FEDEX USED TO BE TERRIFIC
I can remember when FedEx was great.
My old business, based in the New York City area, did a lot of shipping. Mostly we shipped packages of critical documents, sometimes an envelope, sometimes a big box. Each day we shipped anywhere from twenty to one hundred packages, all of them really important to the client. In all the years we did that, I can remember only one failure. We got a call from FedEx (Federal Express, at the time) to tell us that a conveyor belt in one of their facilities had completely chewed up a box full of our documents. Oh well, one failure out of thousands and thousands of deliveries.
Today, I’m surprised if a FedEx package gets to me intact and on schedule.
I’ve checked around, and I don’t seem to be the only one having problems. In this neighborhood, at least, FedEx is awful.
I talked to bunch of people — including both business owners and residential package recipients. First, let me say that several people said that they had good experiences with FedEx. That includes people living in a building where all packages are delivered to the front desk, so FedEx can make a single drop of all packages for the building.
However, negative comments predominated.
Two business owners said that they don’t get packages via FedEx anymore, but that when they did, they had problems. One comment was simple and qualitative: ‘They sucked.’ Another business owner was more specific, saying that they had problems with breakage and packages left without getting a required signature.
In researching this issue, I came across an article In the Washington Post that talked about how FedEx had cancelled all the routes for a franchisee who tried to organize other franchisees to put pressure on FedEx for a fairer deal. Here’s the paragraph that really stunned me:
“Despite its overwhelming position of power over its contractors, FedEx Ground is still struggling with its profit margins, which dropped to 8% in 2022 from 18% in 2012. That compares with 13% in 2021 for rival United Parcel Service Inc., where union drivers earn twice what those for FedEx Ground make and receive the best benefits package in the parcel industry. Those numbers indicate that UPS is a much better operator, and analysts often point to the UPS unified network as adding efficiency. During December’s peak season last year, FedEx’s on-time delivery performance slipped to 89% while UPS’s percentage was in the high 90s, according to ShipMatrix, which compiles data on the parcel industry.”
That’s right, UPS drivers — who are employees of UPS, not contractors — make twice as much money as FedEx Ground drivers. Plus they get a good benefits package. Plus UPS is more profitable. Plus the UPS on-time delivery rate is better than FedEx’s.
So it seems that the real problem isn’t the drivers. FedEx just isn’t very good at this.
MIS-DELIVERY IS ALSO PRETTY COMMON
Even if a package is delivered on time, that doesn't necessarily mean it was delivered to the right place.
Over the past year, I’ve received four FedEx packages, left outside my door, that belonged to someone else in the neighborhood. In three of those cases, I hiked over to the correct address (each of them was only a block away), knocked on the door, and handed the package to the intended recipient. In the fourth case, the package was pretty heavy, so I phoned the addressee, and he came and picked it up.
Unless there's something really magnetic about my location, four times seems like a lot of mis-deliveries to be received at a single address.
Oh, and by the way, don’t bother trying to get support from FedEx.
First, you’ll go through telephone hell, trying to get to a human being. And then that human being won’t be able to help you, unless you were calling to get the delivery status of your package — the same information you could get mis-reported to you directly on the FedEx website.
When I spoke to a FedEx agent about the package that wasn’t delivered within the (paid-for) time slot, I wanted (1) an explanation for the inaccurate status report and (2) a refund of the fee I paid for ‘managed delivery.’
Regarding point (1), the agent couldn’t help but promised I’d get a call-back from the ‘local station’ — of course, that hasn’t happened. Regarding point (2), she gave me a phone number in accounting, where I went through phone hell again to reach a person who told me she couldn’t help me. I gave up and disputed the charge through my credit card company.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN, I WASN’T HOME?
A common complaint — both from me and from others with whom I’ve spoken — is that FedEx fails to deliver on the promised date and then reports that the delivery was attempted but that you weren’t home.
Of course, you were home, because you stayed home specifically to receive the package so it wouldn’t fall prey to porch bandits.
But that’s a particularly poor excuse, anyhow, because, in my experience, FedEx never asks for signatures. They don’t even knock. They just leave the package at your door and move on. So it’s not clear to me (1) why it matters to them whether or not I’m home and (2) how they would ever know in the first place.
One business owner described waiting all day for an important, time-critical package, and finally seeing an online status update telling him that delivery had been attempted but he wasn’t there to receive it. He called FedEx and was told that he’d have to drive out and pick the package up, but, because it was still on the truck, he couldn’t get it until later in the evening.
MIS-REPORTING SEEMS TO BE IN THE FEDEX DNA
In my experience, when FedEx says they attempted delivery, it’s just not true. And that isn’t the only un-truth you’ll get. Time of delivery can apparently be falsified, too.
A couple of weeks ago, I was expecting a package that was especially important to me, one that I needed to receive promptly. I didn’t want to take a chance on the ‘you weren’t home’ excuse, so I decided to pay extra for a special service that allowed me to schedule a time slot for delivery.
I figured that a specific time slot would force them to make the delivery on the promised date.
So I scheduled the delivery for Saturday between 5 PM and 8 PM, the earliest available slot.
At about 3:30 PM, I decided to run a quick errand. I wanted to get it out of the way so that I’d be home to receive the package during the delivery slot.
I stepped out my door, and the package was sitting there.
I have no idea how long it had been sitting there, inviting theft. There had been no knock. I hadn’t received a status email letting me know it had been delivered. And, when I logged into the FedEx system, the package still showed as ‘Out for delivery.’
In fact, the package didn’t show up as ‘delivered’ in the FedEx system until the next morning. And then, the FedEx system claimed that the package had been delivered at 5:20 PM, right within the specified time slot.
Of course, that wasn’t true, just like the ‘you weren’t home’ excuse wasn’t true.
I’ve begun to wonder if these excuses appear as tips in the employee handbook.
But come to think of it, that may be part of the problem — the delivery drivers are not FedEx employees at all. Unlike UPS, which uses its own employees to make deliveries, FedEx contracts its delivery routes to third parties, small businesses that are responsible for all the FedEx Ground deliveries on a particular route.
And, based on news reports I’ve seen, FedEx then squeezes these franchisees.
What’s remarkable is that this model is apparently even worse than you’d expect. Yes, it’s bad for the drivers. Yes, it’s bad for package recipients. But it turns out it’s not even particularly good for FedEx.
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?
So what, if anything, can you do about this?
The first thing you can do is complain — not to FedEx, they aren’t listening and don’t care about your complaint — complain to the company that shipped to you via FedEx. Don’t blame that company, just tell them that you think they should be aware of the lousy service provided (in their name) by FedEx.
I’ve done that twice. In each case, the company from which I had purchased the shipped product had excellent customer service and was very apologetic. The support agent promised to report the experience to his management.
In both cases, the agents also gave me big rebates on the products. In one case, the product was an expensive computer monitor and the rebate was 20%. In the second case (the recent one), the rebate was 40%, but in that case the package had also been damaged and the product inside had sustained substantial cosmetic damage.
I didn’t place my calls expecting to get rebates, but I happily accepted them and hoped that those costs would figure into the company’s analysis of FedEx’s desirability as a shipper.
Ask for a different shipper
There are multiple companies I buy from that use FedEx as the default shipper. In those cases, I call customer support when I order, explain my problems with FedEx, and ask if they can use a different shipper.
In every case, they’ve agreed to do that. It’s a little inconvenient — each time I place an order, I have to immediately call support, give the agent my order number, and request a shipper change. But it’s a lot more convenient than playing package roulette with FedEx.
Incidentally, while I was writing this, I heard a knock on the door. When I answered it, I found a package I had ordered two days earlier using exactly that process.
It was delivered on time. Needless to say, it was not delivered by FedEx.
Jim Feuerstein is co-editor of LNF Weekly; he also designs and manages the website.
In my experience, when FedEx says they attempted delivery, it’s just not true. And that isn’t the only un-truth you’ll get.
It seems that the real problem isn’t the drivers. FedEx just isn’t very good at this.
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