Early returns, fewer days after Thanksgiving could delay shipments

Amazon is ramping up its operation in the Kettering Business Park. Delivery vans have been filling the parking lots of the distribution center for about three weeks. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

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Amazon is ramping up its operation in the Kettering Business Park. Delivery vans have been filling the parking lots of the distribution center for about three weeks. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

Local shoppers and gift givers who plan to buy online and send packages during the holiday shopping season should start earlier this year because there are fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas than last year.

The shorter holiday season comes at a time when nationwide shipping companies expect record traffic. The United Parcel Service expects to handle 5 percent more packages during its peak season than at the same time last year, when it hit its previous record, said Kim Krebs, UPS spokeswoman.

The National Retail Federation has estimated sales during the holiday season will jump 4.2 percent, lead by an 11 to 14 percent boost in e-commerce sales.

“Order early,” said George Shchegolev, co-founder of shipping optimization software Route4Me. “As you get closer to the holidays, you just have to recognize that if you’re shipping it a couple of days before, there’s a very high chance it won’t come and it’s not because the companies don’t want to do it. It’s because they’re overwhelmed.”

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Gift buyers and shippers may want to start earlier with shipping deadlines for the cheapest methods as early as Dec. 9 - only 11 days after Thanksgiving.

“With six fewer days (between Thanksgiving and Christmas), more products will have to be shipped through the funnel, which means it will be all hands on deck at Amazon and other retailers as well as at logistics companies,” said Brittain Ladd, a retail and supply chain analyst.

New this year in the delivery wars in Dayton is the recently-opened Kettering Amazon delivery station that focuses on the last mile. The facility has made one-day shipping available to Miami Valley’s shoppers. Amazon has said that more than 10 million items will be available for free Prime one-day shipping in 46 major metropolitan areas this holiday season.

Delivery wars have been more competitive over the last several years. Last year Walmart, Target and other major retailers offered free two-day shipping in November and December, a direct move to compete with Amazon’s nationwide standard.

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But shoppers shouldn’t wait two days before a gift needs to arrive to order it, said James Hamister, a Wright State University logistics professor.

“It may not mean what the customer thinks it means,” Hamister said. “Be a little careful reading what they’re saying. For example it might be two days from their receipt of the product that they want to ship to you. It might not be two days from the date you order it.”

Shoppers on Prime Day this year took to Twitter to complain that Amazon’s promise of free two-day shipping wasn’t being fulfilled, with estimated delivery days up to a week after the order date. Amazon responded to some users saying product availability, additional preparation time, severe weather and delivery capacity can all affect delivery date.

That system could also be complicated by an expected record number of returns this year. UPS said it expects to handle about 1 million returns per day the week of Dec. 16 leading up to Christmas as shoppers return items from early retail promotions.

Those returns will overlap with the busiest shipping time, which USPS Ohio spokeswoman Naddia Dhalai said she expects between Dec. 16 and 22.

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The second and largest returns peak day of Jan. 2 is likely to bring 1.9 million returns — a 26 percent increase from last year’s peak — according to a statement from UPS.

To make sure they can handle this year’s package needs, the United State Postal Service, United Parcel Service and FedEx expand their hours and hire seasonal workers.

USPS expands weekday delivery hours and delivers on Sunday, and the national mail carrier also increases store hours, Dhalai said. It plans to handle about 800 million packages between Thanksgiving and New Years, a drop from 900 million last year because of the six shorter days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, she said.

But UPS will handle 5 percent more packages in the time frame this year than last, Krebs said. That amounts to about 32 million packages per day.

“What this holiday season will reinforce is this: shipping and fulfillment remain the most challenging and costly topics facing retailers,” Ladd said. “As e-commerce grows, the need for faster and cheaper shipping continues to grow.”

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Winter season expected to be mild in Ohio


By the numbers

6: Fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas

800M: Packages USPS will deliver during peak season

32M: Packages UPS will deliver per day during peak

Tips for timely deliver

Follow shippers recommended ship-by dates

Make sure addresses and zip codes are clearly labeled

Make sure to apply the right postage

Put extra cushion around anything valuable

Pick up packages at local post office or store to avoid porch theft

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