The overnight shipping business is extremely competitive and in the end the winner will be the one that does the best job of building an easy to use on demand web site. The overnight companies are all trying hard and have made much progress but, as in all industries, there is quite a hill yet to climb for them to become On Demand businesses.
I receive overnight packages fairly often but don’t have much occasion to send things overnight. When board documents need to be "faxed or overnighted", I instead use a digital signature with Adobe Acrobat. It works quite well and more importantly, the auditors and attorneys are satisfied with the approach too. Today I had the need to send some original documents to New York. I was actually in New York almost all day, but as I headed for the train station very early this morning, I left the envelope containing the documents on the kitchen counter. That was just the beginning of a comedy of errors.
After getting home from New York around 4PM I thought I had plenty of time to prepare an overnight shipment and have it picked up. For most of my shipping I use stamps.com. I have found stamps.com to be a very reliable service for nearly ten years. In the early days I used a Dymo label printer but more recently I have been using the Zebra LP 2844 thermal printer. If you are not familiar with it, it is the one that prints the sharp black font on the 4" X 6" labels that we all receive from just about all retailers.
I entered the data for the shipment in stamps.com and when I pressed the print button, a message came up saying I needed to attach a USPS form to the envelope in addition to the stamps.com label. This was new for me because I normally ship via parcel post or priority mail which don’t require anything in addition to the stemps.com label. I called USPS to find out how late they pickup packages for overnight delivery. They couldn’t answer the question without all the ship to-from info and ,to make this part of a long story short, they don’t pickup in my area.
No problem, I thought. I’ll use FedEx. Fedex.com was fairly intuitive to navigate and I easily found the thermal printer setup. To make another long story short, FedEx requires that the thermal printer be connected via a parallel or serial cable. I use a USB cable. No problem, I’ll go to ups.com. To make another long story short, UPS supports the thermal printer with USB but they require a special proprietary printer driver which conflicts with stamps.com and their site only works with Microsoft IE — which I try to avoid using in deference to the Opera browser. No problem, I’ll use DHL (formerly Airborne). My visit to dhl.com was frustrating. My user ID was not recognized even though I have used the site before. To make a really really long story short, DHL deactivates your user ID if you are inactive on their site for more than three months. (Can you imagine Amazon or eBay dropping your user ID?). Before I went through the re-registration, probably to get a message saying "that user id is already taken, chose another one", I thought I would call and check on the printer — DHL doesn’t support thermal printers on dhl.com at all.
By this time it was 5:40 PM. Fedex has a 6PM cutoff at their drop box and they have forms there. It was warm and sunny and a good excuse for a motorcycle ride. I got to the drop-box at 5:45 PM. It was locked — pickup for the day already made. From there I headed to the UPS store. An extremely helpful young man there gave me a form, took my credit card, and literally ran the envelope around the block to a nearby Dunkin Donuts where the UPS drivers meet at 6PM. So much for e-shipping. After two hours of frustration, you can see why I have been saying we are only 5% of the way into what the Internet has in store for us.
There is still much too much proprietary thinking going on. If we make our web site support for a particular printer proprietary then people will be locked into it. They won’t use shipper X because they have a printer tied to shipper Y. This is sooooooo 1960-style thinking. The Internet has empowered all of us. We don’t want to be tied to anybody. If shipper X has a better price to value ratio we will use it. If shipper Y wants to tie us in we can change to shipper Z with a few mouse clicks. In this particular example, all four shippers got a zero from me. The UPS Store got a 100. I got a nice motorcycle ride to somewhat neutralize the wasted the productivity.