being shipped short distances that need to arrive in one, two or three business days, Priority Mail Regional Rate boxes combine the speed and convenience of Priority Mail shipping with zone pricing to reduce costs.
EcommerceBytes: Does First-Class Package Service offer tracking?
Cliff Rucker: Tracking is available when you ship online to select destinations.
EcommerceBytes: Sellers feel increasing pressure to provide their customers with tracking information, from the moment their packages enter the mail stream to the moment the package arrives on the buyer’s doorstep. Is tracking a priority for the USPS, and if sellers experience problems, what can they do about it?
Cliff Rucker: We’re always working to improve our tracking. Here are some of the ways we’re making package tracking better.
- View End-to-End tracking with up to 11 scan events on shipments – from pick up to final delivery – with more frequent updates.
- Receive Text alerts to get status updates sent right to your phone. Choose between receiving alerts for all activity or just for delivery status. You can also text your tracking number to 28777 (2USPS) to get the latest status when you’re on the go.
- Provide Delivery Instructions for your carrier if you will not be home to accept a package.
EcommerceBytes: From the shipper’s point of view, if sellers experience problems with tracking (scans not showing), what should they do?
Cliff Rucker: If you require technical support, contact the USPS Internet Customer Care Center (ICCC). This center is available Monday thru Friday: 8:00 am to 8:30 pm ET, Saturdays 8:00 am to 6:00 pm ET and is closed Sundays and all major holidays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Telephone: 1-800-344-7779.
EcommerceBytes: What should online merchants know about the holiday shopping season, and has the USPS taken any measures to deal with the surge of last-minute shipping we saw last December?
Cliff Rucker: The holiday season is the truest test of our reliability, our planning ability, our network, our systems, our offerings and our commitment. Last holiday season the Postal Service outperformed our primary competitors, who, as reported by the news media, were delivering a backlog of holiday packages many days and even weeks after the holidays had passed. The Postal Service gained a lot of positive attention for our performance last year, especially from our large corporate customers.
This year, we plan to exceed the high standard we set last year. Our ability to deliver on the core promise of timely, affordable and now trackable delivery will help attract customers to the Postal Service throughout 2015. We are expecting much higher package volumes this holiday season, likely in the range of 450 to 475 million packages, which equates to roughly 12-14% percent growth over last year.
Priority Express Delivers the Season for Last Minute Shoppers: The Postal Service gives last minute shoppers last minute shipping options. Starting at $16.95 for retail, and less for Commercial Based pricing, Priority Mail Express is guaranteed overnight to many places across the nation. In some cities, Priority Mail Express is delivered on Christmas Day. Priority Mail Express provides two promotional opportunities: delivery options the last few days before Christmas as well as coverage of carriers distributing holiday packages on Christmas Day. In 2013, more than 75,000 packages were delivered on Christmas Day.
Millions of customers will skip the trip to the Post Office this holiday season and take advantage of the Postal Service’s convenient online shipping at usps.com. With Click-N-Ship, online merchants can print shipping labels, order free mailing boxes, purchase postage and even request free package pickup.
Note: Also see the Online Seller’s Guide to Holiday Shipping 2014 on this page.