What Can Brown Take From You?

One of my local shops has a particular ball-buster of a co-owner, the sort of person I’ve described as “the guy everyone wants in their company—just not on a sales floor.” He’s meticulous about going over bills and contracts to make sure he’s not getting screwed. In the bike business, where many brick-and-mortar stores are hanging on by the narrowest of margins, that makes sense.

Recently he decided to take a look at his UPS bill, something he’d never audited before. This store ships a lot of bike boxes in a year because they do a heavy amount of use bike trades and sales. It’s probably fair to say that they move more than 100 bike boxes a year. Now keep in mind that the conventional bike bike is specifically designed to fit within the UPS shipping guidelines. Aside from things like tandems and massive downhill bikes, just about everything fits within the UPS standard size. That’s good because like with airline travel if you should go over the dimensions by just a fraction you end up getting a hefty penalty.

This quick look at the invoice revealed that many of the bikes that had gone out in the month were being tagged by UPS as oversized, which incurred a $70 up-charge. Reportedly he called UPS and they explained they used a laser-scanner to measure boxes, but (and this is now third hand) those can sometimes be inaccurate. Usually that wouldn’t be a big deal but a fraction of an inch in this case makes for $70. Needless to say he and his rep are going to be having a conversation this week, one that involves a lot of checking of invoices.

So, to the shop owners out there—have you seen this? Have you been charged for oversized boxes when you’re shipping something that you know is a standard UPS-approved bike box? I’m curious as to whether this might be a local shipment processing center needing an alignment in the scanners, or a systematic issue.


I have seen it….from both FedEx and UPS.  One of the things I do to make sure I get an accurate “qoute” when building a label is round any fractions of an inch up…

Another issue that has bitten me in the ass a few times over the years with both shippers is their claims that they don’t have to honor insurance on shipped bikes when you re-use a cardboard box.  The issue with doing this, according to them, is that these boxes are only designed for a single use.  I lost one very good customer because of this several years ago and ate a pricy bike replacement for another a year or two later.

Wow, I didn’t know the one about the disposable boxes, that’s a bit nuts. That should be their rule on ANY box then, since all of the corrugated boxes are the same design.

I actually switched back to USPS recently for our shipping at Photographic.ly. They do some odd things, but haven’t overcharged me on the shipping ever. I think I’ve gotten 2 boxes back for under postage (and both were my fault) out of thousands of packages.

The other day my shipping software went a bit nuts and didn’t verify my address when I told it to ship to Quebec Bulgaria not Quebec, Canada. Of course, there is no Quebec Canada (and Bulgaria uses 4 digit zip codes while Canada uses 6-digit).

Much to my surprise the package made it back from overseas and to the recipient in Canada in two days. I’d still be on the phone with Fedex or UPS.

Then there was the time that I shipped two boxes via Fedex to New Orleans for an article I was doing for Mountain Bike. Fedex lost the boxes, took days of tracking and lost package requests across the system. Finally they called and said that they found one of the two bikes at the depot near the airport. I drove to the depot, went into the back and there was the found bike, sitting right next to the other lost bike. In an empty room.

Somehow they managed to find a bike with a lost tracking notice but didn’t see the second bike sitting right next to it, also with my name on it. (The moral of that story is don’t ship anything to New Orleans during Mardi Gras.)

On Twitter, a follower said,

Eckertmarc: And they do it 2 or 3 weeks later and make it almost impossible to track

Yup, that was the thing that was biting the shop I went to. The bills were 30 days after shipments, they saw “oversize charges” but there was no way to tell what the charges related to.

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