Carriers Come Through for Christmas

UPS van in snow holiday peak season feature

After a hairy 2020 peak season, with capacity at a premium and late parcel orders piling up, on-time performance by the big three carriers was strong, helped by a lot of early shopping from consumers based on earlier promotions, as well as improved levels of in-store activity.

During crunch time (Dec. 15-24), across all service types and regardless of SLAs, UPS delivered 99.6% of packages by Christmas, followed by the U.S. Postal Service at 99.1% and FedEx at 98.1%, according to data from shipping software firm ShipMatrix. By comparison, UPS’s rate in 2020 was at 96.7%, FedEx was at 95.1% and USPS at 93.2%.

“This year’s performance was very impressive, given the numerous challenges with labor shortages and COVID-19 related absenteeism,” said ShipMatrix president Satish Jindel.

For orders shipped between Nov. 28-Dec. 24, based on promised time in transit, UPS had an on-time rate of 96.9%, USPS was at 96.5% and FedEx at 88.2%, based on ShipMatrix data.

Jindel said he believed the overall on-time number was lower for FedEx as it had been more challenged than UPS and the USPS in terms of recruiting seasonal drivers for its Ground service. FedEx Ground is serviced by non-employee contractors, while UPS and the USPS offer the possibility of permanent union positions.

“They’ve said so themselves on earnings call, that recruiting was challenged,” Jindel said. “FedEx’s hiring improved toward the later part of peak, which is why their numbers toward the end were better than for the whole season.”

On Friday, FedEx warned of delays on air freight shipments due to the Omicron variant affecting its workforce, as well as weather issues nationally and at its main hub in Memphis.

The USPS said it delivered 13.2 billion pieces of mail and packages between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, with an average delivery time of 2.7 days. FedEx estimated it would deliver 100 million more packages from Black Friday to Christmas than it did in 2019, and 10% more than its record 2020 season. Total peak season figures or estimates were not available from UPS.

According to data from, indoor mall foot traffic was down 4.2% in December vs. the pre-pandemic period in 2019, a rebound from a 10.4% drop in November. But overall store retail ended the season strong, with visits up 2.6% vs. 2019 for the week of Dec. 20, and up 1.4% for the week of Dec. 13.

“For indoor malls, the limited decline (in December) was a significant achievement considering the significant obstacles,” said in its most recent report.