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You Survived Shipathon: Lessons Learned From a Record Peak Season

As people order and ship at historic rates, lessons learned from Q4’s peak season Shipathon will help with fulfillment in 2021.

Shipping volumes broke records every quarter of 2020, as e-commerce companies and retailers braced for peak season to be the largest in history. As a result, in October, FedEx and UPS launched greater surcharges than expected to handle the increased load.

The Q4 Shipathon — FedEx’s clever name for the peak holiday season shipping marathon — is over, and according to the Wall Street Journal, FedEx Ground saw a 29 percent surge in package volume. Now, many parcel carriers are extending peak season surcharges until further notice through 2021.

“The impact of the virus continues to generate a surge in volume, and we are experiencing extremely high demand for capacity and increased operating costs across our network this holiday peak season,” according to a recent FedEx statement. “We anticipate volume to continue to surge into the new year.​”

High package volume is the new norm, requiring companies to refine processes to meet surging demand, lower costs, and take extra steps to ensure merchandise is protected, as packages experience more stress, strain, drops, and impact from an overcrowded parcel network. The first step? Taking a look at the lessons learned from 2020’s Shipathon. Read on for the biggest takeaways from last year’s holiday shipping season:


Be Proactive About Problem-Solving

No one predicted the impact COVID-19 would have on e-commerce and distribution — and nearly a year later, and we’re still in uncharted territory. As you assess data about your holiday shipping damage rates and cost per delivery, determine why those KPIs are where they are. Did your packing materials that generally withstand normal freight conditions crumble in this new, overcrowded environment? Did labor expenses cost more than upgrading to automated packing systems?

Moving forward, address existing packaging problems as soon as possible before they’re amplified by a surge in demand. Use sales estimates to calculate damage costs when scaled up to expected demand. If the numbers indicate that a new solution will save more money than letting shipments get damaged, you can make changes ahead of time, resulting in a more profitable peak season. Don’t let hindsight be 2020.


Prepare for Worst Case Scenarios

The high volume of packages that traveled through the parcel network during peak season increased the risk of damage to items. And that reality isn’t going anywhere.

Expect delays from an overburdened delivery network and modify your operation to get shipments out the door as soon as possible. (Remember when the Playstation 5 went viral in November because so many of them were delivered damaged due to poor packaging?) 


Solutions are available for every type of problem:


Protect Against Drops and Impact During Delivery

Overburdened parcel workers are more likely to drop or mishandle packages that are out for delivery. HC Barrier, Renew, and Inspyre cushions offer high-pressure shock absorption, and the most reliable air-retention properties for extended storage and shipping cycles. These solutions can be produced at fast, semi- and fully-automatic speeds on the AirSpeed® Ascent system. The proprietary square shape of the bubbles gives them more surface area than conventional air solutions, maximizing their protective abilities.

The sheets also tightly conform to box interiors and prevent products from “bottoming out.” HC products offer some of the highest-performing protection in the industry — and they’re made of 30 percent recycled content.


More Vibration and Disturbance During Sorting and Transport

Conveyor belts and cargo trucks are practically overflowing with packages that need to be sorted or transported — creating constant stress on parcels and the items inside. Extruded Polyethylene and Laminated Polyethylene Foam Planks block and brace products to prevent movement that might lead to damage. They also protect edges and fragile components. Their density and weight can be customized based on product fragility to offer as much (or little) cushioning as needed. They are made from non-abrasive material to prevent scratching, making them ideal for bracing glass and other products that require surface protection. As a bonus, these planks can be manufactured in an array of colors. 


Increased Compression From Handling While Packing and Loading

Cargo planes and trucks are filled to capacity due to record-high shipping volumes, increasing the chances that packages might crumple or get completely crushed. On-demand foam-in-place systems like the IntelliPack® SmartBagger™ machine create customizable foam molds that conform perfectly to products and package interiors for six-sided global protection. The SmartBagger dispenses two liquids into a bag that immediately expands upon mixing into moldable foam that can fully encase fragile items. This solution is ideal for heavy, bulky, and valuable items that need both gentle cushioning and blocking and bracing. The automation capabilities of IntelliPack® also dramatically speed up the packing process.


Protect Your Platform Access

E-commerce platforms like Amazon and Wayfair put sellers in front of massive audiences. However, a company can risk losing this access if they handle fulfillment in-house and their damage rate is too high due to insufficient or incorrect packaging. 

The ongoing congestion of the parcel network indicates these issues will be ongoing unless changes are made to your packing processes. Take extra care to choose the right packaging solutions for the products you’re shipping — now and in the future. After all, sending furniture from Wayfair is different from shipping jewelry from Etsy.


Reduce Weight and Dimensions to Avoid Surcharges

With the advent of endless peak, higher surcharges for overweight and oversized packages have become the norm for carriers. So, now is the time to adopt weight and dimension reduction strategies you implemented for the holidays as your new normal. And if you didn’t make changes for holiday shipping because you thought these surcharges would be temporary, make them now before your shipping bills get any higher. Endless peak is here to stay.

The current e-commerce boom has created a historic business opportunity for brands and retailers — but taking advantage of it requires quick and precise implementation of better packaging strategies.


Need help reducing damage rates or optimizing fulfillment processes? The Pregis IQ brings over 50 years of packaging expertise to solve the toughest challenges. Learn more about our services here.