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There is nothing typical about this year’s holiday shopping and shipping for carriers and retailers

Chances are you have heard this before, so please be warned that you will hear it once again. And what that message addresses is that the 2020 holiday shopping and, of course, shipping, season is very likely to be unlike any other.

There are myriad reasons for this, of course, but, make no mistake, the biggest one, of course, is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. There is no other reason taking the top slot, period. When the pandemic first hit, there was a fair amount of panic, from a personal health standpoint, no question, but also in terms of consumers getting the everyday staples they need, too. That was especially evident early on in these strange days, but once state economies started to slowly reopen and the days on the calendar moved on, too, shopping for the holiday season moved into sharper focus, as also did the degree to which e-commerce logistics has been front and center, too.

This goes back to just how different 2020 is shaping up to be, from a shopping, shipping and e-commerce logistics perspective, make no mistake. As has been widely reported, shopping in malls and retail locations is really not an option for many people, for multiple reasons. And, taking that a step further, there has been more than a few examples of what may be in store over the coming weeks, as it relates to what is different and what that could mean.

A few examples were made clear in recent articles in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

The article in the Times’ headline—Brace for Holiday ‘Shipageddon’—basically says it all, it seems.  And the lead sentence of the article gets right to the point: “Online shopping has exploded during the pandemic. The holidays are approaching. What happens when these two forces collide?”

The article highlighted how the parcel delivery carriers are truly “stretched thin” while gearing up to handle the upcoming holiday package haul, which has, retailers, in turn, very focused on how they will move merchandise, coupled with the anticipated extra expenses needed to move orders and the possibility of home delivery resulting in potential bottlenecks.

And it also touched upon shifts in consumer buying habits over the course of the pandemic, which have resulted in overstressed delivery networks and retailers with less merchandise than usual ready for the holidays, citing how the pandemic threw a wrench into what it called typical inventory planning.

As for the parcel duopoly of UPS and FedEx, the article explained that they think this year’s holiday season will stretch them “to the limits,” and added that have rolled out steeper fees for retailers this year, in an effort to reduce and discourage deliveries they cannot handle.

In the event that is not painful enough, consider this takeaway from the WSJ, regarding UPS and Fedx: [they] have told some of their largest shippers that most of their capacity is already spoken for, and that any extra trailers with holiday orders will have to wait to be picked up, according to shipping consultants and retailers.”


But, wait, there is more. The article also observed that this situation leads retailers to secure capacity from smaller providers, but they are, too, full, capacity-wise and not able to bring on new customers until 2021.

What’s more, the article highlighted data from ShipMatrix that estimated the “current capacity shortfall could average as much as seven million packages a day between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” adding that total shipping capacity for that period is expected to be at 79.1 million parcels a day, whereas there are a total of 86.3 million parcels needing space. It is even starker when considering that just a year ago, total capacity was at 65.3 million packages, with a total of 67.9 packages needing space.

These numbers really drive home the increased stakes for retailers and their delivery partners. Never before have the stakes been as high as now, of course. When we all shop online, we make our orders and hope for the best, or, more often, expect, our items to arrive when they are supposed to. If you want that to remain the case this year, you really may want to do your holiday online shopping much sooner than usual.

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Parcel Express
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About the Author

Jeff Berman's avatar
Jeff Berman
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review and is a contributor to Robotics 24/7. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis.
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