UPS Wages War With USPS Over Tracking Programs

United Parcel Service, Atlanta, started an aggressive campaign touting differences between its tracking services and the U.S. Postal Service's Delivery Confirmation system, which is set to begin on March 14.

“We have launched an anticipatory PR strike,” said UPS spokesman Norman Black, “because we have reason to believe, as we get closer and closer to March 14, that postal service bureaucrats are going to start trying to ballyhoo this.”

Delivery Confirmation will allow all mail carriers, mail clerks and mail delivery employees to carry hand-held scanners that will record the date and time of delivery for Priority Mail and Standard-B mailings. Many commercial mailers have been testing the system all year, and the USPS plans to have 300,000 scanners deployed by Feb. 26.

Carriers will scan barcoded mail when deliveries are made at a customer site. The time and date of the delivery will be sorted in the scanner's memory and downloaded into a postal-service server when the letter carriers return to their post offices. Business customers can receive an electronic manifest with their information, and individuals can check delivery status on the Internet or by calling a toll-fee number. The information will be available to the customer by the evening. The retail rate for senders who use the service is 35 cents for Priority Mail, and 60 cents for Standard-B mailers.

UPS' tracking offers in-transit delivery information; full delivery confirmation including electronic signature capture, receiver's name, receiver's address and package location information; and delivery exception information. Information is available to the customer within 30 minutes of each scan. The service is free, and tracking is provided to all customers automatically. UPS provides a money-back guarantee on all air and commercial ground deliveries.

Delivery Confirmation began generating interest in the mailing community when it was first tested in several U.S. markets in 1997. Also, awareness will grow once the USPS begins its direct mail and brand advertising campaign to highlight the system. Although it doesn't offer true track and trace — where packages can be followed on their journey completely, as UPS has done since 1993 — some said that doesn't matter.

“The only time you really need tracking and tracing is when you have a problem, which should be really rare,” said Jack Sigman, manager of production services at Nashua Photo, Parkersburg, WV, a mail-order photo finisher that uses USPS' Priority Mail on a daily basis and who is a member of the Association of Priority Mail Users. “Most people are just looking to make sure that their package has been delivered and possibly identify those that have not been delivered. For most situations, tracking and tracing is a kind of overkill.”

UPS officials, however, are touting the benefits of their program.

“We are finding that our customers are trying to emphasize their own customer service,” Black said. “One of the ways that they can do that — and distinguish themselves — is to be able to let a customer know, with certainty, when a package is going to arrive and be able to tell a customer where a package is today.”

Whether Delivery Confirmation will take customers away from UPS is hard to say.

“It depends upon your individual circumstances and how time-sensitive your package is and how necessary it is for you to have a guarantee that it is going to be delivered at a certain time,” Sigman said.

Edward Wolfe, a transportation analyst at BT Alex Brown, New York, said Priority Mail has grown at 11 percent or 12 percent since 1992, “but I expect it to go up to about 15 percent as a result of Delivery Confirmation.”

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