Online shopping and packages keep postal service busy
By Burton Speakman
Postal carriers throughout the region have been busy in the buildup to the holiday season, with some areas in Northeast Ohio even requiring Sunday delivery.
Carriers in some of the busier areas are delivering six to 10 times the typical parcel volume, said David G. Van Allen, spokesman for the post office in Cleveland. The difference is packages, not Christmas letters or other holiday mail.
“It’s all due to parcel volume,” he said. “It’s the reason why we had carriers out there delivering packages on Sunday.”
Van Allen could not provide a list of where Sunday deliveries where made but said it was in the areas with the highest volume of packages being delivered.
“We’re predicting that package delivery will be up 12 percent this year, although we could beat that,” he said.
The Postal Service had expected customers to ship 420 million packages between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, according to post-office statements made before the start of the shopping season.
The additional hours for postal workers throughout the nation are due to higher-than-expected delivery for online shopping, and more of those items are being shipped using the Postal Service than in past years, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Van Allen could not provide specific figures for the Youngstown area, stating those would not be available until some time after the new year.
At the start of the holiday season, Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at the research firm The NPD Group, expected online shopping to account for 33 percent to 34 percent of total holiday sales, up from 26 percent in 2012. Now, Cohen believes online sales will account for closer to 40 percent, according to the Seattle Times.
Online retailers have benefited from a compressed holiday season, with six fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year than in 2012. That pushed consumers to find more convenient ways to shop than driving to stores to get gifts.
The holiday season hasn’t been as good to brick-and-mortar stores. ShopperTrak, which measures retail shopping, found that in-store retail sales during the week that ended Dec. 15 fell almost 0.8 percent from the same week in 2012, while store traffic dropped 19.9 percent. That follows declines of 2.9 percent in sales and 21.6 percent in traffic the previous week.
The only gain brick-and-mortar stores saw this season so far, according to ShopperTrak, came from Thanksgiving through the following Sunday. Sales edged up 1 percent from 2012 during that period, even as traffic at stores fell 4 percent.
One thing these projections are not taking into account is that most brick-and-mortar businesses also have some online presence that is helping boost sales, said Gordon Gough, executive vice president of the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants.
“We’re still predicting a 3.5 percent increase in sales over last year,” he said, while acknowledging the increase was not as much as from 2011-12.
Brick-and-mortar stores also are continuing to deal with being at a competitive disadvantage to online retailers because many online retailers don’t collect sales tax, Gough said.
“This is the first year we’ve projected that online sales will be larger than sales at department and discount stores,” he said.
The short shopping season with Thanksgiving coming later this year and the weather have been a factor in sales, Gough said.
“But retailers are extending hours, using discounts and pulling out all the stops to help consumers this year,” he said.