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Pandemic expected to fuel holiday shipping surge
As the pandemic pushes shoppers online, retailers and carriers are preparing for a holiday shipping surge that could delay deliveries. FedEx and UPS are ramping up hiring, while stores are expand curbside pickup and urge customers to shop early. (Nov. 12)
Observers are calling it a perfect storm, walloping shoppers who are making more online purchases than ever before because of the pandemic and fewer people traveling this Christmas.
“Every mode of shipping is already under tremendous pressure due to COVID-19-related and holiday shopping constraints, and vaccine delivery just adds another element of disruption to the already fragile mix,” said Sean Maharaj, managing director in the logistics practice of AArete, a global consulting firm.
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The Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer’s vaccine Friday.
Under FDA rules, a vaccine cannot be shipped to administration sites until it has been either licensed or authorized. Operation Warp Speed, the White House-led initiative to develop and distribute vaccines, plans to begin the first vaccine deliveries within 24 hours of FDA authorization. Shipments of the vaccine are expected to start within the next few days.
Aaron Terrazas, director of economic research for Convoy, told USA TODAY that the timing of the first wave of vaccine distribution complicates holiday shipments and makes matters more complicated “particularly since the major vaccine distribution contractors are also major parcel delivery firms.”
“These distribution contractors are having to simultaneously grapple with a record e-commerce holiday season and this once-in-a-lifetime national emergency,” Terrazas said. Convoy utilizes technology to make the trucking industry more efficient.
Shop and ship early
Despite retailers urging shoppers to shop early and rolling out the season’s sales earlier than in past years, shoppers are still clicking add to cart.
According to Adobe Analytics, online holiday sales are expected to trounce previous records, leaping 33% over 2019 to $189 billion in the U.S. And with Americans being encouraged to limit travel and in-person gatherings due to the pandemic, Adobe predicts they will send presents directly to 18% more people this year, increasing the pressure on delivery pipelines.
Adobe recommends buying gifts before Friday, saying it predicts shipping costs will begin to rise after that date, “erasing some of the value consumers are getting from holiday deals.”
Dec. 15 is the deadline for ground shipping for UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Services, almost identical to 2019 deadlines.
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Naveen Jaggi, president of retail advisory services at brokerage firm JLL, said difficulties with supply chains and logistics with volumes are expected.
“If online orders are not in before mid-December, then we can expect orders will not be delivered in time for the holidays,” Jaggi said, adding more shoppers are expected to use curbside pickup and buy-online-pickup-in-store options more than ever before this year.
Stores have added expanded curbside and in-store pickup along with more same-day shipping options using services like Instacart, DoorDash and Postmates. Although the options get gifts into consumers’ hands faster, they aren’t expected to make a big difference in the number of gifts being shipped.
Rob Garf, Salesforce vice president of industry insights for retail and consumer goods, said the platform had predicted up to 700 million packages face potential shipping delays as orders exceed shipping capacity by 5%.
“Now we are seeing a surge upon surge that is significantly impacting shipping this holiday season,” Garf said. “The combination of unprecedented online orders with the race to distribute the vaccine will strain an already strained supply chain.”
FedEx and UPS have expanded weekend deliveries and hired more workers. They’ve also enforced limits on how many packages companies can send out a day and introduced steep holiday surcharges.
“UPS is running one of the most successful peak holiday shipping seasons ever,” said UPS CEO Carol Tomé in a statement to USA TODAY. “With great discipline and precision, we are delivering industry-leading on-time delivery performance – all part of our focus on ensuring we maintain a reliable delivery network that all of our customers can depend on.”
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Could more delays be coming?
Satish Jindel, the president and founder of ShipMatrix, which analyzes shipping package data, predicts a record 3 billion packages could be shipped this holiday season and 7.1 million packages a day through Christmas could face delays.
The vaccine, he said, is “going to put additional pressure on the other deliveries taking place next week and the week after. What was already a bad situation in terms of capacity will likely get tighter and a little more challenging.”
Bill Brooks, vice president of transportation for global technical consulting firm Capgemini North America, said companies were preparing for the surge.
“We’ve seen even two to five-day normal shipping take closer to four, seven and maybe 10 days,” Brooks said, adding the good news is “it’s not shifting out weeks and months, it’s just a matter of hours or days.”
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“While consumers would rather see their Christmas gifts get delivered on time, the nation has to put priority for the vaccine over Christmas gifts because people’s lives are at risk,” Jindel said.
More unexpected delays could be brewing, which are more reasons consumers should act fast.
“There will be packages that don’t make it and there can be more if we end up with a bad snowstorm on the final days before Christmas,” Jindel said. “But no one can predict that far out.”
Christmas shipping deadlines 2020
The best bet is to ship as soon as possible this holiday season, experts say. Here are key deadlines to keep in mind if you want your packages to arrive by Christmas.
UPS deadlines for Christmas delivery
- Ground: Dec. 15
- 3-Day Select: Dec. 21
- 2nd Day Air: Dec. 22
- Next Day Air: Dec. 23
U.S. Postal Service deadlines
Here are the deadlines for packages to arrive before Christmas in the 48 contiguous states:
- Retail Ground: Dec. 15
- First-Class Mail: Dec. 18
- Priority Mail: Dec. 19
- Priority Mail Express: Dec. 23
FedEx shipping deadlines
The following deadlines are within the U.S.:
- FedEx Home Delivery, FedEx Ground: Dec. 15
- FedEx Express Saver, FedEx 3Day Freight: Dec. 21
- FedEx 2Day: Dec. 22
- FedEx 1Day Freight, FedEx Extra Hours, FedEx Overnight: Dec. 23
- FedEx SameDay: Dec. 25
Contributing: Charisse Jones, Adrianna Rodriguez, Grace HauckElizabeth Weise, Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY; Max Garland, The Commercial Appeal
Follow USA TODAY reporter Kelly Tyko on Twitter: @KellyTyko
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