UPS and FedEx are two giants in the shipping and logistics industry. They deliver almost 20 million packages a day between them. Hardly ever late with a delivery, their businesses depend on timeliness and reliability. Their busiest period, of course, is the Christmas season, a time when worsening weather puts pressure on their operations.
Under normal conditions, FedEx and UPS are so confident in their ability to deliver on time they offer full refunds for late deliveries. Their service commitment is, therefore, a guarantee. With all the complexities in the process, mistakes can and do happen but, on average, only less than 10% of the time.
However, as expected, the guarantee doesn’t apply in cases of severe weather, when the fault is not in the hands of the carrier.
Additionally, bad weather conditions increase the risk of damage to packages and, so, it is advisable to use proper packaging materials and containers to mitigate this risk, especially by ensuring the packages are waterproof and properly sealed.
So, how do these companies manage? What procedures and tactics do these carriers employ to keep so many packages safe and on time during inclement weather?
Here’s a brief look at the inner workings of these corporations and the steps they take to keep packages on the move and delivered on time.
The Power of Forecasts
Both FedEx and UPS employ teams of meteorologists who forecast weather conditions as much as 10 to 15 days in advance. Combining weather information with seasonal demand and packages in the system allows them to reroute and plan for contingencies. Large companies like Amazon also feed in their demand profiles, helping to improve the result still further.
A snowstorm in Dallas might see packages rerouted to Memphis or Denver, depending on conditions on the road. Delivery schedules and route maps are altered for drivers when circumstances demand. All these measures are tweaks and significant adjustments designed to keep the flow smooth and precise.
Forecasts are carried out on all critical airports at least three times a day and fed into algorithms and planning decks that allow reroutes and contingencies to be brought into play. Flights and landing destinations are the most sensitive to weather conditions, so these are the priority. FedEx operates 660 planes, the world’s biggest cargo fleet, and keeping tabs on them all is more than a full-time job.
Not every package is sent by plane. Delivery destinations within a 200-mile radius are delivered directly by truck, with only those outside this range going by plane. This further reduces the impact of severe weather.
Once on the ground and near their destination, packages are moved by truck, and so are less sensitive to bad weather. At that point, the safety of ground crew and delivery drivers becomes the consideration.
A Delicate Balance of Safety and Service
Both corporations will delay or suspend deliveries when conditions are just too dangerous, putting safety at risk. Their priority is to balance the safety of their team members with service to their customers.
During the recent storms in Texas and Louisiana, deliveries were suspended to large areas until conditions allowed drivers to get to their destinations safely. Remarkably, shipments in some impacted regions were restored within two days of these devastating hurricanes—a testament to just how well risk and safety are assessed.
A continuous monitoring of the situation allows FedEx and UPS to know when it’s safe to go, and, in some cases, it was just a matter of waiting for floodwater to subside.
Both companies operate general service alerts on their websites. These are regularly updated — typically daily — and contain detailed information on cities, states, and zip codes impacted with delays.
In addition to the general alerts, customers can check the delivery status of individual packages. These tracking reports contain sufficient information to understand where a package is in the process, and the expected delivery date if available. Tracking is enabled by a barcode attached to packages at the point they enter the system. Handheld barcode readers allow packages to be read on the road, and the results are uploaded for customers to see.
Other information systems are designed for customers that are heavy users of the shipping service. They allow multiple packages to be tracked at once, easily identifying those that might be delayed or impacted by bad weather. These reporting systems further simplify the communication process, giving customers more information on status and impacts.
In all these respects, communication serves two primary purposes. The first is to keep customers aware of potential delays in packages already in the system, and the second is to dampen demand for new deliveries. In bad weather, dampening demand reduces stress on the system and the potential backlog of shipments, allowing the system to clear out quickly.
With all the information available, customers are kept adequately informed and can make decisions about what to do in the event of delays, lightening the burden on support staff and the entire delivery system as a result. Proactive communication with customers allows this to happen efficiently and dynamically.
The Power of People
No matter how advanced logistics, forecasts, and communications are, the last step up to the customer door and the handing over of the package to excited hands, depends on an individual.
Package delivery has brought the best out in many a delivery driver, and there is a fierce pride in doing the job right. The delivery staff drives upward of 200 miles every day, delivering 80 to 100 packages directly to customer’s doors. This requires dedication and commitment, especially when the weather is cold and bordering on dangerous.
FedEx has its famous Purple Promise: “I will make every FedEx experience outstanding.” The promise is simple but drives loyalty and commitment to do the job right.
These men and women understand the importance of their role. Some packages are just-in-time deliveries for people requiring medication or support, and these impact lives deeply.
There are many stories about drivers going above and beyond, from delivering babies in the line of duty to making that critical delivery in impossible conditions on time.
Both FedEx and UPS manage inclement weather well, and strong systems are in place to mitigate the risk and safety to staff. Their forecasting techniques and communication services are reliable, and delivery drivers are on time, by far, the majority of the time.
However, bad weather does severely impact shipping efficiency, and, as customers of FedEx and UPS, it pays to take proper care of your deliverables en route by packaging them securely and with a waterproof layer. Refunds are only available if a late or damaged delivery is the carrier’s fault.
Angela Stringfellow is a writer with 10+ years of experience. She focuses on news, trends, and insights in marketing, business, and technology.