For the major express companies, preparation for the next holiday season started right after the last one ended. If you’re one of the many Americans whose packages arrived after Santa did last year, you are undoubtedly glad to hear this. In 2013, an unexpected surge in online orders, combined with winter storms and sparse airplane capacity, resulted in FedEx and UPS missing deliveries for Christmas.
While online retailers certainly share some of the blame – they promised more than was reasonable – UPS and FedEx are investing heavily this year to avoid a repeat of last year. For the first time, UPS will operate a full domestic air and ground network on the day after Thanksgiving (not just its air network). It’s also adding 95,000 seasonal workers and 6,000 package delivery cars, plus increasing its available aircraft. FedEx recently announced a sharp increase in its number of seasonal workers.
Retailers are also making some changes, including in-store pick-up options and better “distributive fulfillment” efforts, which lets them ship from their brick-and-mortar stores rather than distribution centers. These offerings reduce the distances packages travel.
The U.S. Postal Service came out of last year’s holiday season smelling sweet. A Business Week article called the Postal Service’s performance stellar, noting that it made adjustments throughout December – including adding deliveries on three Sundays in the month – to accommodate package surges. Of course, the Postal Service doesn’t operate its own fleet of airplanes like UPS and FedEx. So it’s not necessarily the carrier of choice for overnight deliveries.
Still, many pundits believe the Postal Service could win some new customers this holiday season due to its strong performance last year. The Postmaster General recently told USA Today the Postal Service expects an 8 percent increase in packages over last year. Further, the Postal Service’s recent lowering of commercial Priority Mail prices may have already convinced some companies to switch. However, unpredictable weather close to Christmas and increased volume could pose challenges similar to last year. Would a less-than-stellar holiday performance from the Postal Service hurt its potential in the coveted commercial package market? How can the Postal Service prepare for these potential challenges? Will the changes retailers are making help?