Sunday, October 14, 2012

Shipping for the Average Citizen

For the average citizen, the United States Postal Service remains the cheapest and easiest way to ship goods and letters.   UPS and FedEx are horrifically expensive, unless you are a large Corporation.

A client recently asked me to ship a package by FedEx to Venezuela.  He was convinced it would be faster and easier.  It might be - for him.  But if you are a typical person trying to send things by FedEx, it is anything but easy.

You can go to one of those Kinko's stores and fill out a form, but if you do so, you will pay the highest rates imaginable.   FedEx doesn't have standard rates, like the Post Office.  How much you pay depends on who you are, how much you ship, and where you ship from.  If you walk off the street into a FedEx/Kinkos, you pay the highest rate.

On the other hand, if you are a bulk shipping on eBay, you can ship things for far less than even the cost of Priority Mail, in many instances, which makes it hard for the little guy to compete.

If you go online, you can set up an account, and pay a little less.   But navigating the FedEx website is a nightmare of popdown menus and youtube videos explaining how to use the website.  It is so layered and complex and has so many levels of menus and options, that it is nearly impossible to navigate to the same place, twice.

And many pages simply don't work.  You try to run a "report" and it bombs out to a blank page.   And the reports are designed for people shipping 1000 packages a month.

I was able to create a package label using the "economy" service, and the "estimate" was $84.  I called customer service and they suggested "Priority" which was ironically cheaper than "economy" at $67.  Both these rates were with an $11 "bonus discount" for setting up my account online.

The same package, sent by USPS International Priority mail is $16.95.

Even finding the amount you are paying is hard to do.  On USPS, this is clearly displayed when you select your shipping option.  On FedEx, it is a separate optional pull-down menu, which is nearly impossible to find in all the clutter.

And of course, this also means you have to get in your car, drive to a FedEx box or service location, and then drop off the package.

What's to like?  Paying four times as much to ship something and then wasting gas driving it to the shipping center?   The postman picks up from my house, every day, even on Saturday.

Yet, I see people all the time, going into Kinko's, shipping packages, convinced that it is somehow "better" to send by FedEx or UPS or whatever.   They are paying at least double, often more, to ship something, for no reason other than vague fears and perhaps status.

I have been using Priority Mail for a decade now, and it has cut my costs, as well as those of my clients, significantly.   The website is easy-to-use and easy to navigate.  You get free tracking online, when you create your labels using the website.  And when you use the website, you can leave even large boxes by your mailbox for pickup.   It is a pretty good deal.

FedEx and UPS really don't want your business if you are an individual shipper.  They want bulk shippers, and their pricing structures illustrate this - they offer huge discounts to the bulk shippers and charge exorbitant rates to individuals.

When a business does this, it is their way of saying, "We really don't want your business, you are an expensive PITA for us!"

And you should listen to a business when they say this.  Jacking prices is one way to steer away unwanted customers - and the poor fool who goes ahead anyway and uses a business that does this, is in for a world of woe...

I used to use FedEx more than a decade ago, before the Internet was popular and documents had to be "FedEx'ed" for signature.  Back then, it was a pain to use and track, as they send separate invoices for each waybill, instead of sending you a monthly invoice for all your packages.  I made the mistake of writing one check for my waybills, only to find later on that it was applied all to one waybill (!!!) creating a $300 "overpayment" that FedEx was in no hurry to return.  I closed my FedEx account shortly thereafter and discovered the genius and simplicity of the USPS Priority Mail package (which most of my customers thought was "overnighted" and often got there in a day or two anyway).

Of course, today, we send things by .pdf over the Internet.  But when it comes to shipping things like junk you sell on eBay, or presents to Aunt Hattie, we still need a package service.

And for the average Joe, USPS Priority Mail remains the best bargain out there.