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OM in the News: UPS’s Holiday Capacity Struggles

December 14, 2015
UPS's "white glove" delivery market is one of the fastest growing areas of e-commerce, in which drivers are required not only to deliver but unpack and install bulky items in customers' homes.

UPS’s “white glove” delivery market is one of the fastest growing areas of e-commerce, in which drivers are required not only to deliver but unpack and install bulky items in customers’ homes.

Capacity decisions, our main topic in Supplement 7, have quality, human resource, and maintenance implications which are evident at shipping companies this holiday season. On-time delivery rates for UPS ground packages last week fell to 91%, from UPS’s usual 97% average, reports The Wall Street Journal (Dec. 11, 2015). The giant firm has been slammed with unexpectedly high volumes, extra pickups and not enough staff and equipment to handle all of the packages. UPS this week assigned managers from corporate headquarters in Atlanta and elsewhere to work at delivery centers to handle the additional packages.

The reason: Online sales surged more than expected over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and into last week. Consumers spent an estimated $4.45 billion online on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, with Black Friday sales rising 14% from a year ago. UPS and FedEx are trying to a avoid a repeat of 2013, when their systems were so overloaded at the last minute that they couldn’t deliver everything on time. But they also are wary of overdoing it like UPS did last year when it overspent and over-hired commensurate to the volume.

Both years, UPS ran over cost estimates by $200 million. This year it has increased capacity by 6% by modernizing its hubs among other things, and it has planned to keep seasonal hiring to the same levels as last year and bring on extra workers as needed.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. What tactics are available to help match capacity to demand (see page 302)?
  2. What has UPS done to tackle the problem?
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