FedEx 2019 rate hikes mete out pain to shippers of large parcels

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The 2019 rate increases announced earlier this week by shipping and logistics giant FedEx Corp. (NYSE:FDX) contains a stark message for shippers: Easily conveyed packages will see relatively modest increases. Heavier, outsized and less conveyor-friendly shipments, by contrast, will not.

The headline numbers show a 4.9 percent increase for shipments moving via FedEx Express and FedEx Ground, and a 5.9 percent increase for less-than-truckload shipments tendered to FedEx Freight. But long-time FedEx shippers, as well as regular customers of rival UPS Inc.(NYSE:UPS) know all too well there is scant correlation between the announced rate hikes and what their actual increases will be.

Next year will be no different, at least at FedEx. (UPS has yet to disclose its 2019 rates). Rates will rise 5 to 5.4 percent for one to 50-pound shipments moving via the two next-day delivery products: Priority Overnight and Standard Overnight. That is slightly higher than its published rate increases.

The pain comes when shipments enter the 50 to 100-pound range. There, the rates for the same products jumps by 9 to 10 percent, according to an analysis from enVista, a consultancy.

The pattern holds true for 2 to 3-day delivery services. For shipments less than 50 pounds, the increase will be between 5 and 6 percent. For the heavier weight breaks, the increases are in the 9 to 10 percent range, enVista says.

FedEx’s rates for 1-pound shipments moving less than 150 miles from the origin point which is considered the benchmark for the carrier’s minimum charges, will rise between 3.6 percent for ground and home delivery services to 5.4 percent for its priority overnight letter product, according to data from Shipware, LLC, another consultancy. Rates for FedEx “Smartpost,” a product it offers in conjunction with the last-mile delivery capabilities of the U.S. Postal Service will rise 4.3 percent for shipments in the 1-9 pound weight range, SmartPost’s bread-and-butter.

The skewing towards the heavier shipments are “part of the war on large packages” that are occupying more capacity in the two carriers’ networks, according to Joe Wilkinson, a senior director at enVista. Larger packages are harder to handle and not easily conveyable. Satish Jindel, head of SJ Consulting, a consultancy, notes that bigger shipments occupy a disportioncate amount of precious space in the carriers’ physical networks that are already near maxing out.

As a result, carriers impose significant rate increases in an effort to reduce their volume. Stiff accessorial charges on those shipments have become commonplace, as has “dimensional pricing” as many large shipments qualify for it. Dimensional pricing, which calculates rates based on a shipment’s dimensions rather than actual weight, is typically more costly for shippers.

However, these shipments account for a growing share of the e-commerce delivery mix as merchants and retailers throw open more of the SKUs to online ordering. Thus, it is unlikely FedEx and UPS will be able to tamp down demand for the heavier shipments.

UPS and FedEx, which have a near-duopoly on U.S. business-to-business parcel traffic and strong positions in the faster-growing business-to-consumer space, have historically moved in near-lockstep on rates, accessorial charges for services not directly related to the line haul, and in macro measures such as banning parcel consultants, who work on behalf of shippers, from the contract negotiating table. However, the two have taken divergent steps in the past two years, and UPS, bracing for higher expenses from the new collective bargaining agreement with the Teamsters union, may even take rates higher than FedEx, said Baris Tasdelen, a senior transport analyst at EnVista.

Last week’s announcement applies only to shipments not tendered under contract to FedEx. Customers under contracst with either FedEx or UPS generally receive lower per-unit rates by leveraging larger volumes. According to a Shipware survey of about 130 shippers that collectively tender $2.5 billion in parcel volume, nearly half have their rates capped at between 3 to 3.5 percent.

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Mark Solomon

Formerly the Executive Editor at DC Velocity, Mark Solomon joined FreightWaves as Managing Editor of Freight Markets. Solomon began his journalistic career in 1982 at Traffic World magazine, ran his own public relations firm (Media Based Solutions) from 1994 to 2008, and has been at DC Velocity since then. Over the course of his career, Solomon has covered nearly the whole gamut of the transportation and logistics industry, including trucking, railroads, maritime, 3PLs, and regulatory issues. Solomon witnessed and narrated the rise of Amazon and XPO Logistics and the shift of the U.S. Postal Service from a mail-focused service to parcel, as well as the exponential, e-commerce-driven growth of warehouse square footage and omnichannel fulfillment.