The Great 2020 Holiday Shipping Fiasco

In case you have not noticed, ecommerce is in a perfect storm right now with unprecedented shipping challenges. Three major factors are driving the problem:

  • Ecommerce has been growing fast for years and putting strain on USPS in particular (but also UPS and Fedex).
  • Covid has poured gasoline on that growth.
  • The holiday season (enough said).

How bad is it? Let me give you some examples:

  • Fedex in particular (but also UPS) are capping how many packages they will pick up from many ecommerce retailers during this season. In other words, they are turning away business.
  • All major carriers have holiday surcharges in effect right now on all shipments.
  • USPS first class packages in particular are currently severely backlogged. Many first-class packages are not being delivered for weeks.
  • All carriers have suspended their time guarantees. In other words, overnight shipping is no longer guaranteed.
  • Amazon sellers are often unable to get their inventory into Amazon warehouses either because of Amazon caps or shipping logistical problems.
  • Good luck if you need to move to a new house during this season. The carriers have leased a huge percentage of the rental trucks such as U-Haul and Hertz across the country to try to increase capacity.

To put it mildly, this is putting a big strain on many ecommerce companies, especially in customer service. If you are not playing this right, your customer service department hates you at the moment. In general, customers blame sellers for slow shipping in spite of the fact that the seller has very little control over shipping right now.

The good news is that for the most part, things are still working. Most packages are not getting stuck in transit. In fact, most are getting delivered fairly quickly with no delay or short delays. However, here are some steps you should consider taking to take some pressure off your business:

  • Boost inventory temporarily. Inbound shipments are being delayed as well, so you need a bigger cushion during this time.
  • Get a disclaimer on your shopping cart warning of shipping delays and make sure that your shipping estimates reflect the current situation. If you ship first class packages through USPS, you should probably estimate 5-10 business days.
  • Watch surcharges to make sure they are not hurting you badly. Some surcharges are quite significant.
  • Communicate with customers regularly in automated ways (such as email) to cut down on expensive inbound calls asking about slow shipments.
  • Keep your eye on your statistics regarding shipments in transit. Hopefully, your shipping software provides this to you.
  • Work harder with your shipping company. Give them more grace and try to help them out. For example, we are trying to deliver some packages to the USPS these days rather than expecting them to pick up.

The current situation is bumpy but should clear up fairly quickly over the next few weeks. Be patient and try to relax a bit.

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