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Jason Stark

Peak Shipping Season Blunders to Avoid in 2021

by Jason Stark

A quick recap of 2020

In 2020, ecommerce sales reached new highs – particularly around peak season. This surge, combined with other challenges, like COVID-19 spikes, employee shortages, and USPS cost-cutting programs, delayed many deliveries. Let’s look at some of the factors that caused these delays and see what you can do to prevent them from happening this year.

The odds are that peak shipping season threw at least a few challenges your way in 2020. The root of these problems was likely related to an unprecedented surge in online shopping. Data from Convey indicates that 2020 had a 30% increase in parcel volume from 2019.

As a result, very few shippers – big or small – did not experience some level of restrictions or impact on their business. In fact, according to Convey, 19% of all shipments missed their Christmas delivery deadlines last year.

Even Nike, L.L. Bean, Hot Topic, and Macy’s all had pickups either canceled or reduced. Some shippers even had their pickups limited to every other day, or once per week, or completely canceled in extreme cases.

Convey reported that this resulted in less than 50% of deliveries arriving on their estimated delivery date in December last year. On top of that, 25% of customers who had packages with missed deadlines expressed negative feedback.

With delayed packages come frustrated customers. Delivery feedback was increasingly negative throughout peak season last year. Those surveyed by Convey saw a 43% increase in negative reviews year over year in 2020. Frustration turned into bad reviews, which turned into canceled orders and lost packages. Despite the increase in business for many retailers, the situation quickly turned into a nightmare.

Throughout all of this, USPS encountered major slowdowns due to cost-cutting efforts. This resulted in further delays as late mail was left behind to be delivered the next day. They also came up against a problem that appeared to be consistent with other carriers – employee shortages.

Carriers such as FedEx, UPS, USPS, and DHL all faced delivery challenges during peak season in part to hiring shortages. Especially when it came to hiring seasonal drivers, carriers still couldn’t keep up with the increased demand, as many were seeing a growth of at least several million packages a day. Cases of COVID-19 also surged in the United States, which increased staffing challenges as well.

What will 2021 look like?

UPS has added nearly 2 million square feet of sorting space and cargo planes to their fleet. Despite all this, labor shortages are at an all-time high for qualified drivers. The American Trucking Association estimates the industry is short 80,000 drivers. Combined with an increase of up to 5 million daily packages above average for UPS alone, 2021 looks like it’s shaping up to be another busy peak shipping season.

Despite what the carriers have done to prepare, you can only do so much for the unforeseen. No one knows what the volumes will look like this year. Each year, the trend is that more consumers are forgoing brick-and-mortar stores and doing all of their holiday shopping online.

And these customers continue to have high expectations from ecommerce, despite being more aware than ever of the current supply chain challenges. Convey estimates that nearly 6 out of 10 shoppers plan to start holiday shopping simultaneously or later than last year.

All of this is to say, if you aren’t adapting to these changes and are still taking the same approach, you could be in a world of trouble.

What can I do to prepare for peak 2021?

While the shipping hurdles we saw in 2020 echo what we expect to see in 2021, this year brings its own set of challenges. There are several steps you can take to prepare for peak season this year, including thinking ahead, updating your customers, scaling customer service efforts, and carrier diversification.

Consider how the holidays and your seasonal promotions will impact customer demand as you head into peak season. Look at data from previous peak seasons and use this foresight to forecast demand. Then, communicate that information with your suppliers and logistics team, so you can work together to prevent shortages where possible.

Keep your customers happy by communicating with them from the moment they order until their package arrives. Let them know about your shipping deadlines and update your website when products go out of stock. Offer real-time package tracking, so customers know when they can expect delivery.

By regularly updating your customers, hopefully, you can minimize the need for customer service inquiries. Either way, these interactions are inevitable. Inform your customer service team of all carrier cutoff dates, delays, and promotions. That way, they are prepared to help customers to the best of their ability.

One of the most crucial things you can do ahead of time is to make sure you have a diversified set of carriers who can help you if you get locked out by one of the big players. We have a whole article dedicated to the importance of doing this year-round. To sum it up, utilizing multiple carriers gives you more shipping flexibility and more opportunities to find lower rates.


Another thing you can do is reach out to your carrier or EasyPost representative in advance of the peak season and see if they have any insight on how your business might be impacted this season. Doing this might help you prepare by changing sales dates, having accurate messaging to your customers, and having staffing for when you need it and when you won’t.

While getting started with something like carrier diversification might seem daunting, EasyPost has removed the guesswork for you. If you’re still not sure, reach out to an EasyPost shipping specialist today, so they can walk you through using regional carriers and show you how simple it is.