PACKAGE DELIVERY: Carriers ace the holidays

Even with the influx of packages shipped by Web-only merchants, most catalogers contacted by Catalog Age gave high marks to parcel carriers during the holiday season.

Rye, NY-based gifts cataloger Lillian Vernon, which sends the majority of its packages via the U.S. Postal Service’s Priority Mail, was one of many catalogers that had no complaints. “The service levels from the parcel carriers were high, and there were no problems to report,” says spokesman David Hochberg.

Other gifts catalogers, including Paragon Gifts and Potpourri Collection, both of which use a mix of Priority Mail, freight consolidator CTC Distribution Direct, and United Parcel Service, also had no package delivery problems to report. “It was business as usual,” says Jack Rosenfeld, president of Medfield, MA-based cataloger Potpourri, whose titles include Back in the Saddle and Counted Cross Stitch. “The service was great, with no delays.”

But it wouldn’t be the holidays without at least a few shipping disappointments. National Catalog Corp., a Greenwich, CT-based fulfillment and distribution provider that processes orders for more than a dozen catalogers and 10 Web-only clients, found that USPS Priority Mail slowed somewhat. “What usually takes two to three days for delivery slowed to three to five days during the Christmas rush,” says Bob Rhudy, executive vice president/vice president of operations. National Catalog Corp. has distribution centers in Martinsville, VA, and Portland, TN.

UPS had some problems as well. “UPS made most of its deliveries,” Rhudy says, “but about 2% of our UPS packages were delivered after Christmas.” (UPS refuses to comment on individual cases.)

Rhudy remains philosophical about such snafus, however. “You always have some failures,” he says. “But all in all, the service this year was high, as it has been in prior years. And there was certainly a lot of demand this year.”

Virtual marketers, real packages

Business did indeed boom for the carriers. At its peak, Atlanta-based UPS shipped 18 million parcels a day, up 1 million packages from its daily peak last year. “This holiday season was huge because of the growth from all the dot-coms,” says UPS spokesman Steve Holmes.

The volume of USPS’s Priority Mail was up 12% during the holiday season, according to USPS spokesman Mark Saunders, who also attributes the rise in volume to dot-com businesses. To handle the extra volume, USPS delivered Priority Mail on Sundays for the first time, “which helped eliminate some of the bottlenecks from the postal stream,” Saunders says. The agency also established Priority Mail-only drops at mail processing centers, including those in Nashville and San Francisco.