ignificant developments have been made in delivery service since James Casey started one of the country's first commercial delivery operations in 1907. His American Messenger Service, which later became United Parcel Service, used a motto that informed customers that "the horizon is as distant as our mind's eye wishes it to be." With the help of modern transportation and information technology, that company and its competitors have reached horizons unimaginable to anyone at the turn of the century.
Today a parcel can be picked up from an office in Washington and delivered to someone's desk in New York within three hours. Customers can track shipments on-line and receive detailed delivery information via e-mail. Customized shipping reports and barcodes for address labels can be instantly downloaded, as can customs declaration forms and invoices. Rate reviews and supply ordering also can be done through computers.
Broad automation initiatives fueled by increased competition and the move to just-in-time inventories are making it easier for customers to monitor the transit of letters and packages. Leading delivery services such as Airborne Express, DHL, Federal Express, Roadway and United Parcel Service have invested heavily in computer and telecommunications equipment to help them quickly track shipments. Airlines such as USAir even are getting into the act, offering same-day deliveries and tracking via the same technology used to run sophisticated reservation systems.
The largest shipper serving the federal market is Atlanta-based UPS, which delivers 12 million parcels a day and has revenues exceeding $20 billion a year. The company's new UPS Online service enables customers to request pickups and track shipments via MaxiTrac software. Free GroundTrac barcode labels are available so shipment information can be obtained minutes after deliveries.
UPS relies on a cellular-based system that instantly transmits information from more than 50,000 delivery trucks to its mainframe repository. Drivers use electronic clipboards to capture pickup and delivery data, as well as signatures. The system is so advanced that parcels even can be pulled and rerouted if necessary.
More than 30 percent of the federal courier service market belongs to Memphis-based Federal Express. The 23-year-old company, which delivers 2.5 million parcels a day and has revenues of $9.4 billion a year, introduced its FedEx Ship software last year. Designed to work on PCs, the software is a simpler version of the company's PowerShip system. FedEx Ship lets customers generate plain-paper air bills on laser printers, maintain shipping databases, and order pickups or track shipments via modem.
FedEx also offers an Internet Web page (http://www.fedex.com) so that customers can check service availability, download shipping software and track packages as they move from hub to hub. In an effort to reduce transaction costs and increase productivity, the company hopes to have all its customers on-line by the year 2000.
The largest international express carrier is $3 billion DHL, which offers deliveries to 80,000 destinations in more than 200 countries. The company's 27 years in overseas markets has helped it to streamline Customs clearance procedures. By using electronic data interchange and other technologies, licensed DHL customs brokers can clear shipments when they are en route in order to avoid delays. The EasyShip processing system enables customers to preprint air bills and create shipping-management reports from their computers. And the Global Track interactive voice-response system provides proof-of-delivery information via telephone.