E-tailers Review Shipping After Anthrax Scare

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In light of the anthrax scare, Yahoo is advising its merchants on shipping and packaging and some e-tailers are considering drastic changes, such as switching shipping providers.

"We're planning to drop the post office entirely and go with UPS," Brett Dewey, CEO, WickedCoolStuff.com, North Hollywood, CA, wrote on the merchants' Yahoo message board. "With UPS tracking, customers should feel secure that the sender is known. Letters can be anonymous. With UPS, there is better accountability, and it's less likely someone can get away with a poisoned package."

Dewey added that the decision is also linked to an "incredible slowdown, three weeks in some cases" in Priority Mail.

"If the postal workers start to get nervous about what's in the letters they're handling, just watch the postal system grind to a halt," Dewey wrote.

"I think Priority Mail is a great service, but we are going to probably lean on UPS a little more and try to promote shipping with them instead of postal. With all the problems with the powder going around, things are going to slow down even more," a representative of Funtocollect.com, Murietta, CA, wrote on the message board. Already, many customers have reported "missing packages" sent via USPS, the representative added.

Yahoo merchant Lingerie Avenue has halted international shipping service because of "a rash of lost and delayed packages."

In its monthly e-newsletter to Yahoo's 15,000 stores, sent Oct. 17, the company included an advisory with this heading: "Package and ship your items with extra care in 2001."

"In light of recent threats to U.S. mail safety and security, and real concerns about shipments of hazardous materials, we urge you to take extra care in packaging your shipments. Printed shipping labels are strongly recommended. Be certain to provide a large, legible return address," according to the Yahoo e-mail.

"If you are unable to provide printed labels, be sure to display the recipient's address and the return address in bold, clearly printed, easy-to-read letters," it said.

Yahoo management noted that shipments without return addresses will be considered suspicious and may be destroyed.

"Mailrooms and post offices nationwide are on alert," according to the e-mail. "Do the right thing for you and your customers, and label your shipments with professional concern."

One e-tailer, TheSmileBox.com, had already received three customer calls by Oct. 17 to make sure the package was legitimate before they opened it.

"I guess I'm going to start putting a small sticker on the outside of each box by the label with something like 'sent to you by:'," said Shannon Rubio, owner of TheSmileBox.com, Houston.

Some Yahoo stores had already made changes. One e-tailer noted that, in the return address on its UPS labels, the company is also printing: "Questions about shipment? Phone 800 --."

Another e-tailer, Marty Hewes with Partshelf.com, wrote: "One thing we have always done, and I think it's really helping now, is to fold up a copy of the invoice and put it in one of those clear document holders on the outside of the box. Our return address and phone number shows through the envelope, so they know who it's from and postal inspectors would feel a little better about it with a clear ID of the sender on it."

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