Online holiday shopping explosion expected to cause shipping stress

If you want your holiday gifts to arrive on time, better do your online shopping early.

With e-commerce sales surging to new records as holiday shoppers aim to dodge crowded stores amid the pandemic, shipping companies are warning this is not the year to procrastinate.

“People who are expecting packages should be prepared that many more of them this year will take a day or two days longer,” Satish Jindel, president of shipping software company ShipMatrix, told Marketplace.

Cyber Monday shoppers are expected to shatter the $9 billion online sales record set on Black Friday. Adobe Analytics predicts it will be the largest digital sales day ever, with spending reaching between $10.8 billion and $12.7 billion, up as much as 35% from last year, CNBC reported.

That could mean demand for shipping will exceed capacity by about 7 million packages. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that both FedEx and UPS warned some of their largest shippers that capacity was already near its limits a month ago, and both companies are facing a shortage of vans to take packages the final miles.

The concern is already starting to show, with some websites already posting shipping deadlines. While most major retailers haven’t yet started warning customers, some clothing stores are alerting shoppers to get their orders in early if they want to get them under the tree, said Kristin McGrath, a shopping expert at Ziff Media Group and editor of BlackFriday.com.

The squeeze means many companies will likely fall back to sending packages via the U.S. Postal Service, which has had its own woes delivering this year, creating mail backlogs in spots around the country.

Some stores may take up the shipping slack by pushing customers who buy online to utilize curbside or in-store pickup, said McGrath. “I think we’re going to start seeing retailers plugging those same-day pickup options.”

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