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During one of his two combat tours in Vietnam, Federal Express CEO Frederick Smith got a quick lesson in survival from a crusty Marine sergeant. “Lieutenant,” the sergeant told Smith, “there’s only three things you gotta remember: shoot, move, and communicate.”(Fortune, Nov. 1997) Some thirty plus years later, and at the helm of one the shipping industry’s largest competitors, Smith has utilized that same tactical advice in the business world.
His maneuvering of FedEx has incorporated an aggressive shooting strategy as the company has emerged into numerous shipping regions around the world such as Asia, and furthermore, FedEx continuously has been pursuing and developing a solid foundation and infrastructure for the company and its future.
One example is the addition of a new hub in the Philippines, at Subic Bay. His movement has guided the company to innovate its products and develop with the needs of its customers. Finally, the use of communication has emerged as one of the company’s greatest competencies, not only with customers, but internally as well.
“FedEx has always been a technology trailblazer, and the success of fedex.com is testament to that.” The company was one of the first to harness the power of the Internet, launching its Web site in 1994 with a bold new package tracking application one of the first true corporate Web services. Soon after, FedEx became the first transportation company with Web site features that allowed customers to generate their own unique bar-coded shipping labels and request couriers to pick up shipments.
FedEx Ground is taking advantage of the wireless LAN technology by expediting the movement of shipping information from delivery workers’ terminals to a central database.
It is with these tactics along with FedEx strong competencies and worldwide infrastructure, which will be discussed in further detail hereafter, that will foster the companies success and eventual competitive advantage in years to come. FedEx provides many benefits to its customers. The shipping industry, however, is one of extreme competition. Not only are customers confronted with the choice of carrier, they are also confronted with a choice of means of shipment. It is further complex, as the pricing strategy of the sector has companies, for instance, who lead cost in one form of shipment such as ground and follow in another form of shipment such as international delivery.
FedEx foresaw the importance of differentiation early on, as did most of the sector players. FedEx realized that it was in the information business. Customers are not only concerned with the product getting from point A to B, but further, are interested in the knowledge of where the cargo originated from, its present whereabouts, destination, estimated time of arrival, price and cost of shipment. All these elements are just as important to some businesses and consumers as receiving a safe delivery. To support this need, and differentiate itself from competitors, FedEx created state-of-the-art technology for customers to track and validate shipments.
Shipments are virtually traceable from their origin to their destination all with the convenience of the personal computer. Additionally, FedEx has forecasted the important strategic trend of a continuously global shipping market. The differentiation of products is a continuous process in this competitive industry as innovations are often quickly imitated. FedEx strives to develop innovations and listens to customers wants and needs.
Further meeting the needs of customers worldwide, the company has invested extensively in global infrastructure. Fedex connects some of the most important areas of the world that make up 90% of the world’s gross domestic product, some of the new hubs were built in the Philippines at Subic bay and in Europe at Charles de Gaulle, in Paris. Particular emphasis has been placed on gaining a strong presence in the spawning Asian market. Countries such as China, which had been predominantly exporting countries, are now large importers of goods from all parts of the World. Since 1984 they have expanded service to over 300 cities within China.(Business Source Premier)
It is with this keen sense of “the big picture” that FedEx finds itself without a current sustained competitive advantage within the shipping industry. The Fedex return-on-equity percentage of 10% falls far below the industry average of nearly 20%. The company has invested heavily in aircraft and development of strategic worldwide airline hubs. In 1997, FedEx foresaw the opportunity of Internet commerce and its implications on the shipping industry. It is this same intuition that we at the San Jose Consulting Firm believe FedEx is positioning themselves as the future leader, with sustained competitive advantage, in the international market of the shipping industry.
The extensive infrastructure and resources FedEx has compiled are quite impressive. The company has added several optimum hubs, the Euro One Hub in Paris, the Asia One Hub at Subic Bay, and the new Iraq hub to increase the reach and accessibility in blossoming new economies and manufacturing locations. This infrastructure, coupled with FedEx’s continuous innovations and fulfillment of customers needs, is what will create continued success, and eventual sector competitive advantage in the years to come.
FedEx offers a wide range of transportation services and they accommodate to the widest range of shipments. FedEx is in the shipping services industry, which is an oligopolistic industry with few established competitors. The shipping services industry can be classified as being in the mature stage of the industry life cycle. The few competitors in this industry, such as UPS, DHL and USPS, in addition to FedEx, each have their own brand loyal customers and low cost operations that create significant barriers to entry into this industry.
As for the intensity of competition, in mature industries “companies tend to recognize their interdependence and try to avoid price wars.” (Hill Jones, p.57) For mature industries a stable demand reduces the threat of intense rivalry between the established companies. However, unpredictable economic activity can cause a “trickle down” effect, such as a slump in an economy causing a decrease through-out industry demand, and as companies fight to make money a price war begins among companies in an industry, therefore, price leadership can be broken down by unpredictable future events.
The shipping service industry is very dynamic. The variety of consumers needs explains the energetic nature of this industry. Global Corporations, E-Commerce Companies, small businesses, as well as individual consumers all have a need to ship packages or documents to other businesses or individuals; however, the nature of these services will vary. IBM Corporation, for example, is a large company that depends on shipping their products to a large extent. Due to the IBM’s large shipping volume, their shipping needs call for specific conditions provided by their shipping service provider, FedEx Corporation. IBM uses discounts on large quantity of shipments. In addition, they can use FedEx Corporation for aid with the customs documentation that is required for shipping internationally. The shipping industry needs to reflect the dynamics of other industries to keep up and sustain in today’s ever changing environment.
The major innovation that has reshaped the shipping service industry and changed the world in the past decade is the Internet. With the use of internet and information technology, customers do not have to drive to drop of their packages at the nearest location any more. They can simply order a pick up on the internet or by calling in. This technology also makes it possible for customers to receive information on the shipment status at any time.
This might seem as an established form of doing business in shipping service industry. However, many of us do not realize that it has been only since 1994 when FedEx established the first tracking applications website and provided each customer with a unique bar code to individualize each shipment. This form of shipment tracking already provides customers with a very convenient way of staying in touch with their shipments from pick up to delivery.
Yet, today’s information technology allows for even better way to do that, the wireless solution. An example of wireless solutions that FedEx offers to its customers is the accessing package tracking data through FedEx ground and home delivery web enable devices. These phones or personal data assistance (PDAs) allow customers to access tracking information from virtually anywhere and anytime. (About FedEx, Wireless Solutions)
The shipping service industry, like many other industries, constantly strives to incorporate technological innovations to meet their customer’s ever more sophisticated needs. FedEx is not alone in the transportation industry that implements new technology in their way of doing business. One of their major competitors, UPS, is also taking advantage of new technology. In the latest press release from September 23, 2003, “UPS Suite of New Technologies Promises Better Customer Service, Operating Efficiency,” UPS reveals new technology system, including software, hardware and process changes to deliver customized solutions and even more reliable service.
These service enhancements include “the ability to handle unique or unusual delivery instructions to offer more customized time commitments and to allow customers to make in-transit changes on package deliveries.” Innovation is transparent not only in FedEx’s operations but also in the way its competitors, like UPS, do their business. As stated in UPS’s press release: “These flexibilities correspond to today’s complex global supply chains that demand speed and frequent change.”
Porter’s five forces model to the industry is not an easy task provided that FedEx Corporation provides various shipping services. For simplicity, we examined and applied the Porter’s five forces model to the ground and air-shipping sector. In FedEx, these two sectors are represented by FedEx Express and FedEx Ground. FedEx Express is the world’s largest express transportation company. FedEx Ground, on the other hand, is North America’s second largest provider of small-package ground delivery service, following the lead of UPS. Other segments of shipping service industry are for example e-commerce and supply chain management services, which are not included in the Porter’s five forces analysis.
The competition in the package delivery service is very global. FedEx Corporation competes with UPS (United Parcel Service), DHL, USPS (United States Postal Service) as well as a host of other smaller companies at home and abroad. FedEx delivers packages to 214 countries as do most major players in this industry like UPS and DHL. As well as competing against bigger players, FedEx must also compete with regional delivery companies and international delivery companies that serve only their country. Competition is not becoming more global due to the fact that companies are merging and the industry is consolidating and companies are making alliances with each other. These are the visible signs of a shakeout occurring within an industry.
The shipping service industry in which FedEx operates is a complementary industry to the majority of other industries. The industry has several leaders all of whom provide various services with unique twists on the service offering. Local conditions largely influence the operations of FedEx Ground. In addition, FedEx also needs to monitor the moves of the established leader of this sector, UPS. FedEx Express, on the other hand, faces all the affects of changing global environment. The operations of FedEx Express need to respond to local demand conditions, factor conditions and related and supporting industries of each country that FedEx serves.
FedEx Corporation in the United States administers variety of advanced factors of production. These are managerial sophistication, logistics know-how, and physical infrastructure. Logistics is one of the main advanced factors which FedEx developed for managing its complex hubs. Physical infrastructure that FedEx uses is not only airports but also roads and ports.
Demand conditions in the United States thrusts FedEx, as well as its competitors, to constantly upgrade its services. As customers continually desire their shipments delivery faster and cheaper, the shipping service industry must constantly improve its services and customer responsiveness. The rivalry of existing competitors is very intense and the low buyer switching cost only fuels it. Specific shipping needs of various companies and individuals demand innovative approaches and the extensive use of technology in this industry. Competitiveness of Related and Supporting Industries: The presence of internationally competitive suppliers and related industries in the United States serves as another complimentary attribute of national advantage for FedEx’s operations.
As mentioned earlier, the shipping service industry faces rigorous rivalry for market share. Established companies have to strive for continuous improvement in quality, lowering price, and innovation. There is very low switching cost for consumers in this industry making rivalry even more intense. In addition, intense rivalry is also due to the fact that maintaining the infrastructure of an express delivery company presents an exit barrier due to high fixed costs. Rivalry forces companies in this industry to improve its services, making them better international competitors.
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