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*Shippers Gear Up for the Holidays

Major global shippers are geared up and ready to make deliveries in what is expected to be yet another record-breaking online and catalog holiday shopping season.

FedEx Corp., Memphis, TN; United Parcel Service, Atlanta; and the U.S. Postal Service have been working overtime — beefing up technology, increasing staff and working with large mailers — to prepare for the holiday push.

UPS, for example, expects to deliver more than 325 million packages globally during the peak four-week period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. On UPS' peak day this year — Dec. 19 — the carrier expects to deliver more than 19 million air and ground packages globally. UPS normally delivers an average of 13.5 million packages per day.

To handle this volume, UPS added 3,500 trucks to its fleet. UPS also added more than two dozen large jets to the 600-plus cargo planes it flies year-round, and almost 1,200 flights will take off each day during UPS' peak season. During an average week, about 800 flights take off every day. In August, the UPS also began recruiting additional seasonal staff, which numbers about 95,000 for the holiday season. Those workers will supplement UPS' global work force of 358,000.

“For UPS, the holidays are the most challenging time of the year, but also the most exciting,” said UPS chairman /CEO Jim Kelly. “We depend on year-round planning, cutting-edge technology and [our] global delivery network to scale up for the massive volume increases that come with the holidays.”

FedEx expects similar increases. This year, the company expects to deliver 6.5 million ground and express packages on its busiest day — on or about Dec. 20. Last year, the company delivered 6.2 million packages on its busiest day. This year, FedEx also expects to add 3,500 to 4,000 extra employees to help unload, sort and load packages at various hubs, ramps and large stations.

As for airplanes, “We accommodate the increasing volumes by scheduling our maintenance earlier in the year so that we have the maximum number of airplanes and trucks available,” said Jesse Bunn, a FedEx spokesman.

Meanwhile, the USPS is projecting a 5 percent increase in its Priority Mail and Parcel Post delivery volume from Nov. 24 to Dec. 31 over the same period last year. This year, for example, the postal service projects that 191 million packages will be delivered during that period, compared with last year's 182 million. The USPS' busiest day for package delivery will be Dec. 13 for Priority and Express Mail, and Dec. 20 for Parcel Post.

The USPS also added 80 planes to its fleet to handle the extra Priority Mail packages. In addition, it has added temporary processing facilities, hundreds of trucks, dozens of trains, 60 million extra sacks and trays and 40,000 temporary holiday employees — many of whom will help in the Priority Mail and Parcel Post network.

All three shippers are placing their own people at customer sites to help plan and execute the holiday shipping rush. UPS, for example, places staff at large customer sites, so packages can be sorted before they are loaded onto UPS trucks.

All shippers began working with their catalog and e-tail customers shortly after last year's holiday season to determine what package shipping demand was likely to be this year and to make sure they were prepared. They also acknowledged that there were many shipping problems last year and said their goal was to fix that this year.

Pat Mendonca, manager of operations process support at the USPS, said, “In January, our logistics folks started working to determine what were some of the things that didn't work last year, and they have tried to address that this year.”

Bunn said FedEx began holiday planning immediately after the previous season with a post-mortem that analyzed the past season's efforts. For example, shortly after the beginning of this year, FedEx began to work with eToys to plan for this year, reviewing what went right and wrong last year.

Angela McMahon, a UPS spokeswoman, said, “We started working with our customers in January to prepare for the holiday season, as we do every year.”

Technology plays a key role in helping FedEx, UPS and USPS keep up with holiday demand. FedEx, for example, recently began allowing its customers to track packages, find the nearest drop-off location, calculate shipping rates and determine transit times for shipments via virtually any wireless device. All three companies are also applying Web technology to accommodate holiday returns, which occur through February. Customers can initiate package returns on the Web, where they will receive online return labels.

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