Every year, consumers and retailers alike expect to experience delays in shipping around the holiday period. This year, the high volume of holiday shipping will combine with the broader growth of e-commerce, creating an unprecedented number of packages in transit. For retailers, being proactive about fulfilment could make the difference in keeping customers satisfied.
Retail logistics solution LateShipment conducted a study of package delay rates, comparing the 2019 holiday season (Nov 22 – Dec 31, 2019), the pre-pandemic period (Jan – March 2020) and the peak pandemic period (April – October 2020). Pandemic delays were almost comparable to holiday rates, suggesting that the combination of factors this holiday season will result in shipping delays of 1.5 – 2x the usual rate.
“The pandemic’s far-reaching effects have weighed heavily on the operational capabilities of shipping carriers and their employees alike,” read the LateShipment report. “This is raising concerns among small parcel shippers over package-handling capacity of carriers and their ability to meet on-time delivery promises.”
In order to handle the increased volume of packages, carriers have increased seasonal hiring: FedEx is hiring 70,000 temporary workers while UPS is hiring more than 100,000 to help deal with the surge. But it is still expected that this will be insufficient for preventing delays, particularly for urban centers like New York and Los Angeles, which are traditionally hit harder by delays both during the pandemic and at the holidays.
For retailers, alternative last-mile providers could help reduce delays, with some businesses utilizing local delivery solutions like Postmates and Deliv. LateShipment CEO Sriram Sridhar also recommends looking to third-party merchants like Amazon or regional carriers like Lazership and OnTrac, in order to help supplement service from the major carriers.
Fulfillment practices can also help reduce the strain on networks. By shipping orders as early as possible, retailers can increase their chance of avoiding the peak of package volume; communicating these deadlines to consumers can also encourage early purchasing. Being transparent about shipping expectations can also reduce expectations.
“Revisit shipping estimates and holiday deadlines you are conveying to customers and ensure that they are taking into account expected delays,” said Sridhar. “When some shipments get inevitably delayed, proactively get in touch with customers, explain the situation, and offer compensation; customers are often very understanding and this earns goodwill.”
For consumers, there are a few ways to get around these delays. Shopping early is the easiest solution; Sridhar recommends purchasing a week earlier than usual, in order to accommodate any last-minute issues. For particularly important items, consumers might want to order multiple versions just in case one retailer has a delay, or have a plan B.
“You are caught shopping late, shop closer to home,” said Sridhar.” Pick options such as curbside pick up and same city local shipping that avoid traditional shipping carriers, compared to shopping from a retailer far away from your location.”