Delivering the goods

Increased online shopping straining parcel carriers
Deb Hill
News-Argus Managing Editor
Tuesday, April 28, 2020
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Post Office Clerk Haley Hutton processes packages on Tuesday at the Lewistown office. The Post Office, along with other shippers such as FedEx and UPS, has seen a surge in package deliveries during the “stay at home” orders.
Photo by Jacques Rutten

Between “stay at home” orders, shuttered retailers and bare shelves at those few stores still open for business, online ordering surged across the U.S. in March and April. All those extra shipments are causing substantial increases in workloads for those whose job it is to deliver them.
 According to Digital Commerce 360, a research organization, online orders rose 47% in the U.S. from mid-March to mid-April. The volume of shipments for the week of April 6 was up 55% over last year. The sudden increase in orders from consumers stuck at home means longer hours, more trucks on the road or both for carriers, including FedEx, UPS and the U.S. Postal Service.
“We have 368 packages out for delivery today,” said Christina Kelly on Monday. Kelly is the Officer in Charge at the Lewistown Post Office.
“Each carrier has about 40 packages when they normally would have about 10. Our SPRS [small parcels and rolls] are way higher. Usually we’d have a few hundred out for delivery; today it’s 1,000,” she said.
Due to COVID-19, Kelly said mail carriers are instructed to stay 6 feet distant from customers. While parcels can be left in mailboxes or at the door, a new process had to be developed when recipients need to sign for packages.

“The carrier will ask the customer if they can sign for them, get a verbal ok, and then the carrier signs ‘COVID’ so we know they spoke to the customer,” Kelly said.
All of this, she said, adds up to a much longer day for each carrier.
“We don’t hire more people; the carriers just stay out longer until they are done,” Kelly said.
Jonathan Goss, a FedEx contract driver in Rhinelander, Wisconsin with Lewistown ties, said he’s seen big changes to his delivery routes recently.
“I’ve been doing this for 15 years, and now I’m going to houses I’ve never delivered to before,” Goss said. “We had to add a couple of new routes, going from three to five. Before I’d have maybe 70 packages a day and now I have a smaller route and I’ve got over 80 packages.”
Goss said the volume of packages has also extended his hours.
“We don’t work on Saturdays, except during December,” he said. “Last weekend I worked Saturday. Our numbers are like Christmas.”
Goss said recently he has delivered everything from bunk beds to dog food, and he thinks the increased use of online shopping may be here to stay, even after the coronavirus shutdowns end.
“It’s convenient, and I think you spend less,” he said. “When you are in the store you pick up things you don’t need and it’s a pain to go put them back, so you end up buying them. Online, you can just delete them out of your ‘cart.’”
United Parcel Service, better known as UPS, has also seen large increases in deliveries to its residential customers over the past two months. While the local UPS office declined to be interviewed for this story, the corporate office released some information Tuesday.
“The progression of stay-at-home restrictions instituted across the country as a result of coronavirus…resulted in an unprecedented shift in customer and product mix in the quarter,” the company announced in its first quarter earnings report. “Consolidated revenue increased by $18 billion, driven by growth in business-to-consumer shipments and gains in healthcare…Commercial deliveries declined while residential deliveries were elevated…Next Day Air average daily volume grew 20.5%...”

What’s in all those boxes?
A March 10 and 11 survey by Astound Commerce found 31% of online shoppers made more purchases overall, 32% purchased more shelf stable, frozen or canned foods and 45% reported buying more cleaning supplies.
It appears Central Montana consumers are tracking well with those national trends.
Taryn Tindall of Lewistown said she has been purchasing shelf-stable food and other grocery items to help feed a family that is suddenly home all day.
“Oh, my gosh, they are constantly hungry,” Tindall said of her kids, a son age 8 and a daughter age 12. “They want snacks all the time. I am buying food in bulk so it’s cheaper. I have the biggest lazy susan anyone’s ever seen to hold it all.”
Teacher Mary Kate French of Judith Gap and Chinook, said she’s turned to online ordering to avoid making multiple trips to the grocery store.
“I’ve been buying things that we run out of, like K-cups for the coffee maker. Usually I’d just drop by the market to pick up one or two things, but now it seems irresponsible to do that. But then I worry about not spending my money locally. It’s hard to know what is the right thing to do,” French said.