MONTREAL – Courier services are grappling with a record-setting number of packages as the second wave of virus cases force more people to do their holiday shopping online.
But unlike in every other year, when the surge subsided in the weeks after Christmas, this year’s increase in package volume is showing no signs of slowing down.
“We’re thinking this is going to be a uniquely steady pace even into the new year,” said John Ferguson, the CEO of Purolator, in an interview.
Purolator expects to deliver a record 46 million packages through its peak season this year, which runs through most of November and part of December, Ferguson said.
Package volume this holiday season is 10 per cent higher than the courier anticipated, even with an optimistic forecast, Ferguson said. Total deliveries are up 50 per cent this year compared with last year, while e-commerce deliveries are up between 80 and 100 per cent, with a major spike coming in August rather than around the holidays, Ferguson said.
Purolator’s experience has been shared by Canada’s other couriers, with UPS and DHL Express Canada both anticipating record seasons. DHL’s volume in Canada is up 60 per cent around the holidays this year, after being around 30 per cent higher earlier in the year.
“This is a continuation of a volume pattern that we saw evolving over the course of 2020,” said Andrew Williams, CEO of DHL Express Canada.
Williams added that he expected the additional volume from the peak season to last into January and possibly February, with many people shipping returns of goods purchased around the holidays.
Intelcom, a shipping company with offices across Canada, said it has also seen a slow buildup in volume towards the end of 2020, rather than a single spike.
“With the current pandemic, there has been a constant increase for several months,” an Intelcom spokesperson said. “We are currently meeting our planned initial targets and the number of daily packages we deliver is growing.”
Williams said the slow buildup in volume has helped DHL to be more prepared for peak season, allowing it to take advantage of new investments in staffing and infrastructure that had already been in place earlier in the year. DHL Express Canada has hired about 600 additional employees since the start of the pandemic, Williams said.
Both UPS and Purolator have added thousands of new employees since the start of this year in an effort to manage the substantial increase in parcel shipping volume.
Purolator has also experimented with new ways of expediting the shipping process, including self-serve parcel lockers, low-speed electric vehicles in downtown areas and partnerships with retailers like Michaels.
Still, Ronnie Midlash, the owner of Save N Ship, a store in Montreal that works with major delivery services, said some couriers are experiencing backlogs because of the surge in packages.
“There are no guarantees,” Midlash said. “If they’re telling you two days, it could be four days.”
Ferguson said Purolator is not having issues with delivery times, but that the company encourages people to ship their packages early and is implementing a cutoff date of Dec. 22 for packages that are guaranteed to arrive before Christmas.
The increase in packages has been a boon for shipping services, but greater COVID-related costs, such as personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer for its couriers, have prevented companies from profiting more from the higher demand.
Ferguson said he doesn’t see those costs coming down any time soon, with virus cases continuing to climb in Canada.