A holiday sold out: shipping capacity.
Both FedEx The Corp.
at United Parcel Service Inc..
told some of their biggest shippers that most of their capacity is already spoken, and any additional trailers with holiday orders will have to wait to be picked up, according to shipping consultants and retailers.
“There will be days during the holiday season where the industry will be over capacity,” FedEx Chief Marketing Officer Brie Carere said in an interview.
The insight sent shoppers on the hunt for alternatives with little luck. Smaller US carriers like LaserShip Inc. and DHL eCommerce Solutions said they had booked their capacity for the holidays months earlier than usual and were not attracting new customers until next year.
The final safety valve is the U.S. Postal Service, whose finances and network were stretched during the coronavirus pandemic and could put greater pressure if shipers dropped their overflow orders on the agency network.
“Everyone in the market is looking for more capacity,” said Tim Geiken, principal at Platinum Circle Partners LLC, a logistics consulting firm. “With a few exceptions, no one finds it.”;
Lack of capacity can average up to seven million packages a day between Thanksgiving and Christmas, estimates ShipMatrix Inc., a software provider that cuts parcel shipping data. Satish Jindel, the firm’s president, estimates that the total shipping capacity for the industry was 79.1 million parcels a day during that time, with 86.3 million packages seeking space. Last year, total capacity was 65.3 million packages with 67.9 million seeking space.
“Consumers should be prepared for delivery that will take too many days regardless of the carrier delivering their parcels,” Mr. Jindel said. The deficit could be reduced, he added, if Amazon.com Inc.
the delivery network adds more drivers or if the Postal Service delivers more packages on Sundays.
The shipping crunch is against an uneven retail backdrop. Consumer spending has been on the rise since pandemic economic activity stopped. But the rebound has been fueled by select sectors, including big-box retailers and home improvement chains, while department stores and others that have temporarily closed continue the struggle. General spending remains below the pre-pandemic level and there are signs that economic recovery is losing steam.
Shippers and their shippers spend months planning for the holiday season and hone their forecasts for the number of packages they expect to ship. Both sides decide on items such as weekly shipping forecasts and how many trailers carriers may need to pick up from their load docks per day. Any deviation from the estimate could result in higher rates per package or penalties to compensate the carrier for the need to marshal more resources.
FedEx in recent years has tightened its grip on the decision-making line to accept any additional volume to ensure its network is not overwhelmed. UPS,
meanwhile, there has been more falgle room to accept additional volume due to a recent buildup of major sorting hubs.
In recent years, shoppers may find space to ship if online sales break expectations, even if it comes at a premium at the rates discussed.
“There always seems to be a way in which you can buy more capacity,” said Hannah Testani, chief operating officer of Intelligent Audit, a freight audit and analytics company. “Now, that’s not it.”
The main reason for this year’s lack of capacity is that carriers operate near maximum capacity for several months while consumers stay at home, avoiding stores and shopping online. The surge surge suppressed the networks and led to longer processing and delivery times. Carriers cannot quickly increase capacity in new facilities because it often requires a multi-year planning process.
Carriers imposed shipping restrictions on customers and added fees to offset the increased cost of personnel, safe care equipment and other outlays during the pandemic. Pricing forces are rapidly shifting to carriers, raising rates and becoming more selective about which shipper they want to do business with.
To make some extra capacity, carriers ask their customers to make changes to try to transfer some shipping volume at times that may be more sluggish in their network.
For FedEx customers, that means doing more over the weekend. The company, which has made a bigger push in e-commerce recently, began making pickups seven days a week, a process of change that it accelerated during the pandemic. It tells customers that the network has more delays every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“We do not want to say no to anyone,” said Ms. Cared by FedEx. But, he added, “There will be limits in a few days.” The company’s marketing for the holiday season will also focus on buying and delivering orders in advance, a company spokesman said.
Delivery giants are also requesting shippers for more detailed data on incoming volume and redirecting it to facilities capable of handling it.
“We work closely with our large and medium customers to guide the quantity to capacity and ensure that the UPS network is reliable for all customers,” the UPS spokesperson said.
A Postal Service spokesman said it was committed to handling incoming mail mailing before paying attention to the holidays. The agency said its network could handle the expected increase in packages, but it will be especially important this year for customers to ship packages earlier.
“Our network is designed to handle temporary and seasonal volume increases, and we have the ability to deliver additional holiday packages in a timely manner,” the spokesperson said.
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One solution is to spread sales more widely during the holiday season, a marketing strategy driven by carriers to pursue their customers. The Great Day of Amazon.com Inc. and competing sales from other retailers began during the mid-October shopping season, which could pull some of the shipping volume ahead of the busier windows.
Meanwhile, retailers are trying to convince consumers that they do not have to wait for Thanksgiving week to get the best deal. Many also drive services that allow customers to purchase items online and pick them up at stores, an option that rose to prominence during the pandemic.
In most years, shippers can rely on other carriers. But most turn their backs on business sooner rather than later. DHL stopped hiring new customers in early August, contrary to the normal waiting schedule until October, a spokesman said.
Josh Dinneen, chief commercial officer for Lasership, said the carrier, which serves the US East, had to relinquish shipers seeking help during the July holidays, as opposed to September in recent years.
One shipper, after being told that Lasership would not take their packages for November and December, replied, “Is there any amount of money that can be changed?”
“It’s a very good conversation to have,” Mr. Dinneen said. “But I can’t solve your problem this year because you arrived late.”
Write to Paul Ziobro at [email protected]
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