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OM in the News: Gearing Up Capacity at FedEx and UPS

October 27, 2014

fedexFacing an even bigger mountain of packages this holiday season, FedEx and UPS are hiring more workers to avoid the delays that frustrated shoppers and gift-recipients a year ago. Last December, the delivery giants were caught off-guard by bad weather and a surge in last-minute online shopping, writes Supply & Demand Chain Executive (Oct. 24, 2014). An estimated 2 million packages were late at Christmas. FedEx expects deliveries between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve to rise 8.8% over last year, to 290 million shipments. Volume is expected to surge in December, with FedEx predicting a peak of 22.6 million shipments on Monday, Dec. 15.

The delivery companies are benefiting from a strengthening economy and optimism about consumer spending. At the same time, they’re dealing with consumers who increasingly enjoy the ease of shopping on computers and mobile devices but expect the goods to show up almost as quickly as if they had shopped at a store. “Every single year the percentage of retailers offering free shipping goes up,” said an industry expert. “The consumer expects it. The retailer may or may not be able to afford it.” Target has started offering free holiday shipping for any item on its website, a first for the retailer as it tries to compete better against online rivals such as Amazon.com.

FedEx plans to hire 50,000 seasonal workers, up from 40,000 last year. UPS will add 95,000 people, up from 85,000. Last year, both companies wound up scrambling to hire more seasonal employees than they had planned, which increased costs and cut into profits. FedEx also expects to invest $1.2 billion in its ground-shipping network this fiscal year, with most of that going to increase capacity and automation. The improvements have sped up ground delivery by a day or more in 2/3 of the U.S. UPS has also invested to boost shipping capacity during the holidays, and has improved its forecasting and package tracking.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. Which techniques (see Supplement 7) for managing capacity and demand do FedEx and UPS employ?

2. How will the shippers be able to improve over last year’s backlog?

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