By Brett Weisband
Ron Palmer, in his 29 years at United Parcel Service, now a human resources manager at UPS' Columbia hub, has seen his share of hectic times. So he knows the next few weeks can be a challenge.
UPS expects to ship 120 million packages in the week before Christmas, many coming through Columbia, one of its six air hubs.
"We've been slammed the last few days, more than usual," Palmer said the week after Thanksgiving. Shopping specials on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and Cyber Monday, the Monday following, have pushed volume up, he said.
The peak shipping season traditionally has been the two weeks before Christmas, but Palmer said he is seeing it shift closer to Thanksgiving.
At Amazon.com, spokeswoman Grace Chung said online shoppers have started doing much of their buying earlier in the season. Last year, Cyber Monday sales beat out the other days of the holiday season for the first time, she said.
The National Retail Federation estimates about 14 million more shoppers came out on the Friday after Thanksgiving this year, a 6.6 percent increase, spending an estimated $52.8 billion.
UPS expects to hire over 55,000 seasonal workers nationwide, spokeswoman Elizabeth Rasberry said. Palmer said 127 would be in Columbia.
UPS expects its busiest day will be Dec. 22, with an estimated 26 million packages, Rasberry said. The Columbia hub could see as many as 100,000 packages that day, Palmer said.
The Carolina Reporter sat down with Palmer to find out what it's like at a UPS hub during the company's busiest season. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
So could you tell me about the atmosphere in the warehouse during the most hectic weeks – what's it like out there?
The atmosphere is hey, you know, people feel, feel good about what they're doing, their jobs, because they know that they're making somebody's day better by processing the volume and ensuring that the people that order the packages get the packages. And so, the atmosphere is pretty, a good atmosphere. ...
Is it difficult to manage any stress levels and hours for everybody during this holiday season?
I'm pretty sure that it's different for the employees because you're getting additional volume and you may be getting different-sized packages or you may be getting more packages for individual stops; where you probably only got maybe three or four packages, you're probably getting five or six. But other than that, I don't think the stress level is any different than in peak season than it is the normal time of the year.
Has the increase in online shopping in recent years changed how the Columbia hub operates during the holiday season?
It does not change how the Columbia hub operates. The biggest thing is that now, although we see a gradual increase in volume, the most of our volume comes in now the last two weeks before Christmas versus the normal trickling of volume over the last, maybe, five or six years where our Christmas volume was from Thanksgiving up until Christmas. The biggest change has been our Christmas shipping period has been more or less condensed until the last two weeks prior to Christmas.
How do you do your holiday shopping? Are you online or do you go to stores?
Most of my holiday shopping will be done online. My spouse … she gets out there sometimes too and gets in to the fracas of shopping. But that her biggest thing right now is I think she's learned how to navigate the Web and hit these sites, and she knows these sites. And so she knows for example what the kids want and what they like and she sees so much different stuff online that that's how she shops, and that's what I do too. We enjoy doing it. We just, I think we enjoy just hearing the truck come up and deliver, or see a box when you come home from working hard, seeing a box at the door. And so I think that kind of motivates us. …
Has the new Amazon warehouse in Cayce changed anything here? Has that made it easier for shipping [for UPS]?
It definitely made it easier for Amazon to get their products out. And I'm pretty sure it's going to make it easier for the people who are actually ordering things within the Southeast to get their products quicker. And so, based on that, yes it's made it easier for the customer. For UPS, we embrace getting additional volume. So that's what we want, we want that additional volume because we know the type of service we provide is a superior service. …
Can you tell me about some of the snags you can run into with holiday shipping?
Well, you know, you have procrastinators, so you have people who wait until the last minute. But we have, you know, we have next day air service. And for customers who, for example, wait until, say for example, the Friday before Christmas. You know, probably back maybe several years ago it was a snag but it's not a snag now because now we have Saturday delivery. Ah, you know, there may be an additional surcharge… but we can get that package there Saturday, which would be Christmas Eve. …
With specials like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, does that make things any different here? Does that make it more hectic later in the season or does it extend the busy season?
Yeah, it extends the busy season for us. But the biggest thing is that yes, it will be an increase in volume because of Black Friday because what you see is now you have more online shoppers and so therefore now we're getting probably packages from different places that maybe we hadn't gotten them before because people are doing so much e-commerce on the Internet and shopping on the Internet. But for the most part I believe that we are accustomed to Internet shopping over the years, the last two, three, four years and I believe we are in a position to handle it very well.