FedEx, UPS and Postal Service Scramble to Cope With Peak Shipping Days

LOS ANGELES (Los Angeles Times/TNS) -

Inside FedEx Corp.’s sorting facility, mechanical arms whir within a labyrinth of buzzing blue and yellow machinery. Cardboard boxes drop onto a conveyor belt with a thud, zipping down the line to be sorted before making it to shoppers’ doorsteps.

The well-oiled sorting machine at the Los Angeles International Airport houses workers diligently preparing parcels for the busiest day in FedEx’s history.

“This is Super Bowl season for FedEx,” said FedEx spokeswoman Shea Leordeanu.

FedEx projections pegged the number of packages flowing through its system Monday at 22.6 million, up from 22 million parcels on the busiest day in December 2013. The record-breaking day came on the heels of FedEx’s busiest week of the year, Dec. 7 to 13, which saw about 83 million packages moving through the company’s global network.

And FedEx wasn’t alone. Both United Parcel Service Inc. and the U.S. Postal Service braced themselves for a whirlwind of mail before the end of the year, partly the result of the unrelenting growth in online shopping. Nearly 127 million shoppers browsed online for bargains on Cyber Monday alone, the National Retail Federation said, signaling that web sales were once again a driving force during the year-end shopping season.

The Postal Service’s peak day coincides with FedEx’s, with more than 640 million cards, letters and packages processed, compared with 607 million on last year’s peak day. From Thanksgiving to Dec. 24, the Postal Service expects to ship 12.7 billion letters, cards and packages.

UPS predicts it will move more than 34 million parcels on its busiest day, Dec. 22 — that’s double the number of an average day — and about 585 million parcels this month alone.

Deliveries hit a snag across couriers last year-end shopping season, when a confluence of bad weather and last-minute online shopping overwhelmed couriers throughout the country. Some shoppers placed orders as late as Dec. 23 and expected delivery by Dec. 25. But mail companies bore the brunt of customer complaints.

This year, FedEx ramped up its efforts to prevent a replay of the delivery headaches. The shipping giant hired some 50,000 seasonal employees to help with this year’s rush, up from 40,000 a year earlier.

FedEx employs 15 meteorologists so inclement weather doesn’t blindside its planes and trucks — more than 650 and 100,000, respectively.

The company also cautioned the public not to wait until the last minute to ship their packages. Those using FedEx ground shipping have until Dec. 17 to send out their packages for delivery by Dec. 25. The deadline is Dec. 23 for last-minute shoppers using the company’s express service.

“(The weather) is always a wild card, so we encourage people to ship early,” Leordeanu said.

The courier projects it will ship more than 290 million packages from Thanksgiving to Dec. 24, an 8.8 percent increase from 2013.