Package Delayed? Historic Shipping Season Leads to Unprecedented Challenges

If your package is delayed or your delivery driver looks extra tired right now, you can blame it on the side-effects of the pandemic.

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The year 2020 has gifted the shipping industry with a logistical nightmare this holiday season.

Wednesday is supposed to be the last day for U.S. Postal Service priority mail shipping to make it in time by Friday but experts say don't count on it arriving before Christmas.

If your package is delayed or your delivery driver or postal worker just looks really tired right now, you can blame it on what people are calling "Shipaggedon."

“Basically if you didn’t ship your gift by Dec. 15, you might as well call your family and tell them it’s going to be a new year’s gift," joked Matt Rosen, founder and CEO of Dallas-based Allata.

Rosen works with retailers on improving consumer experiences through technology and distribution. He said he has been telling his clients all season to prepare for delays because up to 60% of America is ordering everything online right now.

“This has been an unprecedented holiday season. It actually started in October with Amazon Prime Day with over 10 billion spent by consumers,” Rosen said. “As a result, we advised many of our retail clients start specials all the way back in November. Obviously they weren’t big doorbusters and Black Friday sales, so a lot of shopping moved to online.“

Since people are forgoing travel to see family in person, even more people are mailing gifts instead.

“As a result, it’s created a perfect storm for the big shippers, UPS FedEx or USPS. They hired probably 250,000 people in preparing for November and December but I don’t think it was enough,” Rosen said.

Adding to the mayhem, Rosen said deliveries across the country are being slowed by the Nor'easter winter storm we just saw last week, the COVID-19 vaccines taking up air cargo space, and even sick workers.

“There’s also less planes flying,” added Rosen. “With obviously not as many commercial routes going, you only have about 2,000 dedicated aircraft at any given time for shipping. So they’re having to rely on less planes, there’s still a trucker shortage with all the craziness going on and so they’re just not able to move as many packages even with all these extra workers.”

While FedEx and UPS are busy with vaccine shipments, vaccines are already going to locations the companies are delivering to such as hospitals, clinics and doctor's offices.

UPS had set “specific capacity allocations” for its customers over Black Friday weekend and throughout the holiday season as it works to deliver packages at record volumes, a UPS spokesperson told CNBC earlier this month. The company said it was working with large retail customers to ensure they were aware of how much capacity is available to them.

“What happens is when you don’t get out with FedEx or UPS, it falls to the USPS, which we already know is underwater. We’ve got workers out with coronavirus, you’ve got a trucker shortage and you’ve got an overwhelmed system. Plus, you’ve got the Senate runoff in Georgia making sure that mail gets in,” Rosen said.

According to shipping consultant and software company ShipMatrix, those restrictions by Fedex and UPS is putting an extra 6 million packages per day on USPS.

For example, ShipMatrix data shows on-time delivery between Dec. 13 and Dec. 17 dropped to as low as 86% for the postal service, 92% for FedEx and 94% for UPS. It said the heavy snowstorms in the northeast had the greatest impact on consumers in Penn. Maryland, New Jersey and New York.

Rosen projects those numbers to only look worse this week.

“They’ve had to take on an unprecedented amount of load, packages and expectations. For the most part, they’ve risen to the occasion but this has been an onslaught unlike anything we’ve seen,” he said.

ShipMatrix says there are about 80 million packages on the move a day, with about two to three million delayed each day.

The USPS said they have about half a million boots on the ground working to get everything delivered.

If your Christmas gifts are delayed, Rosen suggests doing curbside pickup with a local or small business in the area your loved one lives. From there, you can use last-mile delivery companies like Shipt or Postmates to pick up and deliver those last-minute gifts for you.

Either way, pack some patience in your holiday packages this season.

“I think if you look to 2021, I think these shippers are going to have to stay staffed up as the pandemic continues on for at least the next six months,” Rosen said. “There’s going to continue to be high volumes and people ordering all sorts of products online. And there’s going to be the need for the supply chain to be able to deliver that to them in a timely fashion.”

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