Diversifying parcel carriers is a great way to protect against holiday season shipment delays. While the two national carriers, FedEx and UPS, dominate parcel shipping today, regional carriers are gaining ground.

There are hundreds of regional carriers that range from those that cover small regional areas such as single cities or partial states, to multi-state regionals. They have higher density over smaller geographic areas, so they can often provide more ground-delivery options than the national carriers.

While leading retailers have added regionals to their carrier mix, small and mid-sized shippers have been slower to adopt. Using regional carriers provides an opportunity to improve customer service by expanding next-day delivery options, introducing incentives—such as flat-rate shipping or free-pickup—and offering flexibility to meet special customer circumstances. You may also be able to negotiate better pricing, which can be passed on to customers or used to boost profits.

In addition to regional carriers, you should also consider the USPS. In 2013, the Postal Service handled a 19 percent increase in holiday package volume over the previous year, and did not have the delivery performance challenges of the private carriers. The USPS is also making strides to become an even stronger parcel shipping competitor. This past year, USPS introduced the Intelligent Mail® Package barcode (IMpb) which gives shippers the same granular, end-to-end tracking visibility as FedEx and UPS. Using the IMpb, shippers qualify for the best possible rates and receive free parcel insurance. In many cases, USPS may now be the best carrier selection.

When expanding your carrier options, you should consider using a multi-carrier shipping management system. These web-based solutions have saved shippers as much as 25-40 percent, by automating carrier selection for each parcel based on the most up-to-date pricing, service options, and business rules.
Retailers who use a mix of national and regional carriers reduce vulnerability to any one carrier’s service problems, better serve their customers, and increase their shipping efficiency. While it makes sense to use multiple carriers year-round, it’s most critical during the holiday season “crunch,” when both customer expectations and shipping volumes are at their highest. 
Christoph Stehmann is President, Ecommerce & Shipping Solutions, Pitney Bowes