The coronavirus pandemic has hit the retail market hard. With restrictions on movement and many towns on lockdown, the pandemic has changed how people shop. Many items, such as groceries that people would buy personally at the store, now require delivery.
While many retail stores have been severely affected, those that rely on e-commerce have actually flourished under the pandemic. Many consumers have moved to online shopping.
The demand has been so high that major retailers like Costco, Fitch, Target, and Abercrombie were forced to issue delay warnings while UPS and FedEx even turned down some delivery requests.
With shipping giants canceling orders, shoppers have turned to the U.S. Postal Service, piling more pressure on the already overwhelmed mail agency.
But how is the U.S. Postal Service dealing with this crunch? The USPS has responded to the increased volume by increasing post office hours. But even this hasn’t helped much since many commercial delivery companies have also had to rely on the USPS for their deliveries in remote areas.
The rising demand for online shopping only means more pressure for delivery companies. The situation is worsened by the need to maintain social distance to keep workers safe, ultimately slowing things down.
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The USPS, being the national mail agency, cannot bolt out like commercial delivery companies. Instead, they must find a way to deliver mail, packages, and gifts during the festive season on time. Despite various challenges, they have come up with initiatives that have eased the situation.
Encouraging Users to Send Mails Early
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In response to the increased demand for deliveries, the Postal Service has encouraged shoppers to mail items early to avoid delays.
The pandemic has caused an online shopping boom, which has spiraled into a nightmare for delivery companies. In an official statement, the Chief Retail and Delivery Officer of the Postal Service, Kristin Seaver, said that sending the mail early would help with timely processing and deliveries.
The COVID-19 surge has not only sent shoppers online but has also brought capacity challenges for the postal service. The service faces a shortage of employees at a time when historical volumes are recorded. This means that there are fewer workers to sort parcels as well as for airlifts and trucking.
In response to these challenges, the Postal Service has had to introduce measures to reduce delays. The leadership is working in collaboration to minimize delays. Some measures that have been introduced include:
- Hiring seasonal workers
- Increasing working hours
- Increased package delivery window
- New Equipment
- More delivery vehicles
Increased Working Hours
Almost every mail office in the country is experiencing package and mail backlog. To handle the pressure, postal employees have had to work overtime. In Detroit, the situation is even worse with letter carriers handling two eight-hour routes.
It’s only by extending working hours that available workers can push pallets full of undelivered boxes amid a shortage of employees. The city’s public payroll data shows that almost one-fifth of hours were overtime during the December holiday season.
In Philadelphia, the situation has not been so different. Employees have had to be rerouted all over the city to facilities that were experiencing too much backlog.
The backlog of mails and packages is so high that working overtime alone isn’t enough. USPS has had to expand the package delivery window as well. In areas where there is too much volume to be delivered, deliveries have had to be adjusted to mornings, afternoons, and evenings. Sunday deliveries were also introduced in areas with high volume.
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The Postal Service has also hired over 50,000 seasonal workers to cover for missing employees and reduce the backlog during the holiday peak season. Older employees have had to miss work due to the risk of COVID-19.
The U.S. Postal Service isn’t just relying on human capital to manage the pressure resulting from too many parcels to deliver. Facilities are also ensuring that they have the right and adequate equipment to help sort, process, and deliver mails and packages.
The Postal Service has leased more vehicles to expedite deliveries. But even with more vehicles, there are still logistical challenges. For example, some truck drivers have only been hired recently and are not fully oriented with the routes; so, they are not quick with deliveries.
Some locations are also quite remote, and with increased volumes, reaching such locations twice or even thrice a day can be a challenge. Despite these challenges, the increased number of vehicles and new equipment has expanded the service's operational capacity.
The added workforce, expanded window of deliveries, increased transportation, and packaging tracking have relieved pressure on the USPS, but customers are still experiencing delays. As delivery companies adjust to the new volumes, there will undoubtedly be less pressure on the USPS.
The management of USPS has also called on the public to be patient, understand, and cooperate with the postal service to help them get through the tough times.