Insider Explains Why FedEx SmartPost Is So Terrible

Image courtesy of (frankieleon)

The overwhelming crappiness of FedEx Smartpost as a shipping method is a frequent topic around here. But why is it so terrible? We could have guessed that a partnership between ostensible rivals FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service might not work so well, but one reader with inside knowledge about why it’s so terrible reached out and shared their knowledge with us. The basic reason? The labels are terrible, and confuse the equipment.

I work for the USPS on contract and have quite a long history here… I have to say that FedEx SmartPost is (purely from a logistics/ mail-stream operations standpoint) one of the poorest run partnerships between private and public that there is… I know little about how it “got this way” but do know enough to be dangerous… I can tell you that their labels are among the least conforming with USPS “best practices” that there are… i.e. if one “set out” to design a label that was likely to confuse the sorting equipment at USPS it would look a lot like SmartPost labels.

This product seems to constantly analyse what is the absolute cheapest method of “work sharing” that is required utilizing private carriers (trucks, etc), Fed Ex offical company processing, and USPS processing/routing to get something to where it needs to be… so one time it might go from the retailer onto a local mail aggregator’s freight truck to a sorting facility owned by FedEx then to a USPS facility for further sorting close to delivery point… then to a USPS carrier… to door…. while next time same address, same retailer, it could go directly to USPS sort, routed over-land by USPS to a pick-up by some other company with means of getting it delivered to the door… just depends upon how the algorithm decides is cheapest (that’s my understanding).

Main point here… until SmartPost cleans up their labels and adheres to some better barcoding and addressing standards (consistent placement of addresses in a location on a package, in readable font, with proper contrast, less “over-labeling,” using some reliable method of separating FedEx barcodes from USPS barcodes (again see better barcoding – fewer grey gaps in barcodes making them unreadable)… mis-sorts will continue to occur with this product.

When a mailer uses better and more clear formatting for a return address than a delivery address for e.g…. sometimes a sorting machine will send the package back to a facility on the way toward it’s sender instead of the intended recipient (only to be “caught” by a human eye, and sent back the “correct” direction… possibly in a long loop of the same situation happening back and forth until it gets magically/luckily corrected).

just some info…

Yes, the USPS will send anything (toilet seats, tires, hammers, etc.) mailed to pretty much anywhere, using crayons, felt markers, or cut out letters to address it… is it likely to get there quickly? Efficiently? Cheaply? Certainly not if it’s if it needs human attention to read the label(s) each time as the USPS increasingly depends upon machines to read barcodes, handwriting, make sort decisions, and aggregate trucks full of packages and letters… UPS and FedEx have always had the luxury of turning away packages that are not “labeled correctly…” USPS… not so much (only in narrowly defined segments of products coming in from logistics/ mail houses). And… it’s coming back to haunt them (us) now as they move increasingly toward automated sorting for all aspects of the process (and pull back the curtain on processing by allowing customers to see real tracking for packages/pieces within the mail-stream).

Thanks, Anonymous Contractor Person. Do you have insights courtesy of your job that you’d like to share with the Consumerist community? Drop us a line.

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