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Supply chain chaos won’t ruin Christmas after all

A reindeer pulls Santa's sleigh through the snowy woods.
A reindeer pulls Santa’s sleigh through the snowy woods.
  • Nicolás Rivero
By Nicolás Rivero

Tech Reporter based in New York


It’s been a year of nonstop supply chain chaos: Covid outbreaks shut down factories and ports, a big boat blocked the Suez canal, and the ports at Los Angeles and Long Beach got so jammed that satellites watched the line of container ships waiting to unload their cargo grow from space. After all these disruptions, many analysts and journalists (including me) warned that 2021 could be a disastrous year for holiday shopping, marred by delayed gifts that wouldn’t arrive in time for Christmas morning.

But, despite all that worry, the worst has not materialized—at least for US shoppers. Deliveries during the holiday rush have been remarkably normal. The country’s largest carriers, FedEx, UPS, and the US Postal Service (USPS), got the vast majority of their packages to their customers’ homes on time last week (Dec. 5-11), according to data from the consulting firm ShipMatrix.

The high on-time delivery rates are a testament to the work each carrier has done to ramp up hiring and expand their warehouses ahead of the holiday shopping rush; USPS, in particular, seemed to learn from its unreliable holiday service last year and improve its performance. The numbers also reflect a shift in Americans’ holiday shopping habits: People ordered gifts online earlier and did more of their shopping in-person to avoid the shipping delays they’d been reading about in the press.

The punctual arrival of Christmas gifts doesn’t mean the world’s supply chain woes have evaporated; ports are more backed up than ever, and some early signs that bottlenecks might be easing have turned out to be mirages. But, at the very least, most families will have one less thing to worry about during the holidays.

Most deliveries arrived on time in 2021, just as they did in 2020

FedEx, UPS, and USPS delivered packages on time during the week of Dec. 5-11 at about the same rate as they did during the same week last year. FedEx had the biggest dropoff, falling from a 94% on-time delivery rate in 2020 to 84% in 2021. But USPS performed better this year, improving from 87.5% on-time delivery in 2020 to 95% in 2021. UPS hardly changed.

Express deliveries were even more punctual than regular deliveries

For those who paid extra for express shipping, packages arrived even more punctually. FedEx, UPS, and USPS each delivered more than 97% of express packages on time. A special citation goes to UPS, which got 99.3% of its express packages to its customers on time.

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