UPS Partners with USPS on New Returns Service

United Parcel Service on Tuesday introduced a new returns service that allows consumers to return items shipped via UPS by placing them in their own mailboxes for pickup by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS).

Currently only a select few merchants are piloting the program, called UPS Returns Flexible Access, including costumes and party supplies cataloger Buy Seasons. UPS says it may or may not roll out the offering to other retailers — it depends on how well things go during the five-month pilot period.

The new service lets retailers provide their customers with an easy way to return items.

Consumers receive special package labels that allow them to leave a UPS Returns package in their own mailbox or other location for their postal carrier to pick up. They also can drop the package off at their local post office or in postal collection boxes.

Once a returns package arrives at the local post office, a UPS driver picks it up and transports the parcel back to the retailer via the UPS ground network.

During a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Jim Cochrane, vice president of ground shipping for the Postal Service, was asked how the USPS plans to partner with the same carriers it competes against in rolling out this type of service. “That’s the interesting nature of ‘coopetition’ — is that we compete and we’re partners at the same time,” Cochran said. “It just makes sense for all of us to do what’s best for customers. I believe that this will actually accelerate USPS’ growth.”

BuySeasons’ Terry Rowinski said he was looking forward to implementing the new service because it will please customers and improve the company’s returns operations.

“Although we have really low return rates, returns must be executed with same care and control as if the package was going to the customer’s home,” Rowinski said, adding that having a returns authorization process in place is key for driving customer satisfaction and reducing fraud.

The new service lets both customers and merchants track returns as they move through the system. The increased visibility, for example, means that CSRs in BuySeasons’ call center will be able to tell customers exactly where their returned item is in the supply chain.

Rowinski explained that BuySeasons is still completing some technical integration work, due to its recent merger with Celebrate Express, but will have the program up and running soon.

This is not the first time USPS has partnered with a private carrier to launch a door-to-door returns service. Last September Newgistics, an approved third-party reverse logistics provider for the USPS’ Parcel Return Service, introduced a new “free Carrier Pickup” which also allows consumers to return goods from their mailboxes.

“Newgistics is aware of UPS’ pilot of the Parcel Return Service program,” says Bill Razzouk, CEO, Newgistics. “For several years, Newgistics has led the effort with the USPS in developing this program and view UPS’ entry into the market as validation of our investment and success of this program.”