According to data from ShipMatrix, FedEx’s overnight service had on-time delivery performance of 77% on Dec. 23, compared to 95% two days earlier. For the same two days, UPS’s on-time performance was 79.5% on Dec. 23 compared to 94% on Dec. 21.
Through a flurry of last-minute activity, UPS and FedEx managed to improve on those scores, according to ShipMatrix, with on-time performance scores of 96% (FedEx) and 98% (UPS) on Christmas Eve.
A combination of severe weather that hit FedEx harder than UPS, plus a new UPS policy that pushed some additional last-minute volume to its competitor, led to the performance disparity during the final push, said ShipMatrix president Satish Jindel. “If not for the weather, FedEx would have come through pretty good,” he said. “In 2013, it was UPS that was hit hard by bad weather. It doesn’t affect every carrier the same way, because they have critical operations in different parts of the country.”
“FedEx is extremely proud of our 340,000 team members who rose to meet the challenges of a record peak holiday season, including numerous volunteers who delivered thousands of shipments on Christmas Day,” said company spokesperson Katie Wassmer. “During the peak leading up to Christmas, the company handled package volume that exceeded previous records, including a surge of last-minute ecommerce shipments.”
UPS was expecting to deliver about 630 million packages between Black Friday and New Year’s Eve, up 10% from a projection of 572 million in 2014; this compared to a projection of 317 million parcels by FedEx, a 12.4% jump. Neither company provided actual delivery figures.
For the first time this year, UPS required an extra day for its two- and three-day express deliveries during Christmas week, pushing back its peak shipping day from Dec. 22 to Dec. 21, meaning a lot more volume was processed the weekend prior to Christmas. It also refused some last-minute shipments retailers sought to move over from other carriers, knowing it would cause delays. The net effect was more volume was pushed onto FedEx.
“We focused on the commitments we made with our customers, and we didn’t take additional volume from them unless we negotiated separately for that, and by and large we did not,” said Glenn Zaccara, director of media relations for UPS.
“FedEx and UPS use different yardsticks for measuring transit time,” Jindel said. “For ground, FedEx is faster by 29% than UPS, so in some cases something that takes UPS four days, FedEx handles in three. When you’re the faster carrier, on time performance is more challenged.”
Jindel added it was “a smart move” by UPS to slow down (express delivery timelines), knowing the extra effort involved in making them happen during the last-minute crush. “Some shippers were notified early enough to adjust, while for others it was too late to change their order management and customer notification systems, so they were affected,” he said.
On Christmas Eve, according to ShipMatrix, FedEx, UPS and the U.S Postal Service delivered over 60 million packages, a 70% increase over average daily volume. So even with on-time performance of 99%, 600,000 packages would end up being delivered late, Jindel said.