The exact reasons for the downfall of the two remaining carriers are unclear - seemingly an unhappy combination of the mysterious ways of Italian customs and a certain slackness on their own part in ensuring delivery. Fedex's package, perhaps finding it better to travel than to arrive, went via Bergamo some 60 kilometres to the north. Having arrived in Milan on Friday, the day scheduled for delivery, it loitered there until its eventual handing over the following Thursday. Although attempts had been made to trace this seemingly cryptic location on the Tuesday, no call to establish its exact whereabouts was made until the next day. At the same time, enquiries by the addressee to Fedex's Milan office were met with a less than helpful response - reliably translated as "It's not my problem".
All of the above seems doubly ironic given the fact that this was a parcel originally intended for Paris.
Such tardiness still ensured Fedex fourth place, for Securicor (by now undoubtedly the also-ran) was to trundle in a further 25 hours behind. Yet consolation may be found in the courtesy of the latter's staff - the "most pleasant and professional" of the five, according to our woman in Milan - one of whom spent half an hour on the phone explaining the delay. This was due, our addressee was informed, to confusion as to the package travelling as a "good" rather than a "document" and hence being dutiable. While other envelopes similarly classified had slipped through unmolested, this one seemed just plain unlucky.
Without prompting, our by now weary recipient went on to detail numerous other episodes of wilful bureaucracy, including one macabre incident involving the impounding of an organ intended for transplant. Yet in this case the delay was compounded by Securicor neglecting to take the addressee's telephone number. Having been similarly unable to find the street, it then had to call back to London - by now over a week had passed since the package was dispatched - to obtain the number.
As regards cost, one might naively think that the highest price would secure the fastest delivery. Going purely on the figures initially quoted, this logic was indeed borne out with TNT's rapid delivery to Milan. Yet with some carriers there were considerable discrepancies between the original quote and the amount actually invoiced (a further layer of confusion was added when in one instance it was the actual recipient who was billed from their regional office and in the local currency). With Securicor, for example, the eventual cost of delivery to Milan was £46.20 - £12.20 more than the figure given above.
Hence, through some strange inverse correlation, the most expensive carrier also proved to be the slowest on all three routes. Adding a degree of stability, UPS and Fedex were alone in offering uniform rates for all destinations, the former's being so substantially below its competitors (in one case less than half) as to perhaps offset the few hours in delivery by which it consistently trailed the leaders.
No contest is complete without the appropriate expressions of gratitude. Hence, finally, we would like to thank the tireless recipients at the various destinations who patiently monitored the (sometimes tortuous) progress of the packages, and received nothing more for their pains than five identical copies of Management Today!
Courier test results
DHL 16 hrs 45 mins £29.65
UPS 20 hrs 10 mins £17.50
Federal Express 24 hrs £28.20
TNT Skypak 47 hrs 20 mins £35.50
Securicor 49 hrs 15 mins £46.30
DHL 18 hrs 25 mins £29.65
Federal Express 20 hrs 15 mins £28.20
UPS 21 hrs 30 mins £17.50
TNT Skypak 42 hrs 20 mins £38.70
Securicor 45 hrs 45 mins £46.20
TNT Skypak 18 hrs 50 mins £39.75
DHL 41 hrs 5 mins £35.80
UPS 42 hrs £17.50
Federal Express 210 hrs* £28.20
Securicor 235 hrs* £33.00
* Detained in customs.
All packages dispatched 3.00 pm midweek. Times shown are those from door to door. Cost for a 1kg package as quoted on day of order.