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NewsParcelTop Stories

Viewpoint: Parcel deliveries on Sundays — not for free

Noted consultant says Sunday parcel deliveries work only in a limited fashion

By Satish Jindel 

Since consumers live in their homes seven days a week, few would argue that the weekends are the two best days for delivering parcels to residences.

That was true when parcel-delivery carriers obtained signatures for residential deliveries. However, in today’s world with parcels delivered without even a knock on the door, the value of weekend deliveries has been diminished.

Carriers have been vocal about the high cost of last-mile deliveries to a residence compared to a business because of the poorer stop-density economics associated with residential deliveries. However, delivering online orders on Sundays only adds to the last-mile costs, in part because there is no weekend pickup volume at businesses to offset it.

Which brings us to FedEx Ground (NYSE: FDX), which starting next month will eliminate Sunday residential deliveries across 15% of its U.S. network due to the cost burdens on the FedEx Corp. unit and its 6,000 delivery contractors. Most of the cuts will be in rural and sparsely populated suburban areas where shipping activity is not robust.

This midcourse correction is a necessary one. While Saturday pickup and delivery routes also handle fewer parcels than weekdays due to lack of deliveries to businesses, Sundays are worse. With even fewer parcels, the Sunday service hurts productivity on Mondays and requires drivers to work on a day that commands premium pay at most other jobs. As a result, operating delivery routes on Sundays are very expensive for FedEx Ground and its delivery partners. 

Despite those inherent obstacles, FedEx Ground in early 2020 expanded its nationwide residential delivery service to Sundays. At that time, it should have limited the expansion to just those cities with the delivery density to support the higher cost of such a service or in situations in which the service was needed to manage capacity for on-time Monday deliveries.

In fact, we now propose that FedEx Ground eliminate Sunday deliveries to not just a few rural areas or to 18,000 less-populated ZIP codes where deliveries are provided with a geographic surcharge, but to all 31,200 ZIP codes during nonpeak season periods.

It’s a matter of simple math. ShipMatrix data on millions of FedEx Ground parcels shows that deliveries to the 18,000 less-populated ZIP codes represent less than 9% of volume delivered to all ZIP codes. In addition, these 18,000 ZIP codes have a population density of less than 100 people per square mile, compared to 6,000 people for urban ZIP codes. Sunday deliveries to the 18,000 ZIP codes — excluding the peak periods of November and December — represent less than 5% of weekly parcel volume handled by FedEx Ground. 

The FedEx Ground Sunday service, as currently constructed, also pushes against marketplace preferences. With most online orders now delivered with free shipping, retailers just want to ship at the lowest price. FedEx Express, FedEx’s air and international service, has long imposed a surcharge for Saturday deliveries. That surcharge is currently $16 per package. However, FedEx Ground delivers on Saturdays and Sundays without a premium price and at a much higher cost to itself and its contractors. If it needs to continue doing so, FedEx Ground should tender parcels to the U.S. Postal Service for last-mile deliveries, just like its chief rival, UPS Inc., (NYSE: UPS) does with low-priced parcels shipped under its SurePost service.

It’s apparent that FedEx Ground has bit off more than it could chew. In 2000, two years after it entered the U.S. ground-delivery business by acquiring the parent of Roadway Package System (RPS), FedEx introduced a Home Delivery service with its separate network of facilities and contractors. It soon merged the Home Delivery service with FedEx Ground to build route density with a combination of B2B and B2C parcels in the same van. 

Two years after that, the 31,200 ZIP codes eligible were segmented with about 7,200 for suburban areas designated for delivery area surcharge and another 18,000 for rural areas with a higher extended delivery area surcharge (EDAS). In retrospect, the ill-fated 2020 expansion would have been very doable due to the ZIP code segmentation and surcharge implementation as long as FedEx Ground excluded rural and suburban areas from Saturday and Sunday services. Even on weekdays, the 18,000 EDAS ZIP codes represent a fraction of FedEx Ground’s traffic, which suggests the volume would be much lower if it were limited to B2C deliveries. 

FedEx Ground and its driver contractors face an age-old problem, namely that the United States is a vast geography where many states have more animals than people. When I helped expand RPS nationwide in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I became intimately aware of the cost of delivery to rural areas and its huge economic impact on RPS. 

Even with a focus on higher-density B2B traffic, RPS could not justify expanding service even on weekdays to rural areas of western states like Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, to name a few. The lack of density resulted in last mile per parcel costs that were several times higher than the total revenue for the parcel itself. Fortunately for RPS, the Postal Service had the same low price for deliveries to rural areas as for high-density urban areas. 

The bottom line is that a broad-based Sunday delivery service, at this point in time, is a nonstarter. UPS doesn’t offer it. The Postal Service delivers on Sundays almost exclusively for Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), and even the economics of that service are questionable. Not to mention that delivering on Sundays is even worse from an ESG perspective.

Satish Jindel is the founder and president of consultancy ShipMatrix.

The FREIGHTWAVES TOP 500 For-Hire Carriers list includes FedEx (No. 1) and UPS (No. 2).

3 Comments

  1. Your right , I put my business for sale a year after fed ex ground started Sunday delivery. I lost between 500 n 800 dollars every Sunday , due to not enough volume to pay my drivers n make profit . Of fed ex didn’t care , so glad Iwas able to sell n move on to a normal job with ups have a life again.

  2. The frustrating part here is that a large majority of the operators, ISPs, and industrial engineers tasked with support of last mile/delivery functions voiced concerns about the need and viability of year round Sunday delivery when it was announced. I worked with FedEx Ground for over 20 years and was a part of the entire evolution from the start of Home Delivery to this last, failed attempt. There is a time and place for Sunday delivery just like there is for most all expansion of services. That being said, forcing a one size fits all zips and ISPs solution into play during a time of global economic turmoil without consideration of the people doing the work is another sign of the growing disconnect between executive leadership and the industry.

  3. As a former contractor (1997-2011) of the current Fed Ex Ground organization, I was there during the days of RPS (Roadway Package Service), then the slow transition to Fed Ex Ground. Management back then never viewed rural density from the contractors viewpoint. It was always about making service numbers look good. The cost of one delivery to a zip code out in the farthest corner of your route was always a loss for you, it killed your time and burned fuel for a measly $1.25. Yep, that’s what you got paid for riding 30 minutes or so, one way to a destitute address off the grid. If you tried to connect with the individual at their place of employment to save time and fuel, it was the way to go if the customer didn’t mind. If you could let those packages sit for a few days to build up stop density that was better also. Ontime delivery service was expected, but management typically frowned on service exceptions for not making the delivery. You did get a rural zip code subsidy to contend with low stop density, however time was and still is more valuable than the pocket change of zip code subsidizing. Only now do they see it from the viewpoint of the one paying the high inflation/high fuel prices. I’m surprised they haven’t wised up and added premium prices for Sunday residential deliveries. It makes the most sense to give that premium to the contractor. We can thank Amazon for the free Sunday delivery market.

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Note: FreightWaves occasionally publishes commentary from industry sources with expertise, information and opinion on current transportation topics. The opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of FreightWaves. Submissions to FreightWaves are subject to editing.