Two data sources say the carrier had the highest percentage of packages delivered on time this November and December among the three biggest carriers. USPS picked up overflow packages other carriers wouldn't, which hurt its delivery times.

Carriers brought their A-game to the 2020 holiday season. As consumers shopped more online due to stay-at-home orders (or preferences), it was clear last year’s festive season would be a big one for ecommerce.

And it didn’t disappoint.

FedEx Corp., United Parcel Service Inc., United States Postal Service, Amazon Logistics and regional carriers such as LaserShip and OnTrac collectively set a new industry record of delivering more than 3 billion parcels during the 2020 holiday season, according to shipping software company ShipMatrix.

A FedEx spokeswoman says the carrier experienced an unprecedented peak season due to the exponential growth in ecommerce, underscored by the COVID-19 pandemic. Peak shipping volumes were up 24% year-over-year between Black Friday and Christmas Eve in response to high demand, FedEx says.

Data from last-mile technology vendor Convey—which works with 130 retail clients, including The Home Depot Inc. (No. 5 in the 2020 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000), Neiman Marcus (No. 40) and Eddie Bauer LLC (No. 137)—and ShipMatrix finds that UPS ranked first for on-time deliveries during the holiday rush when compared to FedEx and USPS.

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For example, for the two weeks leading up to Christmas (Dec. 11-Dec. 17 and Dec. 18-Dec. 24), UPS delivered 85% and 86% of packages on time, respectively, Convey says. That’s compared with 69% and 76%, respectively, for FedEx and 55% and 58% for USPS. Convey’s data is based on tens of millions of packages shipped from more than 500,000 U.S. locations across the company’s client base but excludes shipments from Amazon.com Inc.

USPS picked up the slack in massive package volume by taking parcels that UPS and FedEx wouldn’t, Convey says, which hurt its on-time performance.

“The storyline for this past holiday was that FedEx and UPS limited the number of packages they would accept, and USPS stepped in to handle the overflow,” says Carson Krieg, co-founder and director of strategic partnerships at Convey. “This huge surge for USPS resulted in a pretty significant decline in their on-time performance, while FedEx and UPS did fairly well as far as on-time deliveries.”

For all of December 2020, total shipping volume was 22.3 million, up 19.3% from 18.7 million a year earlier. 72% of packages were delivered on time in December 2020, down from 75% a year earlier.

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USPS delivered a record amount of packages this past holiday season, and at the same time, the pandemic “significantly impacted” its workforce availability, a USPS spokeswoman says. “Capacity challenges with airlifts and trucking for moving this historic volume led to temporary delays. These challenges were felt by shippers across the board,” she says. “We are accepting all volumes being presented to us, which adds to the challenge of the workload.”

UPS, meanwhile, says it “has been delivering one of the best peak seasons of the company’s history,” a UPS spokesman says, “providing industry-leading on-time delivery service to customers, while delivering vaccines at the same time. We expect a successful finish to the peak season, which runs into January as consumers make returns.”

Data from ShipMatrix shows that 96% of UPS packages were delivered on time Dec. 13-Dec. 19, compared with 95% for FedEx and 94% for USPS. And that 98% of UPS packages were delivered on time Dec. 20-Dec. 26, compared with 97% for FedEx and 95% for USPS.

While the performance during Dec. 20-Dec. 26 for all three carriers was better than the prior week, handling such a huge spike in volume with temporary methods (including deliveries made on Christmas Day) still resulted in more than 2 million parcels not delivered by Christmas, ShipMatrix says.

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“With the long Christmas weekend, hundreds of thousands of parcels experienced extended delays of several days, which will result in many more parcels than in prior years being returned via The UPS Stores, FedEx Office, post offices and Kohl’s, which accepts items bought on Amazon,” ShipMatrix says in a release.

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