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Shopping procrastinators may pay more for shipping
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PINELLAS COUNTY - The winter holiday season will be busy as usual for the big three operations competing for America's mailing business - the U.S. Postal Service, United Parcel Service and FedEx.

The U.S. Postal Service estimates that 20 billion pieces of mail will be delivered between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, according to its Web site, www.usps.com/holiday. Projections say that the busiest mailing day will be Monday, Dec. 20 with the busiest delivery day on Wednesday, Dec. 22.

UPS is expecting to deliver more than 340 million packages during the 2004 holiday season. Projections on its Web site, pressroom.ups.com/peak_season, call for the biggest shipping day to fall on Tuesday, Dec. 21 with the peak delivery day on Wednesday, Dec. 22.

FedEx also reports that its shipping numbers go up during the holidays. According to www.fedex.com/us/holiday, FedEx processed more than 7.5 million packages on Dec. 15, 2003. Anthony Hicks with media relations for FedEx said this year's projections call for FedEx to process 7.7 million holiday packages on Dec. 13.

Jessica Moore with media relations for The UPS Store and Mail Boxes Etc. advises people to mail as early as possible to save money. She said although it is possible to wait until Thursday, Dec. 23, and still get a package delivered by Christmas, cost will be higher.

She also advises people to ship on a day other than Monday.

"People tend to shop over the weekend and then ship packages on Monday," she said. "If you could wait until Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, shipping stores might be less busy."

Hicks agreed that people should ship early to save money. He also said they should take care in packing, making sure that address labels are legible, that the box has adequate taping and plenty of cushioning inside for protection.

"It's important that packages get to the destination on time," he said. "It's equally important that they arrive in good condition."

Basic shipping schedules and deadlines
• U.S. Postal Service
According to www.usps.com, to ensure packages arrive before Christmas, Wednesday, Dec. 15, is the last day parcel post packages can be mailed to U.S. destinations. It is advised that people switch from Parcel Post to Priority Mail by Tuesday, December 14. People should start using Express Mail on Thursday, December 23.

According to www.ups.com, people planning to ship UPS Ground, need to ship by Wednesday, Dec. 15 (check www.ups.com to verify time-in-transit for shipping destinations). People can use 3 Day Select services until Monday, Dec. 20, 2nd Day Air until Tuesday, Dec. 22, and Next Day Air until Thursday, Dec. 23

• FedEx
According to www.fedex.com, people have a big choice of shipping methods if they ship by Wednesday, Dec. 15. Shipping deadlines per the variety of services are on Friday, Dec. 17, Monday, Dec. 20, Tuesday, Dec. 21 and Wednesday, Dec. 22. The last day to ship a package using FedEx Priority Overnight or FedEx Standard Overnight to arrive before Christmas is Thursday, Dec. 23.

General costs
Using calculators found on each company's Web site, figuring the cost of a 5 pound package with dimensions of 10 inches high by 10 inches wide by 10 inches wide from Largo, Fla. to Los Angeles, Calif., the following cost comparisons were found.

Express Mail - overnight delivery in most places - $27.30
Priority Mail - two days - $12.15
Parcel Post - seven days - $9.43
Cost calculated on www.usps.com

Sonic Air, Next Day Air Early A.M. - same day or next day delivery by 8 a.m. - $88.03
Next Day Air - next day delivery by 10:30 a.m. - $55.82
Next Day Air Saver - next day delivery by end of day - $54.13
2nd Day Air - $28.59
3 Day Select - $22.37
Ground - 7 days - $11.05
Cost calculated on www.ups.com

• FedEx
First Overnight - next day delivery by 8 or 8:30 a.m. to major cities - $81.13
Priority Overnight - next day delivery by 10 a.m. to most cities - $52.88
Standard Overnight - next day delivery by 3 p.m. to most cities - $46.10
2 Day - delivery in two business days by 4:30 p.m. to most cities - $25.46
Express Saver - delivery in three business days by 4:30 p.m. to most cities - $22.43
Home Delivery - delivery in four business days - $7.60
Cost calculated on www.fedex.com

According to these figures, mailing early using the U.S. Postal Service could save people about 35 percent ($17.87), comparing cost of shipping parcel post (seven days) to using overnight services. Mailing early using UPS could save about 20 percent ($43.08), comparing the cost of shipping ground (seven days) to the most economical overnight service. Using FedEx, people can expect to save about 16 percent ($38.50), comparing cost of home delivery (four days) versus standard overnight.

Shopping for services
When asked why the cost to ship overnight using UPS versus the U.S. Postal Service was more expensive, Josh Guy with Mailboxes, Etc. in Largo, said the costs related to the level of service.

"There's no tracking, no guaranteed delivery date and no insurance figured into the USPS cost," he said.

Moore agreed that the difference in price was because of the difference in services.

"People need to be aware of all the different services and compare services as well as price," she said.

Guy also said people should not consider the figures from Web site calculators to be accurate as often the actual cost is different.

Speaking for FedEx, Hicks said guaranteed delivery was the biggest factor explaining the difference in cost for his company and the U.S. Postal Service.

"It's the reliability," he said. "FedEx offers a guaranteed delivery time."

Paul Harrington, public relation's specialist for the U.S. Postal Service, had a different explanation for the variation in prices, although he did agree that service levels affect prices.

"It's a secret how cheap we are," he said. "Our rates have always been cheaper than the other guys."

Harrington said that because the U.S. Postal Service is a government entity it doesn't have the same flexibility to change prices to stay current with costs or current marketing trends. He said the U.S. Postal Service is required by Congress to use a rate system based strictly on cost and to do no more than break even financially each year.

"The Postal Rate Commission has to approve our rates and oversees them to make sure the rates stay proportional to our costs and overhead. It's can be a real challenge to maintain rates until the next assessment."

He said postal rates are assessed every three years, meaning it will cost the same next year as this year to ship holiday packages using the U.S. Postal Service.

Harrington said it was true that the U.S. Postal Service does not guarantee delivery by a certain time; however, he said, delivery of Express Mail does include a money-back guarantee for delivery date.

Also, he said, the U.S. Postal Service prices do not include insurance.

But, he said, the U.S. Postal offers services seven-days-a-week delivery, 365-days a year - including Christmas Day - at no extra cost.

"We'll be out there helping the guy in the red suit again this year," Harrington said.

Harrington said UPS and FedEx "do a great job, and I speak proudly of the service of the U.S. Postal Service."

He said the U.S. Postal Service works with both companies to provide the most cost effective and efficient way of delivering letters and packages.

"We actually have a joint venture with FedEx," Harrington said. "They lease space from us and, in return for the space, they transport mail from us - Express, Priority and First Class Mail."

Harrington said it was a good arrangement for FedEx because it makes sure their planes always fly with a full load.

The U.S. Postal service also has an arrangement with UPS, he said.

"We rely on third parties for some of our services," he said. "It's cost effective."

Cost effective ways of shipping also could be what some holiday shoppers will be looking for if they plan to ship packages after Dec. 15. People who want to look for shipping bargains can find holiday shipping information on the U.S. Postal Service, UPS and FedEx Web sites, including shipping calculators, complete information about shipping deadlines, tips for packing and wrapping packages and more.

U.S. Postal Service - www.usps.com/holiday
Fedex - www.fedex.com/us/holiday
UPS - www.ups.com/peakseason/
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