Shipping fees for online orders are high but free shipping usually is offered for certain order sizes and through membership programs.
Shipping providers may make millions of successful deliveries each day, but shipping reviews posted online are anything but forgiving. In our search for the best shipping company, we found low ratings for FedEx, UPS, and the Postal Service on sites such as Epinions and ResellerRatings.
Occasionally a consumer reports a pleasant experience with UPS, FedEx, or the Postal Service, but it's more common to find a detailed account of a back-and-forth argument with customer service.
A June 2013 report by the American Customer Satisfaction Index presents a more rounded view of the three shipping providers. The report shows that overall customer satisfaction with the consumer shipping industry rose 2.4 percent from 2012, to 84 out of 100. FedEx and UPS both scored higher than they did in the 2012 report, earning scores of 85 and 84 respectively. The U.S. Postal Service came in at 77, down from an all-time high of 81 and ending a four-year streak of improvement in customer satisfaction. FedEx has received the highest average score over the past 15 years.
Reliable Delivery.Shipping reviews speak to two aspects of reliability: timeliness and careful handling of the package. As noted above, most shipping reviews that address timeliness seem to be posted by customers angry about late deliveries. However, these appear to represent a relatively small percentage of all shipments. The U.S. Postal Service uses an internal tracking system to measure the performance of what the agency calls Package Services, a category that includes Media Mail and Standard Post but not more urgent Priority Mail (often the best value) or Priority Mail Express. In 2012, the Postal Service delivered 87.2 percent of these parcels on time (93.7 percent within one day, 96.4 percent within two days, and 97.8 percent within three days). That's a considerable improvement over 2011 (76.7 percent) and has gotten even better recently, reaching 91 percent in the third quarter of 2013 (96.4 percent within one day, 98.2 percent within two days, 98.9 percent within three days).
The Postal Service contracts with FedEx to transport Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express shipments, so prompt delivery by one of those methods likely relies on a FedEx plane. Likewise, the private companies depend on the Postal Service for so-called "last-mile" delivery to remote areas.
An infographic created in early 2011 by PackageFox, an online service that tracks shipments and claims refunds on consumers' behalf when a package is late, reveals that the on-time-delivery rate for express packages at that time was 88 percent at FedEx and 91 percent at UPS. PackageFox's report also includes service reliability as ranked by large customers and shows that FedEx Air was perceived as the most reliable service, with a score of nearly 9 out of 10, followed closely by UPS Ground and UPS Air. The Postal Service received the lowest ranking -- less than 7 out of 10. More recent data were unavailable.
When considering the condition of packages on arrival, we turned to a shipping review by Popular Mechanics. After a terrible experience sending a custom gaming PC to a sweepstakes winner, the magazine teamed with engineers from National Instruments in 2010 to find out how packages are treated during transit. They sent a sensor capable of measuring g-forces, temperature, and positioning on 12 trips around the country, and found some interesting results. The Postal Service, for example, handled the package with care, keeping large g-force spikes to a minimum, although the sensor did record the most extreme temperature changes and the most flips while in care of the Postal Service. Again, though, the Postal Service and the private companies regularly handle certain legs of each others' deliveries. The most surprising finding was that marking the package "fragile" or requesting careful treatment correlated with the most volatile treatment by the carriers. In all 12 instances, the package arrived on time or earlier than expected.
Shipping Customer Service.Reports of positive customer service experiences are rare in online shipping reviews, although many people surely have helpful and pleasant interactions with company representatives every day. Both FedEx and UPS enjoy A+ ratings from the Better Business Bureau. The Postal Service works with an independent research firm to measure customer satisfaction. The most recent survey found that about 88 percent of consumers were mostly satisfied or very satisfied with their overall experiences. The Postal Service recorded much lower numbers when customers were asked specifically about their most recent contact with the agency. Less than two-thirds of residential customers reported being very or mostly satisfied.
We took a second cut at this variable by considering how employees rate their companies on the assumption that morale affects service. Findings recorded by Glassdoor are gloomy. Although the rankings and ratings change daily, none of the three come close to earning 4 out of 5 in a general assessment of the company as employer, and the Postal Service consistently lags behind FedEx and UPS. Approval ratings for the CEOs show strongest support for the top boss at FedEx, followed by UPS and then the Postal Service.
Convenience is another factor that affects the customer experience. The Postal Service is the clear winner here, with 31,250 retail offices in 2012 (although business hours are dwindling due to fiscal problems) and 2,500 self-service kiosks. UPS is parked in second place, with 4,741 independently owned UPS Stores, 1,000 UPS Customer Centers, and 13,000 authorized outlets. The shipping company also maintains more than 40,000 drop boxes available after-hours and boasts that 90 percent of U.S. residents live within five miles of one. FedEx brings up the rear with 690 FedEx World Service Centers and 1,750 FedEx Office locations that offer packaging supplies and services such as photocopying, printing, and internet access. FedEx also has 6,400 FedEx Authorized ShipCenters and Alliance Partners, which are independently owned and operated. Like UPS, FedEx manages a network of drop boxes -- 36,500 at present. The drop boxes and longer hours at many UPS and FedEx locations may neutralize the Postal Service's advantage in retail presence. All three carriers offer free pickup service, although some restrictions apply.
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