SAN FRANCISCO -- UPS and FedEx might be worried about international shipments to slowing economies such as China, but perhaps they should be more concerned about what's going on in their own backyards.
Major U.S. retailers are experimenting with new e-commerce strategies that could dent demand for package delivery services, particularly demand for shipments over long distances, according to analysts and industry executives.
Amazon.com (AMZN) is building its distribution warehouses closer to customers to save millions of dollars in shipping costs. The world's largest online retailer is also increasingly using its own delivery trucks, cutting United Parcel Service and FedEx out of some parts of its fulfillment network.
Meanwhile, major brick-and-mortar retailers such as Walmart Stores (WMT), Best Buy (BBY) and Gap (GPS) are shipping more online orders from stores close to shoppers, rather than from warehouses hundreds of miles away.
"UPS and FedEx are not only watching this, they are likely concerned about it," said Lou Tapper, an executive at third-party logistics company Longistics, who worked at FedEx for 18 years. "Big companies like Amazon and Walmart will dictate which direction this goes. Those are the companies that FedEx and UPS need to fill their planes and trucks."
United Parcel Service (UPS), the world's largest package delivery company, on Friday cut its earnings forecasts, blaming overcapacity in the global air freight market, customers trading down to slower but cheaper shipping services, and a slowing U.S. industrial economy.
The move came after FedEx (FDX) said in June that it was raising shipping rates and cutting jobs and costs, as excess capacity in the air freight market had more than offset increased shipments.
Both package delivery companies set their fees according to zones that correspond to the distance a package has to travel.
For instance, FedEx's Zone 2 is zero-to-150 miles from origin to destination, while Zone 4 is 301-to-600 miles. Shipping a 10-pound package in two days through Zone 4 costs $25.80, while the same package in Zone 2 costs 32 percent less at $17.50, according to FedEx's latest rate card for consumers.
UPS uses similar zones for its domestic ground delivery service, which takes four to five days. Zone 4 costs $9.20, while Zone 2 costs $7.94 for a 10-pound package.
Retail companies get discounts for shipping big volumes of goods, but the percentage differences between the zones are similar, according to Joel Anderson, president of walmart.com.
Reducing Shipping Distances
Walmart, the world's largest retailer, has been shipping online orders from its stores for several years. This year, it is expanding the program to 50 locations from 25.
"We are at least two zones closer by utilizing the stores," Anderson said. "The closer we can inject the order into our network, the more this saves the customer time and reduces what it will cost us to get it to the customer."
He declined to say how much Walmart is saving from this.
To be sure, ship-from-store retail initiatives can also benefit package delivery companies if they accelerate the growth of online shopping -- even if delivery distances are shorter.
UPS spokesperson Susan Rosenberg said the company is benefiting from the spread of e-commerce distribution centers built by Amazon and other companies. UPS also helps retailers ship online orders from stores, she added.
FedEx didn't respond to requests for comment Friday.
"If I buy a shirt from Gap online, the shipping route length may be shorter, but then more people are buying online, too," said analyst Joshua Herrity of Telsey Advisory Group.
Still, the risks that these retail strategies pose to package delivery companies are beginning to be discussed on Wall Street. The topic came up during a UPS conference call with analysts in April.
"Some of the questions I get asked ... are whether these same retailers are going to try to build a network that doesn't incorporate the current parcel carriers in ways that they could actually end up being a competitor," Morgan Stanley (MS) analyst Bill Greene said during the call.
Ship from store may be a problem for UPS and FedEx in five to 10 years, but it will take some time for lots of retailers to figure how to make the strategy work well at high volumes, according to Fiona Dias, chief strategy officer at ShopRunner.
A more immediate threat is Amazon, Dias and others said.
Amazon has a growing fleet of delivery trucks, which are already a common sight in its home town of Seattle, where it has been operating an online grocery delivery service for years.
In 2011, Amazon changed its fulfillment strategy and began building new distribution warehouses closer to large, heavily populated areas such as Los Angeles and San Francisco. In the first quarter of 2013, Amazon's shipping costs were 4.7 percent of revenue, down from 5.1 percent a year earlier.
"For a company the size of Amazon, that's a pretty big deal," said R.J. Hottovy, an equity analyst at Morningstar. "That could be potentially very disruptive to UPS and FedEx."
-Additional reporting by Nivedita Bhattacharjee.
The 20 Most Valuable Brands In The World
UPS, FedEx Threatened by New E-Commerce Strategies
Brand Value: $27.8 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: 34%
What Happened: MasterCard's rank flew up nine spots this year to the 20th most valuable brand in the world, and Millward Brown VP Oscar Yuan attributes that ascent to "the growth of mobile technology." As consumers up their online shopping habits, brands like Mastercard and Visa reap the rewards for offering noncash payment methods.
Brand Value: $34.36 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: 34%
What Happened: "They're really into the big data," Yuan explained of the German tech brand, "So [the increase in value] is reflective of a consistent storyline: The growth of mobile shopping." SAP has the big data solutions enterprise companies need.
Brand Value: $36.2 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: 5%
What Happened: Walmart, however, has mastered the art of brick and mortar shopping. "You can't buy milk online," Yuan said. The retail giant has a large and loyal consumer base that is constantly growing - even internationally.
Brand Value: $39.7
Percent Change v. 2012: -8%
What Happened: Vodafone's 8% drop in value can be attributed to O2 and Orange's recent success. But at almost $40 billion, it is still one of the largest mobile carriers in the UK.
Brand Value: $41.1 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: -1%
What Happened: While Americans might have never heard of the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, Yuan explains that in its home country, "the logo is ubiquitous." ICBC is the first of two Chinese brands in the top 20, a number which is largely due to the countries growing middle class.
Brand Value: $42.7 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: 15%
What Happened: "I think a lot of the growth is really tied to several consumer trends - and I'm talking about the need for consumers to shop online mobile devices," Yuan told BI. Consumers need to get the products they bought on the internet somehow, and that's where UPS comes in.
Brand Value: $45.7 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: 34%
What Happened: It's almost impossible for brick and mortar shops to compete with Amazon's wide selection, low prices, and mastery of the mobile marketplace - easily allowing consumers to buy anything from anywhere on their phone or tablet. Recent acquisitions of Audible.com and Goodreads also show the company's determination to dominate all aspects of mobile book consumption and sharing.
"There's no stopping amazon as they go international," Yuan said."
Brand Value: $47.7 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: 20%
What Happened: After acquiring Wachovia in 2008, Wells Fargo successfully expanded from a California-based bank to a national name. Coming from California also helped Well's Fargo's image with consumers considering that it was one of the few banks to remain unscathed during the financial crisis. "It also started a major rebranding strategy expansion," Yuan said.
Brand Value: $53 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: 8%
What Happened: Verizon got a boost after Apple opened its services to carriers other than just AT&T. While Verizon and AT&T's rivalry heats up, Yuan predicts that the competition will up both brands' game. "As data devices continues to proliferate, we will continue to see Verizon do well," he said.
Brand Value: $55.3 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: 21%
What Happened: "GE ... continued to be one of the most well respected consumer and industrial brands in the world," Yuan said. And the public is starting to see that it makes more than just light bulbs. General Electric has dedicated major marketing dollars to making sure that consumers know it produces everything from airplane engines to wind turbines to medical equipment. Hammering in its dedication to innovation, a recent ad campaign even enlisted the help of famous robots.
"In terms of B2B, GE is one of the most well respected brands," Yuan continued, citing that it was often used in business school case studies.
Brand Value: $55.4 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: 18%
What Happened: China Mobile is the largest mobile carrier and brand in China, so it's a no-brainer that it's one of the most valuable brands in the world. "There are more mobile phone subscribers in China than in the U.S.," Yuan said.
Brand Value: $56 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: 46%
What Happened: A key way to bolster global presence is to sponsor the Olympics. But that's not the only thing that upped Visa's brand value so drastically. As one of the most trusted names in non-cash payments, Visa has gained clout in the world of online shopping and mobile payments.
Brand Value: $69.4 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: -6%
What Happened: Marlboro is a top 10 regular, which goes to show that even though smoking is restricted in the U.S. doesn't mean that the rest of the world has laid off the habit. "Marlboro has consistently invested in the brand ever since its inception," Yuan said. "The rugged cowboy is very strong and consistent globally."
To put it another way, "about 25% of world's population are smokers, and they use it 5 to 10 times a day. I don't drink 10 bottles of water a day." That's getting your brand out there.
Brand Value: $69.8 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: -9%
What Happened: As a $70 billion brand, Microsoft is in great shape even in spite of a 9% value decrease. Microsoft is a powerhouse and has a reputation as one of the strongest tech brands in the business. But, Yuan notes, "with consumers, there's confusion as to where Microsoft fits." The company's fortune is largely tied with the PC business, but it has emerged on the mobile scene with the Surface and other devices. The company went through a major rebranding in the summer of 2012 to stay relevant.
Brand Value: $75.5 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: 10%
What Happened: AT&T is another company to gain value due to the increasing U.S. consumption of mobile products. For a long time, the service provider had an exclusive deal with the iPhone, so it became synonymous with the new technology. What's really interesting, however, is that even when Apple opened the iPhone up to Samsung and T-Mobile, AT&T's value didn't go down.
Brand Value: $78.4
Percent Change v. 2012: 6%
What Happened: "What's consistently impressive about Coca-Cola is its ability to innovate," Yuan said. "People think that soda consumption is declining, but Coke is turning the business on its head." For example, this year Coca-Cola released a series of freestyle machines which allows consumers and retailers to mix their own flavors of the soda syrup to make their own individual Coca-Cola. The company is constantly innovating and staying fresh.
Brand Value: $90.3 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: -5%
What Happened: Yuan noted that one of McDonald's gifts was the ability to listen to consumers' sentiments and adapt, particularly to growing health concerns. "It has come out with a much healthier menu with apple slices, oatmeal, and a Chicken McWrap which has done well," he said.
McDonald's is also gaining a stronghold in the coffee space, which should be an interesting new endeavor to follow.
Brand Value: $112.5 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: -3%
What Happened: At $112.5 billion, IBM's three percent value decrease is not a substantial figure. IBM is known as a company that consistently delivers year after year, Yuan told BI. And it is particularly hailed in the B2B sphere.
Yuan also noted that its Ogilvy-made "Smarter Planet" campaign, in which the company explained its plans to help clients innovate and make the world a better place, inspired consumers to believe in the brand.
Brand Value: $113.7 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: 5%
What Happened: Google has effectively taught consumers that it is more than just a search-based company. With maps, mail, shopping, and more, Google is integrated into everyone's lives. The company also made recent headlines about its new contribution to the hardware world in the form of Google Glass. "It will be interesting to see how Google Glass will contribute to the brand value, but now it's too soon to tell," Yuan said.
Brand Value: $185 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: 1%
What Happened: In spite of harsh Wall Street analysis and media speculation regarding Tim Cook's leadership capabilities, Apple continues to be a strong brand in the eyes of consumers - a major value measurement for Millward Brown. "Despite what the press says and stock market says," Yuan noted, "Apple in the eyes of the consumers is the gold standard."
In the last eight years, Apple's value has increased 1,045% - only topped by Subway's meteoric 5,145% rise. (Although Subway still hasn't broken the top 20.)
Those companies are constantly innovating to stay on the top.[Those companies are constantly innovating to stay on the top.]The gay pride Oreo, from Kraft's Facebook page.