The U.S. Postal Service doesn’t normally deliver on Sundays. But if you’ve seen your regular mail person zipping through the neighborhood on the weekend lately, it’s not a dream.
As logistics and delivery companies try to avert a holiday “shipageddon” amid the pandemic-inducted e-commerce boom, logistics companies expect to clock thousands of hours of overtime and hired tens of thousands of new full-time and seasonal workers this year.
So far, the results have been mixed. And the delivery of COVID-19 vaccine shipments could make Santa’s job even more complicated.
Sunday, the first Pfizer vaccine deliveries began rolling out from Michigan. Florida began receiving vaccines Monday morning and is expected to receive a total of 179,400 doses during this first batch. In South Florida, healthcare workers at Jackson Health System in Miami-Dade County and Memorial Healthcare System in southern Broward County were first in line to receive shots. It is expected to take several more months before everyone who wants to get vaccinated can do so.
All three major U.S. logistics firms — FedEX, UPS and DHL — are taking part in the global vaccine rollout — though none is sharing local vaccine delivery information.
Whatever the details, some logistics experts are increasingly concerned about capacity issues in the already-strained domestic supply chain.
Matthew Hertz, co-founder of e-commerce strategy company Second Marathon, said vaccine delivery may “cannibalize” some percentage of normal e-commerce infrastructure. He pointed to the ongoing shortage of truck drivers, and data from logistics group ShipBob showing a recent spike in parcel delivery times.
“It seems zero sum,” he said. “This would have to impact traditional e-commerce — we’re not expecting to see battleships and tanks delivering this vaccine.”
UPS and FedEx, he said, are already placing volume quotas on many smaller and even some mid-sized retailers, saying they will only deliver a certain number of units per trip.
Many retailers may end up turning to USPS — which continues to be a key local bottleneck.
Air cargo capacity could also be affected. Awash in idle capacity, airlines have begun converting passenger planes into cargo transportation vessels. These flights known as “preighters” — empty passenger planes that have been repurposed into freighters. Preighters have helped facilitate the nearly 30% growth in cargo operations Miami International Airport has seen this year, said Emir Pineda, trade and logistics manager for MIA’s marketing division.
But even with the preighter surge, vaccine delivery could end up affecting other shipments, Pineda said.
“The forecasts do call for some disruption in some regular transportation because there’s only so much capacity available,” he said, “but it’s hard to predict how much disruption and where.”
Finding flights is now the No. 1 concern for the 45 members of the Miami-based Association of Floral Importers of Florida. While flower shipments don’t usually hitch rides on passenger planes, lots of other cargo does. So, lacking its traditional vessels, this cargo is finding itself on the flights flowers are used to taking.
But hauling flowers commands minimal margins, she said, compared with almost any other good — and especially compared with vaccines.
“Our fear is that the airlines are going to follow the money,” said AFIF executive vice president Christine Boldt.
Any disruption in flower delivery would impact the entire country: Some 80% of flower imports come through Miami.
The impact is also being felt at sea, as sending goods from Asia via shipping container has become much more costly. There simply isn’t enough room on a given barge, experts say, so prices have gone up alongside demand for space in a shipping container.