Originally created 08/14/97

UPS customers turning to Postal Service



WASHINGTON (AP) - The dark cloud hanging over UPS' business may turn out to have a silver lining for the U.S. Postal Service.

Many mail-order businesses, desperate to keep their customers, are turning to the post office for help. And some say they will stay on after the Teamsters strike.

Upscale clothing retailer J. Crew has shifted "tens of thousands" of packages a day to the post office's Priority Mail, and operations manager Arthur Cinader Jr. says service has been "excellent. They have made all pickups on schedule and we've gotten a glowing response from our customers that things are working as well or better."

After the strike "we expect to add them to our mix of delivery services." he added. "That doesn't necessarily mean to the exclusion of UPS, but it might."

United Parcel Service says it has lost so much business that it will cut 15,000 jobs even if the strike ends this week. The walkout by 185,000 Teamsters entered its 10th day Wednesday with no sign of a settlement.

Meanwhile, the Postal Service has revved up its special command center - normally used only during the Christmas mail crush - and hired 2,700 temporary workers in various cities to help handle the increased volume. It resorted to Sunday deliveries to help clear a backlog.

"Express Mail, our overnight guaranteed service, is up 70 percent and we are still honoring our guarantee," said Nicholas Barranca, postal vice president for operations support.

"Priority Mail, our two- to three-day expedited product, has jumped 50 percent and parcel post has increased 20 percent," he added.

Distribution Fulfillment Services in Columbus, Ohio, which handles shipping for Spiegel and Eddie Bauer sales catalogs, has switched "tens of thousands of packages per day" to the Postal Service, according to spokeswoman Allison Scherer.

"We are very pleased and happy with the cooperation and service that we've received from the U.S. Postal Service and are confident that they are delivering our packages smoothly," she said.

"It's too early to talk about" future shipping choices after the UPS strike, she said.

"We've probably had to transfer 25 to 30 percent of our business to the post office," said Ed Delph of Preview Travel in San Francisco, who ships $2 million a week in airline tickets to customers shopping via the Internet computer network.

Delph characterized his experience with the post office as "very good."

Fearing a deluge of business, the post office set a parcel post limit of four packages per customer. But it has no limit on Express Mail and Priority Mail shipments, and people who want to send more than four parcel post items can do so by setting up appointments.

The post office was able to hire temporary workers by declaring emergency conditions in selected cities, thus allowing it to sidestep an American Postal Workers Union veto of hiring such workers to handle business brought in by the strike.