February 10, 2009, 12:00 AM

UPS and U.S. Postal Service launch pilot returns service

In a test of a new returns service announced today, the U.S. Postal Service will pick up packages at consumers` homes or from U.S.P.S. drop boxes and transfer them to UPS for final delivery back to retailers.

In a test of a new returns service announced today, the U.S. Postal Service will pick up packages at consumers` homes or from drop boxes and transfer them to UPS for final delivery back to retailers.

The pilot program, UPS Returns Flexible Access, started this week and is expected to run for about five months before a decision is made whether to make it permanent, the companies say. It covers domestic shipments in the continental U.S.

Terry Rowinski, vice president of operations at online retailer BuySeasons Inc., one of several retailers participating in the test, said during an online presentation with UPS and the U.S.P.S. today that he sees the returns program as a way to enhance his company`s product offerings and improve customer service. BuySeasons operates the costumes and party supplies retail site BuyCostumes.com.

To use the service, customers of participating retailers will affix to their packages return shipping labels received with every order. Packages affixed with the labels, which display bar codes for both UPS and the U.S.P.S., can be left in a home mail box, in a UPS or U.S.P.S. drop box, or taken to any UPS or U.S.P.S. facility. UPS then will pick up the package and return it directly to the retailer, eliminating the need to transfer the package to multiple U.S.P.S. mail-handling facilities.

The companies say they will develop a fee structure for the service after evaluating different rate schemes during the pilot.

The Postal Service also provides a returns service in conjunction with Newgistics Inc., which picks up packages at consumers` addresses and takes them to a U.S.P.S. mail facility for delivery to retailers. That service will continue separately from the UPS program, the Postal Service says.

In announcing the new UPS Returns Flexible Access program, UPS and the Postal Service also released results of a consumer survey conducted for UPS by Forrester Research Inc. Among the survey`s results:

  • Difficulty in returning items and related fees were cited by 55.2% of consumers as a problem with online shopping; the only problem cited by a higher percentage (79.8%) was the cost of shipping when making a purchase.
  • 22% of consumers said they were shopping online less frequently than in the past because of the hassle of returning purchased items.
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