Here’s what your online shopping habit means for the people delivering your packages

Lauren Zumbach
Chicago Tribune

The most wonderful time of the year is also the most hectic time of the year for shipping services like FedEx and UPS.

Both UPS and FedEx say they expect to handle a record number of packages this holiday season. UPS is forecasting nearly 800 million items, up from 762 million last year, while FedEx declined to provide an estimate. Both also are hiring more seasonal workers to move all those packages – 100,000 at UPS and 55,000 at FedEx.

Here’s what the end-of-year online shopping blitz means for the people working to make sure orders arrive on time:

Mondays are the busiest

A decade ago, FedEx handled about 12 million packages on its busiest day. Today, it sees about 14 million during an average, nonpeak day.

FedEx’s peak season stretches from Black Friday to Christmas Eve, but Mondays – when orders make it to FedEx after weekend online shopping sprees – are the busiest days of the busy season, said Michael Murphy, senior operations manager at the FedEx Express facility on Goose Island. Last year, the four Mondays during the holiday season were among the busiest ever at FedEx, spokesman Jonathan Lyons said in an email.

Mother’s Day is the second-busiest holiday, but FedEx typically only sees shipments spike during the prior week, Murphy said.

How they ramp up

FedEx said investments in technology help meet the increased demand, but the company also relies on extra hours for existing workers and seasonal hires. If you see a courier hop out of a U-Haul with your package, it’s probably one of the extra trucks the company rents for peak weeks, Murphy said.

How much ground each courier covers

Couriers typically handle the same route each day, but the size of their turf varies dramatically. The 110-story Willis Tower is a FedEx route all by itself, according to Murphy.

It’s not just the number of packages that increases during the holidays

People used to hesitate to buy things like bulky electronics or furniture online. As consumers have grown more comfortable buying a wider range of items, FedEx said it’s handling more big, heavy items. Murphy said he’s noticed more TVs this year, and a couple rolled down the conveyor belt Monday morning, along with a box that appeared to contain a sofa and another with auto parts. The Goose Island facility can handle most large items, but FedEx also has dedicated facilities for oversize packages.

One job description you might not have expected: meteorologist

FedEx has employed an in-house weather team since 1986 and uses its forecasts to try to avoid missing delivery deadlines due to bad weather, Murphy said. The Goose Island facility, which typically handles packages flown into O’Hare International Airport on FedEx aircraft, might adjust its schedules or shift orders to trucks if it expects winter storms to delay flights, he said.