CONTACTTRAFFICABOUT TOM VANDERBILTOTHER WRITING CONTACT ABOUT THE BOOK

It’s Logistics

As someone with an interest in traffic, and a more casual interest in operations research, I was curious about the order history on a recent item from Apple I had purchased. As you will note from the illustration above, the item was shipped from FedEx’s Memphis hub to Newark, where it then made its way to Brooklyn, where I live. But the item wasn’t delivered. Why? The reason given explains everything, yet explains nothing: “Package not due for delivery.” OK. So it wasn’t due for delivery. But couldn’t FedEx have delivered it anyway, given that it was in my home borough?

No. The item then went back to Newark, only to finally be shipped, once again, to Brooklyn, where it finally arrived on my doorstep. Now, I’m no OR genius, and there may be some variant of the Traveling Salesman Problem, or some intricacy of routing and logistics that I’m missing here, but why, for an industry always trying to root out inefficiencies (e.g. UPS’ famous ‘left-turn’ software), would it send my product on an extra round trip, bloating its inventory for a few more days? Perhaps some reader can enlighten me.

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This entry was posted on Monday, May 9th, 2011 at 8:27 am and is filed under Etc.. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

17 Responses to “It’s Logistics”

  1. Adam Says:

    I wonder if the last leg is particularly costly to the point that it makes sense to send it back to Newark and then arrive at your home on a full delivery truck.

    Just guessing. It makes me think they would have delivered it at first if they had space on a route near you.

  2. SteveL Says:

    Some possibilities
    -it was part of an integrated delivery that either had to be delivered with something else or split from a larger container.
    -you didn’t pay for fast delivery, and so FedEx had no incentive to give you priority. If your local van was full, the low priority packages would get held up.

  3. mulad Says:

    I’m convinced that the parcel companies simply want people to pay more money to get faster shipping. They don’t want to give their customers better service than what they paid for.

  4. Jeffrey Says:

    I’ve had similar odd circumstances with both FedEx and UPS–such as FedEx not allowing me to pick packages up directly from their facility (which is quite close to my house) until AFTER they try to make an attempt at delivery.

  5. leg Says:

    May 7th was a Saturday and they don’t normally do delivers on Saturday. Presumably the delivery truck was just out in Brooklyn to do the small number of packages that did pay for Saturday delivery and your package ended up on it by mistake. Doesn’t seem nefarious.

  6. Bossi Says:

    Not to address the question at hand, but I’m amused at how experiences differ… here in DC, FedEx has numerous local stores within walking distance of most points in the city & their main distribution center Metro-accessible. At no charge, FedEx also lets you transfer it to a local pickup store in case you realise you can’t be around to sign for it.

    UPS, on the other hand, only has their distribution center way out in the suburbs — very far from any convenient transit. They have very few local stores & charge a pretty hefty fee if you want to transfer it to one of them.

    Sounds like UPS might be the preferred shipper in NYC, but FedEx is by far the preference in DC!

  7. BaldMaster Says:

    With a problem as large and complicated as FedEx has trying to deliver as many packages as it does, it isn’t feasible to exactly maximize efficiency. This is where heuristics and approximations like UPS’ no left-turn routes come in. Sometimes, these methods (together with the occasional computer or human error) lead to weird results on individual packages. As long as you’re still doing a good job most of the time overall, there’s no reason to change methods. A tweak that results in packages never going back to NJ might result in longer average delays for delivery.

    Here’s one possible reason it could be more efficient to send packages back to NJ sometimes. Given that it would be infeasible to send exactly the right set of packages to the local facility, there is a choice between sending too many packages to the local facility and sending too few. Sending too many means that sometimes you’ll have to send some back, and sending too few means longer delays for delivery.

  8. Eric Says:

    The times don’t make sense” Arrived in Newark at 7:04am then in Brooklyn at 8:32am then back in Newark at 8:35am? Looks like the 8:35am departing Newark timestamp was delayed, i.e. no extra round trip.

    What I think happened was it arrived in Brooklyn around 8:30 the morning of the 7th where they determined the shipper had not paid for Saturday delivery and decided for whatever reason to hold it in Brooklyn for delivery on the 9th.

  9. djangosChef Says:

    Random reinforcement is a very powerful incentive. I would think that it would be very important to deliver, consistently, exactly when you say you can deliver for a given level of service. Otherwise, customers will be playing the “maybe I’ll get it quicker” lottery instead of paying you for the guaranteed faster service.

  10. Tom Says:

    FEDEX has been holding packages hostage for higher expedited shipping charges for years. I had a parcel sit in my local FEDEX facility for three days until it went out for delivery. I went to the FEDEX facility to pick-up the item that I knew was at the facility by using FEDEX’s tracking tool. The clerk confirmed that the item was there but could not release it because I had only paid for “FEDEX ground”.

    The much maligned Postal Service, however, will deliver the package as soon as possible. In may cases quicker than either FEDEX or UPS.

  11. clever-title Says:

    Whether FedEx or USPS is doing something nefarious is a matter of opinion.
    You can say FedEx is holding packages “hostage” by refusing to deliver them before the time specified in the contract, or you could say that the USPS is scamming their Express Mail customers because most of the time, the Express Mail is on the same trucks as the much cheaper first class.

  12. Hendrik Says:

    In Holland the parcel company TNT (which I believe is also operating in the US), has recently added an option to select a post-office or postal-store (which is a regular store also dealing with packages) where you can pick-up your packages.

    Which I found extremely useful. I used to hate it that you order something, they try to deliver it two or three times before they finally drop it of at the nearest pickup location (post-office or postal-store).

    Mind you that you can select this option now during your ordering process at an online vender (like Apple).

  13. Andy Says:

    Ugh! Can you believe that for only $10 (half to an hour of work for most people) someone will ship a package ACROSS THE OCEAN IN FIVE DAYS, yet they have the guts to let it sit in their warehouse and tempt you with their online shipping activity. Talk about first world problems!

  14. davep Says:

    MAY 7, 2001 8:32 AM Brooklyn, NY
    MAY 7, 2001 8:35 AM Newark, NJ

    I think it might be more interesting to understand how FedEx managed to get from Brooklyn to Newark in 3 minutes!!

  15. MikeOnBike Says:

    There’s clearly a problem with the May 7 timestamps.

    Here’s what I think happened. The package got scanned twice in Newark, first with a premature “at Brooklyn” tag, then with a correct “departed Newark” tag. The premature “at Brooklyn” tag triggered the “not due” message. But the package was actually still in Newark at the time.

    The package arrived in Brooklyn later on Saturday, where it spent the weekend waiting for Monday delivery.

  16. Sam Says:

    Another possibility (which may or may not apply here–I agree that yours is probably just a timestamp error…)

    The sender can (and Apple does) specify a “do not deliver until…” date.

    Apple uses this when they want to deliver merchandise on day-of-release to everybody who pre-ordered it. For example, you pre-order your iPad 3 which comes out on 3/15/12, and Apple ships them out the week before, with a hold date to ensure that they get delivered to you on that date and no sooner, without their having to guesstimate the transit time.

  17. Lockestep Says:

    I believe leg nailed it – 5/7 is a Saturday, and the package was not sent with Saturday delivery. You point out the “bloated” package inventory, which is true, but do not discount the extra cost of the Saturday delivery – perhaps five minutes of the driver’s time at (potentially) a premium rate of pay instead of regular rate, and with fewer packages perhaps a longer driving leg. Multiply by the thousands and thousands of packages, and it makes more sense.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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