Big Brown Introduces Stepped-Up OnLine Tools Offering

United Parcel Service of America, Atlanta, introduced an Internet-based shipping and logistics solution today called OnLine Tools designed to allow e-commerce vendors and systems integrators to link their intranets and web sites to UPS and let their customers calculate costs, select services and track packages from the point of order entry to the doorstep or shipping dock.

The new solution is more robust than UPS current online offering-a basic tracking and cost-calculating service which has been in existence for two years–called Internet Tools.

“Internet Tools are very simple to integrate into a Web site,” said Tim Zach, director, electronic commerce, corporate marketing, UPS. “Essentially, you just download [Internet Tools] onto your Web site, and it provides tracking and a quick cost calculator. Basically, it gives the Web site a pre-formatted screen with limited customization. OnLine tools, however, does not offer pre-formatted [screens] -users get a data stream which provides customers with the highest level of customization available. Users can take the information and reformat it to the look and feel of their web site.”

The offering, which is free of charge and developed purely by UPS, allows companies that already have a Web site and a Web-enabled back end to use 7 modules: enhanced tracking; published rating and service selection; shipping and handling; ground time-in-transit; address validation; service mapping and electronic manifesting.

The information gleaned from the tools supports everything in the fulfillment cycle at the front-end from just-in-time inventory to address validation to accounts receivable.

“One of these modules, enhanced tracking, lets merchants designate the reference number or order number as the tracking number, not a UPS-issued number, at the time of order entry,” said Zach. “Customers can track their order via that order number. Our customers like this because it makes their site sticky. They are allowing their customers to come back to their site once the order has been placed to track the order and not go off to UPS’ site, so the merchant has additional opportunities to sell their customers.”

Zach also said that anther module-shipping and handling–allows companies to take UPS shipping rates and add a handling charge and present it to their customers at the time of order. “This allows companies to be very upfront with their customers” said Zach.

Micron Electronics, Egghead, Automated Transaction Services, TradeEx, CommerceOne and MisterArt have beta-tested the offering over the past six months and have signed licensing agreements with UPS. Currently, they are integrating UPS OnLine Tools into their enterprises and web sites.

UPS plans to launch a dedicated UPS OnLine Tools Web site later this year, and at that time, companies can download the tools from the site. Currently, UPS’ sales force is making these tools available on a selected basis; within six months, however, it will be available to customers.

According to Zach, the tools enable merchants to provide their customers with a lot of information and customer service capabilities, and this is important especially since most Web shoppers check their merchants’ Web sites for information about their packages-not UPS’ Web sites.

According to Zach, over half of the tracking requests that UPS fills from its Web site are actually originating from other Web sites.

“Our whole philosophy is that we are not necessarily trying to drive a lot of traffic to our site,” said Zach. “What we are trying to do is embed our capabilities within the Web site of our customers base.”

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