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Online Delivery Options Have Alaska's Delivery Services Scrambling: Customer expectations lead to more, faster delivery options for even rural locales.

There's a maxim when it comes to the real estate industry: location, location, location. While a home may boast a beautiful design, impressive landscaping, and plenty of room for guests, it's not going to be appealing if it's sitting on a busy highway or next to a waste treatment plant or twenty feet off the railroad tracks.

Just as location plays a critical role in a home sale or purchase, location, at least in Alaska, plays a big role in whether residents and businesses are able to send or receive packages in quick fashion--such as same-day, next-day, or even two-day timeframes.

Alaska's unique weather--specifically its months of icy roads, ferocious cold temperatures, blustery winds, and fierce snow and sleet--presents distinct challenges when it comes to shipping or receiving deliveries, whether those deliveries are fresh fruit, time-sensitive documents, medication, or basic life needs such as toilet paper.

The good news is that Alaska residents and business owners have access to a deep pool of delivery services ready and waiting to make their next expedited delivery.

Who Delivers Fast and Quick

The pool of expedited delivery options runs the gamut, including globally-known brand names such as UPS, FedEx, and the United States Postal Service (USPS). Also on the list are Alaska Airlines' Goldstreak Package Express service, a provider of same-day service, as well as third-party and local goods and package transporters such as Reliable Transfer Corporation.

Alaska Airline's Goldstreak offers package express--a "next flight available service" for packages weighing up to 150 pounds. Priority service, from its air cargo office in Anchorage, is generally a next-day delivery (depending on schedules) for items weighing above that 150-pound mark, according to a spokesperson.

The cost of using Goldstreak depends on several variables, such as the items being shipped, package dimensions, weight, and the time of year, though the service is available year-round. Goldstreak's customers are a mixed bag, according to the company, but typically the service is used for packages that are either time sensitive or perishable in nature.

For example, seafood, vegetables, and other perishable groceries are often delivered via the Priority service, as well as medicines and machinery and oil equipment parts. Customers choose a flight and drop the package at one of the company's cargo locations one hour before flight departure. On the receiving end the package can be picked up by the recipient one hour after the delivery flight arrives. Goldstreak also offers a Pet Connect travel service; pet shipments require 24-hour advance booking.

"In addition, we see more and more ecommerce shipments going to consumers around the state from online retailers," says Goldstreak's spokesperson.

Using Goldstreak requires customers to be knowledgeable about flight times and the company's policy regarding specific items labeled as "dangerous goods," as those must be in Goldstreak's venue at least four hours before a flight departure, according to the company's online information. All air freight shipments require advance booking.

If a package is not time sensitive, or a customer wants a lower cost option, Goldstreak offers air freight service in which delivery is made within forty-eight hours of the company accepting the package.

Alaska and Hawaii--More Similar Than Most Imagine

Dawn Peppinger, Alaska marketing manager for USPS, likens Alaska's expedited delivery scenario to package delivery in Hawaii, since very often packages travel via boat and ferry and plane and vehicle on the delivery journey.

That's because the two states, while at opposite ends of the weather spectrum, share very similar geographical traits that can stymie fast package delivery.

For example, both are home to islands--Alaska, which is one fifth the size of the continental United States, has more than 2,600 islands. Hawaii, which has a land mass of 4,028 square miles and is just 93 miles across at its widest point, includes eight major islands. Both locations operate in their own time zones.

The states' common shipping logistics scenario is what birthed the often-seen message on delivery options: "Shipping available to addresses in the contiguous United States," with data regarding delivery to Alaska and Hawaii landing under very different delivery stipulations.

A good example can be found on an delivery information page.

There is two-hour delivery in certain US zip codes for Amazon Prime members (who pay about $100 a year for cheaper and free shipping options), free two-day shipping, and free same-day delivery on qualifying orders in certain locations (and starting at $5.99 for most other orders). Then there's free one-day shipping for certain cities with prices varying by item size and weight (starting at $2.99 an item) and completely free standard shipping that takes four to five business days.

But the list of options is a bit shorter for Amazon Prime Members living in Alaska. The only free shipping is standard and delivery can take anywhere from three to seven business days. For speedier arrival there is priority (one to four days) and then expedited (two to five days) with pricing varying depending on size and weight. Amazon notes expedited can be "as low" as $5.99 an item and "as low" as $11.99 for priority.

Within the USPS delivery environment, a package headed to Alaska can take as long as seven to ten days given it will likely include a water-travel delivery leg, says Peppinger, who has worked thirty-two years at the carrier. If packages are headed to what are called "bush" or "hub" points, they often end up on a small plane for a leg of delivery. And if weather plays havoc with small plane activity, packages can end up facing a back seat delay.

"There's a pecking order at that point [with a small plane] as people and their baggage are priority before items to be delivered," explains Peppinger.

But even if the plane delivery journey is a short one, Alaska's weather is always a factor.

"Smaller planes have trouble sometimes with heavy fog and high winds; weather can ground planes and passengers and luggage get [transported before packages]," she says.

Climate also impacts roadway-based delivery, she notes. "Even where mail and packages can be delivered by truck, roads are impacted by weather. While it's rare, forty-below temp often means tires go flat," she explains.

In terms of shipping costs, Alaska delivery falls under USPS' Retail Ground-Limited Overland Routes, with prices varying depending on designated postal zones. For example, a one-pound package can cost anywhere from $6.55 to $7.24 depending on the destination zone. Postal zones are based on the distance a mail piece travels from origination to destination.

In most cases, with Alaska mail delivery, mail and packages are moved via Retail Ground service, says Peppinger, a lifelong Alaska resident.

"When it comes to Priority Mail, the standard is about three days or three to five days for some of the areas not on the road system--even coming from the contiguous United States," she says. Within Alaska, she adds, most residents have access to traditional services found in the Lower 48.

"There are same-day options in parcel selection and there are third-party consolidators doing delivery as well," she says.

Partners Play a Role in Package, Freight Delivery

One such service is Reliable Transfer Corporation, based in Juneau, which offers local courier services and air freight delivery for several international partners. The company often provides the final leg of service from Alaska Air Cargo to the destination address when shipments are tendered to Alaska Airlines with Reliable Transfer as the consignee, explains company clerk Kirk Haug.

"Several national carriers offer next-day service but with restrictions on time of day of tendering," explains Haug, adding that "any of these best-made plans can be laid to waste by the particularly challenging weather of southeast Alaska."

The cost of expedited package delivery is generally very high, says Haug, with packages first measured by weight and then with minimum density requirements imposed which results in a dimensional-weight calculation.

Customers using Reliable Transfer are charged a standard courier service delivery rate plus a rush fee if the service is required within a two-hour window, he adds.

The company's busiest season in Southeast Alaska is May through October.

"With up to six cruise ships and countless other independent travelers, the population of Juneau swells by a significant percentage on any given day [during the busy season]," says Haug. "This tourism drives much of the same-day and next-day service requests, but all year long we fulfill the same-day and next-day needs of our customers."

When it comes to expedited packages, Reliable Transfer's customers are typically transporting life-saving medications, bid documents, and live animals, as well as replacement parts for machines, vehicles, and vessels. Haug believes the increasing demand for expedited package services is due to increasing consumer expectation of delivery capabilities.

"Customers around the world have become accustomed to the increased level of services that they are provided in other markets," he says.

What the Big Brands Offer for Fast Delivery

For FedEx the quest to provide expedited delivery in Alaska is on par with its operations in the Lower 48, according to a spokesperson, though there are some exceptions in certain Alaska zip codes. FedEx offers priority service to and from parts of Alaska, including Anchorage, just as it does in the rest of the United States.

"Weather in Alaska affects our deliveries just like it does elsewhere," says the spokesperson.

FedEx offers same-day and "same-day city" delivery as well as next business day, two- to three-day delivery, and business ground delivery of one to seven days.

In Alaska, when it comes to quick delivery of packages weighing 150 pounds or less, service is to a limited number of zip codes, outside its primary services, and may be provided through cartage agents. The vast majority of these, according to a FedEx shipping information website, are located in remote areas of Alaska.

At UPS, the delivery service known for its brown trucks and brown-uniformed drivers, there are a variety of service levels for fast delivery--from UPS Ground to UPS Next Day Air Early and even UPS Temperature True, which is popular within the healthcare industry, says spokesperson Matthew O'Connor.

But it does not offer same-day delivery service in Alaska. The next-day service is the most used, explains O'Connor, especially by companies shipping Alaska fish and seafood. Alaska service falls within UPS' Northwest District, which includes Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and a small section of northern Nevada.

UPS, which is predicted to deliver a record-breaking 75 million packages globally during the 2017 holiday season, launched a new delivery option in the latter part of the year called UPS Saturday, which provides ground pickup and delivery service for 4,700 cities and towns. The additional delivery day was prompted by the increase of online and mobile commerce within the retail segments, according to a press release.

UPS service levels include UPS My Choice, which lets consumers choose how and when to receive deliveries. The service sends the recipient a text or email before a package is scheduled to arrive and lets the recipient give the UPS driver special delivery instructions. These instructions can include where to leave the package, a request for UPS to hold it, or a request to have the package sent to a UPS Access Point for pick-up at a later time.

"UPS Access Point locations in Alaska include UPS stores and UPS customer centers, but they can also be retail stores with evening and weekend hours such as convenience stores, dry cleaners, and delis," says O'Connor.

The top challenges for UPS to deliver fast and quick in Alaska are the state's vast size and its numerous rural areas.

"The remote nature of many places in Alaska can be challenging, and that's where local knowledge and expertise, working within local conditions throughout the year, is imperative," says O'Connor, noting that UPS services do not change through the year despite the state's unique weather conditions.

"Delivery routes and techniques vary by locations and time of year," he adds. "Online shopping has changed the nature of these deliveries, especially in more remote areas of Alaska, with more household supplies being purchased online."

By Judy Mottl

Judy Mottl writes about important issues country-wide with an affinity for Alaska.
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Comment:Online Delivery Options Have Alaska's Delivery Services Scrambling: Customer expectations lead to more, faster delivery options for even rural locales.(TRANSPORTATION)
Author:Mottl, Judy
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Geographic Code:1U9AK
Date:Jan 1, 2018
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