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Order ASAP for on-time Christmas delivery

Make sure you shop early this year. Online delivery is taking twice as long during the pandemic. Shipping will also cost more the closer we get to December 25th.

A surge in online purchases during the pandemic means that parcel delivery services are struggling to keep up with shipments. Demand for shipping has reached levels they didn’t expect to deliver until several years from now. Good luck getting your holiday gifts delivered on time this year.

Senders, recipients and those who deliver the shipments — are growing concerned about an even bigger surge in shipments as the holiday season gets underway.

“The spread of Covid-19 in the US has triggered such an increase in e-commerce since March that shipping volumes have consistently been at Christmas peak or Cyber Monday levels every day,” said FedEx Chief Marketing Officer Brie Carere. “Now we’re headed into a peak on top of a peak. We expect there will be limits to capacity on certain days this season.”

A FedEx worker unloads packages from his delivery truck on March 31, 2020 in Washington, DC.

UPS and the US Postal Service insist that they’re working with customers to handle the influx of packages, including adding more temporary staff and increasing Saturday and Sunday deliveries. But experts who track shipping capacity say that shippers — those who send out the packages — will still run into capacity bottlenecks.

People buying gifts online might want to order as early as December 1 to ensure that their packages arrive by Christmas. Other experts wouldn’t go to that extreme, saying it won’t be necessary to order that much in advance. But they say delays will be the norm close to Christmas.

Only so much delivery companies can do

The delivery services say they are increasing capacity as quickly as they can. UPS hired 39,000 permanent new employees in the second quarter of 2020, all of whom are working inside its sorting facilities or as drivers. It also will hire more than 100,000 additional seasonal employees for the peak holiday time frame. FedEx is adding 70,000.

The uncertainty about shipments is what makes it so difficult to plan for this year’s holiday season. The demand could even tighter if a second wave of the pandemic forces traditional brick-and-mortar stores to shut down again.

More expensive shipments

One way that delivery services hope to deal with the crush is to push retailers to ship more packages early in the holiday season, and charge more the closer it gets to Christmas.

UPS, FedEx and USPS have all had surge pricing premiums during the holidays. In past years, they were modest per-shipment charges that the retailers would pay themselves rather than passing them on to customers. But those surcharges could increase to as much as $5 per shipment this year, forcing some retailers to pass along the cost to consumers.

Amazon, the leading online retailer, has the advantage of having its own delivery drivers. But not even Amazon’s in-house delivery service will be able to handle all of its additional shipments this year. It will become a crisis if people ignore the warning to order early.

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