Employing Competitive Priorities in Business: The Case of FedEx
The courier industry is one of the most integral parts in the American economy. It is involved in the transportation of a variety of products like drugs, packages, bulk materials and documents to businesses within USA and outside its borders without which the whole economy would come to a standstill. The same day delivery service is also a vital part of the just in time nature of the economy of the US. This multi billion industry has more than seven thousand businesses in it in direct competition with the big four courier firms, (DHL, UPS, FedEx and USPS) and with each other.
In the recent past, competition between FedEx and UPS, two of the largest courier a company, has intensified as their core business increasingly overlap. UPS traditionally dominated the overnight delivery market while FedEx dominated ground delivery. With each moving to its rival opponent’s domain, the need to create competitive priories is even stronger because this is the only way for the companies to retain their businesses and deliver value to their shareholders. FedEx’ relies on technology to drive its competitive strategies and maintain their business operations. FedEx business model is highly dependent on data between the businesses and its customers. FedEx thus invests more than $1 billion each year to maintain its technology and building a wireless infrastructure to relay timely information on possible problems in the delivery route, enhance efficiency and cut business costs. I will use FedEx as a study case to analyse how a business can gain competitive advantage using competitive priorities.
FedEx Corporation, NYSE:FDX is a Memphis based logistics services company which offers courier services, logistics solutions. FedEx is one of the largest logistics companies in the world delivering small packages to the US and to more than 220 companies in the world. FDX Corporation was founded in 1998 after, FedEx Corporation, which had been incorporated the previous year acquired Caliber systems Inc and its subsidiaries like RPS, a small package ground transportation company, Roberts Express which offered expedited shipping, Viking Freight, a less than truck load freight courier and Caliber Technology, provider of logistics and technology solutions (FedEx, 2012).
After this acquisition, FDX started offering other courier services apart from express shipping. FDX, later rebranded as FedEx Corporation was formed to oversee the operation of all the acquired subsidiaries including Federal express, its air division. It also rebranded the subsidiaries to have the FedEx brand in all divisions with federal express being renamed FedEx Express, RPS renamed FedEx ground, and Roberts Express renamed FedEx Custom critical, Caliber Logistics and technology were combined to make up FedEx Global Logistics.
In 2012, the company’s annual revenue was 40 billion which a 13% increase from the revenues was for the previous year. The earnings per share on the other hand for 2011 grew 20%. In the same year, the company increased its fleet of electric and hybrid electric vehicles by 20% to 408 to curb air pollution (FedEx, 2012).
During the first quarter of 2010, the company spent an estimated %4.9 million in campaigns lobbying against the government’s move to sign the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorisation bill which would make it easier for some of its employees to unionise terming it a bailout on UPS, FedEx’s main competitor in the US market (FedEx, 2012). To survive in these kinds of competitive markets, companies have to adopt strategies to survive. Managers can only take advantage of the changes in the wider environment by using appropriate strategies. Effective strategies allow the firms to use their resources for the best outcomes. The next part of the paper looks at what strategy is.
What is Strategy?
Strategy is an outline of how an organisation intends to achieve its goals. The goals of an organisation are the objectives the owners set for the business while the strategy sets out the route to achieve these objectives. In the early years of the businesses, the strategy taken by the business is fairly simple: to survive and achieve growth targets. However, as the firm increases in size, it must select narrower set of strategies referred to as competitive strategies to survive in the face of strong competitors. According to Porter (1996), competitive strategy is about being different. It refers to choosing a different set of activities to deliver the company’s mix of value to the customers. Markides (1999) argues that the essence of developing a strategy for the organisation is to select one strategic position that a company can claim as its own and pursue it. A strategic position represents a company’s answer to the following three questions: who should the company target as its customer? What products/services should the company offer to the target customers? And, how can the company deliver these products efficiently? These three questions help a company to choose a success strategy that is different from that of its competitors (Henry, 2008).
Another view of strategy is that given by Kay (1993). According to Kay (1993), strategy is a match between the organisation’s internal capabilities and the relationship with stakeholders. Strategy is therefore concerned with the firm’s use of analytical techniques to understand and hence influence its position in the market.
Since the environment within which the company operates is constantly changing and the needs of its customers shifting, a company must ensure that its internal resources and capabilities are more than sufficient to meet these needs since companies do not exist to survive but to grow and prosper in the competitive environment (Henry, 2008).
An effective strategy gives a firm three benefits. The first benefit is a strategy as a source of economic gains. Secondly, it provides the firm with a basis for resource allocation. And thirdly, guides the firm’s decisions regarding management and organisation. One main strategy that companies use is the development of consistent set of objectives which are known as Competitive priorities. These priorities are: Cost, Quality, Time and Flexibility.
The first competitive priority that a company can choose is cost leadership. This is a strategy whereby the cost of a given product in a company is relatively low compared to that of competing products from other companies. This strategy does not jeopardize the quality of products. It rather focuses on high profit margin based on competitive price (Chard, Jacobs and Aquilas, 2004, p.35). In order to ensure effectiveness of cost as a competitive priority, companies operations should be guided by economies of scale. They should also minimise all other operational costs, which include cost of labour and materials. The employees should also be well trained so as to maximise their productivity.
The second priority is quality. Customers always intend to purchase products which they consider being of high quality. For this reason, companies should ensure that they avail high quality goods and services to customers. Care should be taken in pursuing quality as a competitive priority because there are differences in what customers term as high quality. For instance, there are customers who search for products that possess superior features.
There are two dimensions of quality; namely, high performance design and goods and services consistency (Chard, Jacobs and Aquilas, 2004, p.35). High quality design involves the production of goods which address the quality demands of the customers. On the other hand, consistency involves building confidence among clients by ensuring availability of goods and services upon demand.
The third competitive advantage is differentiation as regards to time in delivery speed and reliability. As much as a company pursues production of high quality products, production should not take too long. This is because delays in production and delivery upset customers. Chard, Jacobs and Aquilas (2004) outlined two dimensions of effective delivery. These are rapid delivery and on- time delivery. Rapid delivery involves quick reception of customers’ orders while delivery on- time involves high frequency of on-time delivery of goods and services. In order to utilize time as a competitive priority, companies should make use of technology and employ effective work force.
Therefore, in the process of delivery, companies should ensure that deliveries are “in accordance with the promises made to customers”. This is referred to as dependability (Hayes and Wheelwright, 1984, p. 24).
The fourth priority is flexibility of product mix and adaptation to changing markets. Competition always leads to change of products in the market by different companies. Therefore, as the market changes and customers’ needs and expectations shift, the company should device ways of accommodating these changes. This should be geared towards winning the confident of customers. Chard, Jacobs and Aquilas (2004) categorises flexibility into product and volume flexibility (p. 36). Product flexibility is the ability of the company to offer goods and service that suits the customers’ needs. With this, a product may be dropped out or introduced to the market depending on the market trend. Volume flexibility is the strategy of increasing or decreasing the production of a given product in order to accommodate changes in its demand.
Hayes and Wheelwright (1984) expound aspects of flexibility as the ability to change volume of production, time taken to produce, mix of different products or services produced. Flexibility also involves the ability to innovate and introduce new products and services (p.24).
Flexibility enhances healthy competition as competition is not based on speed of production but customized products. In addition, it helps to reduce competition based on cost. This is so because production of customized products may require extra resources for production. Companies which employ this strategy ensure that its products are varied, and its workers are skilled and competent enough.
Scholars hold divergent views regarding the criteria for utilization of the four competitive priorities. For instance, Hayes and Wheelwright (1984) companies cannot simultaneously succeed when they pursue all the priorities simultaneously. This is because there is the likelihood that such companies have to allow different operators to implement priorities at different times. The resultant lack of coordination leads to inability to achieve objects. The two, therefore, advocate for trade-offs whereby companies pursue one competitive priority to greater levels than the other priorities. On the other hand, there are other scholars who argue that companies can still succeed while pursue the four competitive priorities simultaneously (p. 25). In the next part of the paper, an analysis of FedEx competitive priorities will be done.
FedEx Competitive Priorities
The environment in which FedEx operates is quickly changing due to the financial crisis and globalisation which has resulted into an increase in the number of competitors in the courier business. During the crisis, the quantity of global trade was severely affected which in turn affected the revenues of logistics companies, including FedEx. Although the financial position of the company for last year looked promising, the future is too vague to predict for FedEx. This means that the company must look for ways to strengthen its position in the market. One of the ways that company can do this is by exploiting competitive priorities (Porter, 1998).
The main competitive priority for FedEx is time. In the same day delivery business, delivery on schedule is a vital component in winning customers trust. According to Chase, Jacobs, et al 2006, a company can differentiate itself using time as its competitive priority in two ways: First, is through speed delivery speed and secondary through reliability and ability to deliver the goods when promised. Some of the packages that FedEx is in charge of delivering like medical supplies are extremely time sensitive and hence the businesses is always on the lookout for ways to reduce delays in the supply chain to ensure that packages arrive on time. One of the ways that FedEx achieves this is by controlling every part of the delivery chain. The company owns aircrafts, delivery vans and sorting facilities to ensure reliable on time delivery.
As early as 1980 during the initial years of the company, FedEx had a fully integrated system to monitor the location of vans, track packages and communicate with customers to ensure that all packages were picked and delivered on time. In the last few years, the company has been replacing the old wireless system with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and cellular networks, GPS which enables customers to track their packages in real time using their WAP enabled phones and PDAs. In addition to this, the company has over the years build a seamless international and domestic network linked by air and ground delivery channels which ensures that customers needs are well met (Berger, 2011).
The second competitive priority for the company is flexibility. According to Chase, Jacobs, et al 2006, flexibility involves the ability to provide a wide range of products or services without delay to meet the needs of the client. The company has always been a leader in adaptation of new technology to better meet the expectations of its clients. For instance, the company was the first to start offering delivery at 10.30 am after identifying a need within the market to have their goods delivered early so that they have enough time during the day to work on them. The company also formed a strategic alliance with U.S. Postal Service to offer its customers more flexibility in drop-off points for their parcels (Porter, 1998).
The third competitive strategy that FedEx pursue is cost leadership. According to Porter (1998), cost leadership is concerned with producing high volumes of standardised products to take advantage of economies of scale. FedEx offers its customers a range of flat rate fees and delivery options to ensure that all customers well satisfied. To reduce costs, FedEx uses technology to gather data and through outsourcing some of its operations such as delivery.
The fourth competitive strategy for FedEx is quality. According to Porter (1998), quality is concerned with excellence in operations, product based quality and value based quality where the organisation offers excellence at an acceptable price. To maintain quality, FedEx trains all its employees the importance of correcting a mistake before it goes further on since the mistake becomes more costly to fix once it is allowed to go on. For instance, sorting goods before shipping helps the company avoid wrong shipping. The company also maintains its quality by offering timely delivery which has earned it more satisfaction among its customers than its rival UPS. Quality at FedEx is also maintained by the use of information technology, such as Wi-Fi and iPhone apps, at every point of its delivery channel which enables the company to gain important information about picking up its customers’ parcels and relying information to the customers about where the package is at every step of delivery. The use of technology helps to communicate with the customers in case of delays to maintain their loyalty.
In conclusion, a company should seek to exploit its competitive priorities to ensure survival in times of competition. Competition is normal in every industry and so is the case in US courier industry in which FedEx operates. In the recent years, intense competition over the US market has increased for FedEx both from its main rival UPS and also smaller courier companies which fill the gaps that larger courier companies like UPS, FedEx and DHL are unable to fill due to their large size. In such competitive markets, a company has to come up with a strategy not only to survive but grow in the face of competition. Formation of a competitive strategy involves matching the internal capabilities of the firm with needs of its stakeholders to tap into the changing needs of the market. One of the best strategies that a firm can use is called competitive priority.
Competitive priorities that affirm can utilise to gain competitive advantage are cost leadership, flexibility, quality of products and timely delivery. The first competitive priority, cost leadership, is concerned with producing a high volume of standardised products to gain economies of scale. FedEx offers to its customers a wide range of services at acceptable prices due to its large market size which has enabled the company from a distribution network in the US and other countries which allows it to pick and deliver parcels more conveniently and cheaply. It has also reduced its operating cost by use of technology to gather data which is vital in logistics.
The second competitive priority that a firm can utilise is quality. This is concerned with a company attaining excellence in its products and offering these products at a competitive price. One of the ways that FedEx maintains its quality is through the use of IT to ensure that its customer’s packages are delivered on time. Timely delivery is enhanced by its already established efficient delivery channel which allows it to collect and deliver packages as per customer’s demands. The other competitive priority a firm can pursue to gain a competitive advantage is flexibility in the mix of products and in offering new products. FedEx achieves this by observing the changes in demands for customers to offer new services like late night delivery and linking up with online sellers, like Amazon, to provide online shoppers with convenient transport of their shopping. The last competitive priority is timely delivery and reliability which FedEx does by ensuring that customers receive all their packages in time by integrating IT in their delivery system to rely information about possible delays to help take corrective action and help customers track their packages to avoid uncertainty.
Berger, A. (2011). Case Study – FedEx Corporation: Strategic Management. New York: Grin Verlag.
Chard, R., Jacobs, F., & Aquilas, N. J. (2004). Operations Management for Competitive Advantage. New York: McGraw- Hill.
Davis, M. M., Aquilano, N. J., Balakrishnan, J., & Chase, R. B. (2005). Fundamentals of Operations Management. New York: McGraw-Hill Ryerson.
FedEx. (2012). About FedEx. Retrieved May 21, 2012, from http://about.van.fedex.com/
Hayes, R. H., & Wheelwright, S. C. (1984). Restoring Our Competitive Edge: Competing Through Manufacturing. John Wiley: New York. .
Henry, A. (2008). Understanding Strategic Management. New York: Oxford University Press.
Porter, M. E. (1998). Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors. Free Press.