Expert Insight: Gilmore's Supply Chain Jab
By Dan Gilmore
Date: April 4, 2014

Supply Chain Comment: Burpee Seeds and Parcel Logistics


Shipment of Four Seed Packs Seems to Go by Slow Steaming

Readers may be surprised to know I am very interested in flower gardening - and my hobby keeps expanding each year. Digging in the garden is simply very relaxing to me on a Saturday morning after an always hectic work week.

I obtain plants and seeds from all kinds of sources, from local garden centers to big box stores to on-line merchants/catalogers.

One in the last category is the well-known Burpee seed company. Once again this year, I ordered both some seeds and live plants from Burpee, focusing on a few exclusive and/or unusual plants they offer versus what I can find locally.

Live plants are sent when Burpee deems appropriate for a customer's geography,  meaning past the last freeze date.  Here in Ohio, that means about the end of the first week in May.

Seed orders are generally shipped right away - many customers (including me) want to start seeds indoors or in a greenhouse well before the freeze date.

I placed my order on March 26th. I was very anxious to get the seed portion of the order, because I am getting close to the end of time it makes to start the seeds in the small greenhouse I have, versus planting them directly in the ground. Burpee emailed me that the seeds shipped just two days later, on March 28th.

The order was for four normal sized seed packs - I assumed Burpee would place them inside some mailing envelope and send via the US Post Office. How much could that cost? I was thinking they were likely to show up maybe March 30th - two days time from Burpee's New Jersey facility to Ohio.

I've learned it doesn't work that way.

I received a UPS tracking number from Burpee, as apparently the company used UPS Sure Post for this delivery. With Sure Post (FedEx has a similar service), UPS gets the parcel close to the final delivery address, and the USPS gets it to the consumer's home. I know all about this, but wasn't thinking it would be applied to a small envelope.

For two days, no tracking information was available from the UPS number Burpee sent me. It finally was available on March 31, three days after I was told my order "shipped."

Here is its path from there:

So, as I am writing this, I hope to receive the delivery now on Friday April 4th, but it might be Saturday the 5th.  If they ever cancel Saturday USPS delivery, that might have turned into Monday April 7th. That from an order supposedly shipped from New Jersey to Ohio on March 28th.

What the heck? I am not happy.

So what is going on? As usual with matters related to parcel shipping, I turned to former DHL executive turned industry consultant Jerry Hempstead, a frequent SCDigest contributor. No one in the parcel sector knows more.

As always, I learned a few things. 

First, Burpee or any company saying an order "shipped" doesn't mean that's when UPS took initial custody in such arrangements.

"Burpee may have loaded the package into a UPS trailer the day it said it shipped, but their deal might be that the trailer does not leave until it's full. For this, the shipper gets a lower price," Hempstead told me.

Second - silly me - I assumed that it would be cheaper to just send an envelope first class from Burpee directly to my address, versus needing to also engage UPS and what seems like a lot of extra handling.

I was wrong.

"If Burpee used first class standard parcel versus UPS Sure Post it would have cost twice as much," Hempstead told me. That might not have surprised me so much for a true parcel delivery, but for a small envelope?

"Usually with something like seeds, it is perceive there is no urgency, and it's all about cost," Hempstead added. "The only way really most sellers can save money on "standard parcels" (mail under a pound) is to use a hybrid mail service like UPS Sure Post, FedEx Smartpost, DHL Globalmail."

Now I know.


Hempstead noted the thinking is a bit different at Amazon.

"Amazon is a little different, as CEO Jeff Bezos has in his head that he wants you to get your stuff the almost moment you hit enter," Hempstead observed. But then again, he adds. "Of course, Amazon has never shown a profit."

I just want my seeds. Seem like awfully complicated logistics for a .14 ounce shipment. I would gladly have paid for an extra Forever stamp.

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profile About the Author
Dan Gilmore is the editor of Supply Chain Digest.

Gilmore Says:

The only way really most sellers can save money on "standard parcels" (mail under a pound) is to use a hybrid mail service like UPS Sure Post, FedEx Smartpost, DHL Globalmail.

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Supply Chain Jab: Burpee Seeds and Parcel Logistics

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