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Postal Service braces for huge holiday mail season

Kenneth Collins (left), United States Postal Services sales and services associate, receives a package from Joe Beach, 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs graphic artist, Nov. 15 at the Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Post Office. The holiday rush at U.S. Postal Service locations is near at hand, so it’s advisable for the families of active-duty members who are serving abroad to mail cards, letters and packages to their loved ones as soon as possible. (Melissa Peterson/Joint Base San Antonio)

Over the next month, the United States Postal Service will process about 800 million packages nationwide.

The Christmas season may also be known as shopping season to many, but for the workers of the USPS, it has come to be known as package season thanks to the rise of online shopping.

“Each day of this holiday season, it’s going to be about 20.5 million packages daily nationwide,”?said Tad Kelley, spokesperson for the Appalachian region of the US?Postal Service. “With Amazon Prime and all the things that are going on, there are just a lot of companies trying to add convenience to their features, and we’ve been amping up our game every year.”

Larry Simmons, the postmaster of Fairmont’s Post Office, said his office is already seeing an increase in packages, and the amount will continue to increase until Christmas.

“We’re averaging 18 to 19-thousand packages a week, just here,” Simmons?said. “Our typical volume here as far as packages go actually doubles the week before Christmas.”

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It wasn’t always like this, Simmons said. Before the advent of online shopping, the Post Office just saw an increase in letters during the holiday season. In the 2000s, the number of packages that went through the post office steadily increased, until it hit a crescendo around 2010 to 2012, when Amazon took off with free two-day shipping.

That boost in online shopping may be constant these days, but it is pushed even more in November by the mail worker-dreaded Cyber Monday.

“We used to talk about the busiest mailing day which was typically the Monday before Christmas,”?Kelley said. “The online game has changed things… Now we’re having the busiest mailing week of the year, which this year is the week of Dec. 16-Dec. 21.”

Through Amazon’s shipping plan, the Fairmont Post Office receives a truck every night at around midnight, which all needs to be sent out from the office in a matter of one or two days.

“They’re paying a premium to us that if it comes in that day, it goes out that day for a delivery,”?Simmons said.

To handle the increase in the mail, the Post Office employs contracting assistants to help deliver on Sundays and even Christmas day, just to help clear out the packages that come in during non-business hours. Some of the regular Post Office employees see their hours run into overtime.

“We will deliver 8 million packages on Sundays,”?Simmons said. “We started bringing in what’s called a City Carrier Assistant, we give them packages on heavier routes to help alleviate the regular carriers. It’s a drastic change.”

Other mail services also see an increase in business during the end of November and throughout December. WV?Box and Ship is a shipping company in Fairmont and provides customers with the best shipping rates by utilizing whichever mailing organization has the best price, whether it be the Postal Service, FedEx or UPS.

“It was busy, and you see a lot more drivers and you see a lot of things coming through,”?JB?Lockwood, owner of WV?Box and Ship, said of last year’s Christmas rush. “You do everything to get ready for it, and it comes and goes so fast. But we’re just as busy afterward when you have all the returns. December, January, we stay busy that whole time.”

When it comes to mailing your packages to others, Lockwood said that WV?Box and Ship uses the service that best fits someone’s needs. The different services each have their advantages and disadvantages,

“FedEx and UPS?run neck and neck, but it all depends on where you are and where you’re shipping,”?Lockwood said. “If you’re in a long line, you’re in the wrong place.”

Simmons said that the Postal Service has recommended “mail by” dates for mail during Christmastime, which people should be aware of to ensure their mail is delivered before Christmas. Kelley said for military mail, first-class and priority mail are recommended by Dec. 11 and priority mail express for these deliveries is Dec. 18. For domestic mail, ground transported mail is Dec. 14, first-class is Dec. 20 and finally, domestic priority mail express is Dec. 23.

Lockwood said that other organizations may be able to mail packages later to still arrive on time, but the price can be steep come the week of Christmas.

“Effectively, the last day to ship things out is Saturday,”?Lockwood said. “But it’s really not, because on the 23rd you can do an overnight – it’s going to be $500 – but you can do it. Yes, there are people who do it.”

Kelley added that the Postal Service has implemented some safeguards to ensure safe package delivery, through means that grew alongside the technological progress of online shopping.

“You can sign up for Informed Delivery… it’s going to give you a daily image of the letter-sized mail that’s going to come to your house,”?he said. “You can change the delivery address, you can ask for it to be held at the Post Office, you can give an address of a trusted neighbor; these are safeguards you can put in place for packages after or before delivery.

“We want to make sure nobody steals Christmas.”

While worry over mail and package delivery dates can add to the stress of the season, Kelley said the Postal Service is prepared to do the heavy lifting, as it has in the past. He just said to be aware, because the mail by dates are always approaching.

“The things that we’re telling our customers is mail early,”?Kelley said. “The retail game is changing dramatically so we’re trying to adapt to it to by giving the services our customers need for accessibility and convenience.”

Simmons said that once Christmas on Dec. 25 has passed, the amount of mail going through the Postal Service decreases dramatically, and is back to the normal level by the first of the new year. But for the next month, the Post Office will be consistently swamped.

“Two weeks prior to Christmas, we get a 35,000 package increase,”?Simmons said of the Fairmont Post Office. “The week after Christmas, it drops back down to normal, 18,000 packages again.”

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© 2019 the Times West Virginian