Editor's Note: This article was originally written for our sister publication, PARCEL, but we thought that as more and more mailers are taking on shipping duties, this information would be useful to you as well.


During the holidays, shipping volumes increase for everyone — not just high-volume e-commerce shippers fulfilling an avalanche of gift orders. Office shippers also see volume increases due to business gifts, end-of-year requests for samples, key customer communications, and products that need to be delivered before year-end and charged to this year’s budgets.


Dealing with ramped up demand at this time of year can be a problem. Shipping volumes from your organization may not be astronomical, but the huge volumes carriers must handle will impact everyone’s service. During this time of year, delivery time frames are actually the critical concern — even more so than cost, which is usually the key issue. To know which carriers are most likely to meet your delivery needs, you have to ship like a pro.


Pro shippers whose high-volume businesses depend on order fulfillment constantly adjust carrier criteria — such as delivery time, cost, tracking capabilities, and customer needs — throughout the year. Office shippers now have to do the exact same thing. The only problem is that while high-volume pro shippers are able to use multicarrier data systems, the cost and complexity of those solutions make them impractical in lower-volume shipping environments.



Unfortunately, manually gathering and analyzing carrier information on delivery time frames, cost, and tracking requires a ton of time. Carriers do have software available to look at their own data, but every carrier’s software is different and so is the way information gets displayed on their individual websites. Ultimately, it’s extremely difficult to make an apples-to-apples performance comparison across the different carriers.


HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM THE CLOUD!

At this time of year, what office shippers need most is a multicarrier system. Fortunately, cloud-based solutions are now available that allow office shippers to access and analyze multicarrier information, providing a single, comprehensive, unified view into all shipping activities with all carriers. And because these new solutions are offered as SaaS (software as a service), there’s no large upfront cost. You simply buy a subscription to the software, and all functions and data reside in the cloud instead of on servers your IT has to support. This not only saves money, it also creates a more agile, flexible approach since sending can be initiated and managed from virtually anywhere you have internet access.


On a multicarrier cloud-based system, it doesn’t matter if the criteria for carrier selection change over time. Information is presented the same way for each carrier and service, and this consistent presentation of the data makes it easy to compare how carriers will perform so you can make the right carrier decision. Plus, having a single solution housing all carrier data lets you find the data you need quickly. Without this kind of visibility into delivery time frames, shippers often wind up making the wrong decision for their needs.


BENEFITS ALL YEAR

A multicarrier cloud-based system ensures you’ll accomplish what you need to before the end of the year and start the next year out in great shape. In addition, organizations are finding out these solutions make a big difference throughout the year. Office shipping environments are typically seeing an ever-increasing volume of ad hoc operational shipments — product samples and information packets requested by customers; important documents that need to be delivered in critical time frames; items going out to labs for analysis. With a multicarrier cloud solution, office shippers are able to work as effectively as high-volume operations.


And let’s not forget that customers are expecting, if not demanding, a higher level of delivery service. Blame it on Amazon and a host of other online retailers who have set the bar higher, with one- or two-day delivery time frames at little or no cost. A multicarrier system will help you meet these expectations.


Yet the holidays can mess up anyone. Back in 2013, more than one major carrier missed making deliveries promised for Christmas because of the unexpectedly high volume of online purchases. Carriers have since set up systems that do a better job of handling spikes, but shippers still need to closely monitor their performance at this time of year.


It also pays to check into carrier shipping deadlines. The USPS says that to ensure cards, letters, and packages are delivered within the US by December 25, they need to be mailed by: December 15 for USPS Retail Ground, December 20 for First-Class Mail, December 21 for Priority Mail, and December 23 for Priority Mail Express. Deadlines for mailing and shipping to international addresses vary by region and level of service, but some are as early as December 1! Check with USPS and other carrier websites for all deadlines.


And be sure to look into those cloud-based multicarrier shipping systems. We always talk about pricing, but at this point in the year, timing is key — and the best way to make the right carrier choice is with a single system that looks at all the data. If you don’t handle business deliveries properly right now, that business might not be around next year.


Chris Giles is Vice President, Business Development, Global Product Management, Pitney Bowes.

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