A Shipper’s Perspective on FedEx SmartPost & UPS SurePost

Updated Sep 2, 2013: We will continue to update this report from time to time. FedEx SmartPost time in transit data for July is now appended below.

A lot has been said about the benefits and pains associated with FedEx SmartPost and UPS SurePost. If you are not already aware, these services are a hybrid between FedEx or UPS and the US Postal Service. More accurately stated, FedEx or UPS picks up the shipper’s package and eventually hands it off to a USPS sorting facility for final delivery to the customer.

Here are links to the respective carrier’s web pages with more info:

There are a few upsides with these services:

  • Cost effectiveness:  These services are generally cheaper than normal UPS and FedEx Ground services.
  • Saturday delivery: Since USPS handles the final delivery, packages are delivered on Saturdays at no extra cost.
  • Ship to all addresses:  USPS will deliver to PO boxes.  FedEx and UPS normally would not.
  • Tracking is available: You and your customer can track the package as you normally would a typical UPS / FedEx shipment.
  • No residential surcharge:  At last check (April 2013), normal UPS Ground shipments delivered to a residence are subject to a $2.80 surcharge.  FedEx Ground’s residential surcharge is $3.20.  However, fuel surcharges (8.5% for UPS and 7.5% for FedEx) still apply with SmartPost and SurePost.

With those benefits in mind, here are some of the complaints that pop up at the top of a quick Google search…

So, what’s the real story? How common are these customer complaints?

As an order management and fulfillment center, our clients here at Rush Order have the option of shipping via any carrier (FedEx, UPS, USPS, etc.) and shipment method they want. In our warehouse, it’s just a different label on a box and a different truck to load. However, in our contact center, we hear the resulting good and bad comments from customers receiving their shipments via all these different services.

In particular, we have a couple clients using FedEx SmartPost in quantities that are now exceeding tens of thousands of shipments per month. In addition to what we are hearing from customers about FedEx SmartPost, we can also track a large number of the packages we are shipping and take an objective look at how long these shipments are actually taking to move across the country.

In the contact center, we do receive calls and emails from time to time regarding SurePost and SmartPost shipments. We are not hearing anything abnormal when it comes to lost or damaged packages. A relatively small amount of loss and damage happens with any carrier and any service level. Our current belief is that these options are no better or worse in terms of loss or damage, but we will continue to monitor customer complaints.

To avoid customer complaints like those listed above, we believe it is important to properly set customer expectations up front when using SmartPost or SurePost. Here are a few ideas we have successfully implemented:

  • When listing shipment methods in your eCommerce checkout pages (or wherever the order is placed), don’t hide the fact that you are using SmartPost or SurePost. Consider including some sort of messaging that makes the customer aware that USPS, not FedEx or UPS, will ultimately deliver their package.
  • Communicate the expected time-in-transit using the chart below.
  • Offer alternatives. If SmartPost / SurePost is your cheapest (or free) shipping option, offer your customers higher priced alternatives and update your shipping & handling charges accordingly.

How long does SmartPost really take to deliver?

Of the two services, we are currently using FedEx SmartPost in larger quantities in both our California and New York fulfillment centers. For the sake of simplicity, the following examples are taken from SmartPost shipments leaving our facility in Gilroy, CA (located a few miles south of San Jose and Silicon Valley).

Notice the difference in time-in-transit to the exact same city. Also, notice the difference between two cities near one another, such as DC and Arlington.

Number of Business Days in Transit (excludes Sundays & Holidays)
Shipped on: New York, NY Washington, DC Arlington, VA Roswell, GA Houston, TX Los Angeles, CA
Jan 18, 2013 11 12 8 10 8 5
Feb 8, 2013 7 11 7 7 9 5
Mar 5, 2013 7 7 7 7 7 3
Jul 5, 2013  6 6 8 6 4 4

The verdict
The cost savings of SmartPost and SurePost are real and potentially valuable to many companies, perhaps even your company. The potential downside is that time in transit is a little long and highly variable.

The data above is a snapshot taken in the wake of the 2012 holiday season. It’s interesting to note that time in transit was slowest almost entirely across the board in January, then steadily improved in February and March. This is very likely due to the fact that carriers were still busy with post-holiday business in January.

Like any aspect of customer relationship management, over-communicating and setting reasonable expectations are key components to delighting customers and keeping them from trashing your brand in highly visible social media outlets… Unfortunately, this responsibility falls on your (the seller’s) shoulders even when a poor experience is the result of slow service from FedEx, UPS, or USPS.

Overall, we believe SmartPost and SurePost are good cost-efficient alternatives to traditional shipment methods. This is particularly true in certain situations where date certain delivery is not important. Just make sure your customers are clued in to what’s happening with their package in transit. This should help address the confusion and frustration customers are experiencing out there, while still allowing you to enjoy the cost savings these services promise.

9/2/2013 Update: In looking at the above data for July, it’s also interesting to note that the time-in-transit still seems to be decreasing, with the exception of a shipment to Houston in July. Given that the carriers see their lowest shipment volumes during the summer months, it stands to reason that it would be easier to fit packages on the trucks and get them out to customers quicker during the summer.

Since SmartPost does not provide date-certain delivery, it also stands to reason that shipments would be slowest around the winter holiday season when trucks are their fullest. Leaving a SmartPost parcel behind for an extra couple days is likely not going to draw as much customer complaint as a date-certain shipment method.