Online crush has shippers rethinking deliveries

UPS uses ‘Access Point’ locations, others try lockers as option to doorstep handoff.

Next time you order an item online that’s shipped via UPS, you might wind up picking up the package at a barber shop or a convenience store.

It’s part of a new system Sandy Springs-based UPS is using called an Access Point network, which the company says is aimed at getting packages to customers who aren’t home or have difficulty getting deliveries.

Another benefit is more subtle: reducing the number of delivery stops, which have zoomed along with the astronomical rise in online shopping. Many drivers for UPS and rival services now spend entire shifts making house-to-house deliveries, which is less efficient than leaving batches of boxes with business customers.

“It’s all about shrinking the volume that’s having to go door-to-door,” said Steve Osburn, a supply chain strategist for logistics consulting firm Kurt Salmon.

Delivery services also are trying metal lockers for deliveries in some cities, as both retailers and shippers grapple with the best ways to meet the demands and variables of online shopping.

UPS’s Access Point grew out of a 2012 acquisition of a Belgian company, Kiala, that pioneered a parcel shop network system in Europe. Access Points launched in New York and Chicago in 2014, then nationally last year.

There are 19 UPS Access Point locations in metro Atlanta, ranging from a barber shop downtown to a Shell mart in Jonesboro. UPS Stores also function as Access Points.

The idea is straightforward. If a driver can’t leave a package with a customer or in a secure location, and an Access Point is within a certain distance, the driver drops the package there.

“We’ve launched the locations in areas where we know that our customers are challenged with getting deliveries,” said Andy Tibbs, the UPS manager who runs the program. “Our goal is really to have the highest successful on-time delivery rate as possible while making it convenient for online shoppers.”

People can use UPS’s MyChoice service to ask that a package go straight to an Access Point. They can also drop off sealed and labeled packages for UPS shipment.

UPS pitches it as a way for customers to get packages without waiting through multiple delivery attempts or making a long drive to a facility. It pays a small fee for each package to the shops that act as Access Points.

Those businesses, in turn, get foot traffic.

Herb Williams, owner of Vintage The Barber Shop in downtown Atlanta, said he was eager to partner with UPS as an Access Point.

“We gain exposure, [UPS customers] gain an additional Access Point,” Williams said.

Octavia Bivins, owner of This-N-That 4 Less in Riverdale, a general store that has been an Access Point location since last fall, said she gets about 20 to 25 customers a day coming in to pick up or drop off packages.

“They come in and [say], ‘I pass by this store and I didn’t know you did this, that and the other,’” Bivins said. “It’s been a plus for my business.”

A downside

Grant Park Coffeehouse owner Rahel Belfield said she decided last year to partner with UPS as an Access Point because she’d had packages stolen from her porch and she knew others in the area didn’t want packages left outside.

The program created some new customers, but Belfield also discovered a downside that prompted her to withdraw from the program last month: “a lot of complaints from customers” who came looking for packages that hadn’t arrived yet.

“You’re the last person the customers look at, so they look at it as it’s you who dropped the ball,” Belfield said.

Other UPS customers have run into issues or confusion when they find out their package has been left at an unfamiliar shop. As is customary now, some take to social media to air their beefs.

“UPS sent me to the sketchiest convenience store to pick up a package,” wrote one Twitter user.

Tibbs said he thinks customers will become more comfortable using Access Points over time. “Regardless of what the issue is, change is sometimes challenging,” he said. He noted UPS will redeliver a package to a consumer’s home if they’re not able to retrieve it from an Access Point.

UPS has had more than 95,000 customers request that all their packages go to an Access Point location, and it has delivered about 4.9 million packages to Access Point locations since the mid-2014 launch.

Simpler days

Things used to be simpler for big shippers like UPS: A big rig or panel truck dropped off shipments at a department store, big box store or corporate campus.

Now, another model has also emerged: Hundreds or thousands of products delivered separately to customers’ doorsteps.

In 2000, UPS’s business was only 20 percent direct shipments to consumers, or B2C, with the rest business-to-business shipments. Now, it’s 46 percent B2C, and as high as 60 percent during the Christmas season, according to UPS finance chief Richard Peretz.

That means more sorting, more driving, and more stopping.

Meanwhile, apartment complexes have been wrestling with package overload, too.

Camden, a Houston-based firm that has 13 apartment complexes in Atlanta, last year stopped accepting packages in its offices.

“The real strength of Access Points is going to be in the big cities,” where apartment dwellers are looking for options to get their packages, Peretz said.

Metal lockers

Other experiments with alternate ways to get packages to online shoppers include Amazon Locker, which uses metal lockers installed at 7-11 stores and other locations. FedEx is experimenting with Ship&Get Self-Service Lockers. UPS is trying out Access Point lockers in Chicago.

Even customers who like the idea of Access Points have experienced some frustration.

One early issue for UPS: Drivers sometimes left notices indicating a package would be available for pickup “today” and required customers to scan a QR code or go online to find the location to pick up their package. And some customers became frustrated when they weren’t able to pick up a package without the ID of the recipient.

UPS switched to a new notice that specifies packages are typically available for pickup by 1 p.m. the next weekday and includes a space for the driver to write the pickup location. A new secondary notice tells customers to bring their notice and ID to pick up their package.

Belfield, the Grant Park coffeehouse owner, said “it’s a wonderful service to have … (but) until they work out the kinks with it, I decided it was not something I could do right now.”

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