The delay of parcel deliveries was one of the top news stories this holiday season, as thousands of customers didn't receive their gifts on time. Due to the well-documented delivery glitches of UPS and FedEx, the national giants took a lot of heat. We at Eastern Connection don't want to reignite the firestorm of criticism, though pieces such as this (Reuters) address important issues. Rather, we think the focus should now be on lessons learned in the wake of this experience. 

In many ways, UPS and FedEx performed about as well as they could have, given the extenuating circumstances, including snow and ice storms and an unprecedented amount of last-minute, online shopping that simply exceeded their capacity to deliver. In fact, it's fair to say that the expectations for those two carriers to deliver flawlessly during this time were perhaps unrealistic. Which brings us to the point of this article: Companies and consumers may want to explore a third shipping alternative to ease the burden placed on the giants and better meet their needs. The players in the best position to fill a perceived void and provide an added "pick-me-up" are the regional carriers. 

As already noted, the national services faced significant challenges during the holidays. 

To its credit, UPS in particular responded well to the negative publicity. It acknowledged problems, apologized, and offered consideration in the form of $20 refunds for packages not delivered on time. 

A Better Way to Deliver the Goods?
At the same time, we would be remiss if we didn't call attention to why the regionals are often a favorable alternative, not only during unusual circumstances but also on an ongoing basis: 

• For instance, severe weather is a phenomenon that isn't limited to the holidays. Storms are a predictable part of life that can cause airports to close—and shippers that rely on the nationals' air transport are often at a disadvantage. In contrast, the ground service provided by the regionals is generally more reliable and timely. 

• Another ongoing regional advantage is greater flexibility, including 24/7 coverage 365 days a year, including service on weekends, after hours, even on Christmas Day. While UPS did add manpower during the holiday season, it couldn't deliver around-the-clock.

Customers Come First
In the final analysis, it's all about meeting the needs of the customer—and that includes business-to-business customers as well as online shoppers. Accordingly, many transportation industry analysts, including those quoted in recent stories, are advising online retailers, online shoppers, as well as traditional businesses to re-evaluate their shipping strategy and consider alternatives to the Big Two.

A solution, they say, is to look into the growing segment of regional carriers across the country. Together, these "super regionals" represent a third delivery system, one that is gaining market share but is still often overlooked. Why is that the case? Because some behaviors are hard to break, and some perceptions are deep-seated, even if they may be faulty. Whatever the reasons, the upshot is that too many customers are still making knee-jerk shipping decisions.

Those customers adding regional services to their shipping arsenals are discovering well-kept secrets. For example, the regionals are not only more cost-effective, but they are often more efficient than the giants when it comes to guaranteed, on-time, intact deliveries.

Still, we need to do a better job of educating the customer. The recent avalanche of press that references Eastern Connection and other regionals, includingthis piece in the Wall Street Journal, is helping to raise our profile and elevate our "brand." At the same time, the negative comments directed at UPS and FedEx may result in some lingering damage to their reputations. Some irate customers say they will never use UPS again. 

Of course, institutions like UPS and FedEx typically endure. And over time, we expect that most customers, companies, and consumers alike may well give the giants a second chance. All we're suggesting that they consider the regionals as a third alternative.

Jim Berluti is President/CEO of Eastern Connection; Ted Kauffman is Chairman.
Founded in 1983 and based in Cumberland, RI, Eastern Connection is the largest regional, small-package overnight carrier on the East Coast, covering over 6,800 zip codes. The company, which has 16 facilities, is open 7 days a week and 365 days a year. Services include Next-Day Ground, Priority Overnight, Same-Day, Second-Day, Logistics & Warehousing, Trucking, Medical Logistics, and Expedited Mail. For more information, visit