FedEx predicts busiest shipping day in its history

On a day expected to be the busiest in FedEx's 40-year history, Diane Maleski got to work extra early — at 4:30 a.m. That was long before the first trucks arrived from the airport bearing parcels that would be piled onto conveyor belts, sorted by code number, and then reloaded into delivery trucks heading for Baltimore-area homes and businesses.

Workers such as Maleski, a customer service agent at FedEx's Rosedale shipping center, put in extra hours Monday as the Memphis, Tenn.-based shipper expected to move more than 17 million packages worldwide, double the company's average daily volume. The record day is likely to be part of a strong overall Thanksgiving-to-Christmas season for the company, which expects to handle 260 million shipments — 12 percent more than last year.

Business is booming this holiday season for shippers such as FedEx and UPS, thanks to consumers' growing reliance on e-commerce, experts say. Along with Black Friday, the seasonal shopping kickoff day that brings its own Web bargains, shoppers are now likely to purchase online on "Cyber Monday" and "Green Monday," so-named by eBay to describe the second Monday of December — all among the heaviest online spending days of the year.

Consumers have spent $24.6 billion in retail e-commerce so far this holiday season, a 15 percent jump over last season, according to ComScore, which tracks digital business. On six of those days, sales have surpassed $1 billion, led by Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, at $1.25 billion. ComScore says it has found that at one time or another, almost the entire population of online users — some 220 million people — makes an online purchase.

The e-commerce growth is the strongest in about three years, as consumers grow more familiar with online shopping and accept it as convenient and price competitive, said Andrew Lipsman, a vice president of industry analysis for ComScore.

For shippers, that's good news. The U.S. Postal Service still handles the bulk of holiday work — 16.5 billion projected deliveries, including cards, letters and packages. But that number has declined significantly since 2007.

Shippers such as FedEx and United Parcel Service are benefiting. UPS expects its peak shipping day to fall on Dec. 22, when the company projects a worldwide delivery volume of 26 million packages, 60 percent over normal daily volume. In just the last week before Christmas alone, UPS expects to deliver more than 120 million packages around the world, a 6 percent increase compared to last year.

UPS says the growth is driven by the recent trend of consumers delaying online shipping until closer to Christmas.

"There's been some growth in the online area, obviously more people are online shopping and we can only suppose people want to get more deals," said Karen Cole, a UPS spokeswoman. "The trend of our peak day and week is getting closer and closer every year to the actual Christmas day, and that's being driven by consumers shopping online."

Lipsman, of ComScore, has no doubt that ecommerce trends are driving shipping increases during the holiday season.

"We see in any given quarter, usually three-quarters of the population [of online users] will conduct a purchase," Lipsman said. "And for the holiday season, it increases a bit."

This year, more and more retailers have promoted free shipping as an incentive to lure buyers, boosting online buying even more, he said. On Black Friday and Cyber Monday, two out of three transactions included free shipping.

The Rosedale FedEx center, which delivers priority express and overnight express packages to recipients as far south as Fells Point and as far north as Sparks, expected to deliver about 9,000 packages on Monday, said Sam Brunette, senior manager of operations.

In the predawn hours, Maleski was preparing equipment for the drivers, who also came to work earlier than usual, the better to cover additional routes. At 6:15 a.m., the cavernous warehouse's conveyor belts whirred to life, carrying about 4,500 parcels an hour.

Some workers were bundled in heavy jackets inside the building, whose truck bays were open to the cold weather.

By 8 a.m., the last of about 60 white trucks with the familiar logo had rolled away from the warehouse off Pulaski Highway, horns beeping.

"It's what we do every year," Maleski, a 27-year FedEx employee, said of the early — and long — days during the holiday season. "The work is hard, but we're all in it together. Each package is important. We don't want anything to be left behind."

More than 100 workers, including drivers, were handling the seasonal rush by working overtime through Christmas Eve, Brunette said. And though shipments were expected to peak companywide Monday, even heavier days are likely ahead for the Rosedale center.

Brunette, who is marking his 15th holiday season at FedEx, said that as online retail options have increased, he has seen people wait longer and longer to shop for and ship gifts.

"The window for people is getting smaller and smaller," he said. "We tend to get busier and busier in the two or three days prior to the holiday. It will be quite crazy."


•Dec. 23: Normal UPS pickup and delivery.

•Dec. 24: Limited UPS pickup and delivery.


•Dec. 16: FedEx ground

•Dec. 23: FedEx Express

U.S. Postal Service:

•Dec. 15: Parcel Post

•Dec. 20: First-Class Mail

•Dec. 21: Priority Mail

Christmas shipping deadlines

•Dec. 22: Express Mail