I’m obsessive about package tracking, and even more so with my most recent purchase, my long-awaited Kindle. I’ve had a lot of fun on Facebook joking about the circuitous route, although in reality most of the package services use hub-based systems that result in similar long routes.
But the past few things I’ve ordered from Amazon under “super saver shipping” have come by way of a service called FedEx Smartpost. I’ve looked this up, and I’m not sure I understand it completely. It’s a service offered by FedEx Ground by which they pick up packages, drive them cross country, and then drop them off at a postal distribution center, so that the final delivery to the customer is handled by the Post Office.
This would make no sense for you or me – there would be no benefit in sending a package by FedEx Ground from here to Memphis, and then paying for it to be mailed by USPS from Memphis to Cincinnati. For me, as an individual USPS consumer, Shelbyville to Cincinnati and Shelbyville to Memphis are the same price, so I wouldn’t save any money on the USPS portion of the trip by mailing the package to Memphis instead of Cincinnati. Then, after mailing the package to Memphis, I’d have to pay FedEx Ground for its part of the trip. I would be paying twice for the same service. As an individual consumer, I could make out much more cheaply by using only one carrier – let’s say, the US Postal Service – to mail the package directly from Shelbyville to Cincinnati (however the post office decides to route the package is their business, not mine).
But this hybrid service must make sense financially for Amazon, and other such customers, or else they wouldn’t be using it. I’m assuming, therefore, that Amazon and/or FedEx is getting some sort of discount from USPS in return for dropping off large volumes of pre-sorted mail directly at postal distribution centers, saving USPS a lot of work. That discount would have to be pretty steep — more than enough to make up for what FedEx Ground is charging for the first half of the trip, so that the total cost to Amazon is less than it would cost to use either FedEx Ground or USPS separately.
My paternal grandfather, who died when I was about five or six years old, worked for the Post Office. He was head of parcel post at the downtown Nashville post office, which is now the site of the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. I wonder what he’d think of this new world of package delivery.