COVID-19 Vaccine Could Complicate Holiday Shipping Delays

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A COVID-19 vaccine has at last been approved in the U.S. for distribution. That is undeniably good news. The not so good news? Shipping delays, which were already widely forecast to be on deck in 2021 have just become a lot more likely — as the rush to distribute the vaccine is almost certainly going to slow the rest of the ecosystem down.

Shipageddon 2020 may be here — a perfect storm of factors emerging all at once to create a very complicated situation.

“Every mode of shipping is already under tremendous pressure due to COVID-19-related and holiday shopping constraints, and vaccine delivery just adds another element of disruption to the already fragile mix,” said Sean Maharaj, managing director in the logistics practice of AArete, a global consulting firm, to USA Today.

The trouble, Aaron Terrazas, director of economic research for trucking logistics company Convoy, told USA Today is the timing. The first wave of vaccines are going out just as the holiday shipping season is setting to go into overdrive. And since the major vaccine distribution contractors are also major parcel delivery firms, the coming crunch is almost inevitable. Particularly, he noted, given that holiday 2020 was already a record-setter in terms of eCommerce shopping.

And, indeed, the warnings are coming forward from an increasing cavalcade of sources. Target has already started posting warnings on its website within its app for digital shoppers for “potential shipping delays” and says some orders “may be affected by high shipping volumes nationwide.”

The United States Postal Service, meanwhile, has publicly stated it is “experiencing unprecedented package increases and limited employee availability due to the impacts of COVID-19. We appreciate your patience and remain committed to delivering the holidays to you.”

Retailers have been both passively and actively been encouraging consumers to shop early in the year 2020 — something which PYMNTS recent Black Friday data indicates that many did, with nearly half reporting their holiday shopping finished as of Black Friday. But that, of course, leaves the half that had not. Many of whom, the data showed, will be shopping digitally this year. According to Adobe Analytics, online holiday sales are expected to trounce previous records, leaping 33 percent over 2019 to $189 billion in the U.S. Adobe also forecast that consumers ending gifts to each other this year will be way up – 18 percent — since people won’t be getting together to give them out to each other in person.

Will the delays “ruin Christmas for many” as many of the more dour forecasters predict?

We imagine that is likely a bit of an overstatement. If the Whos in Whoville survived the Grinch stealing Christmas, we suspect Americans can handle opening their gifts a day or two late this year. Particularly if those delays are in service to getting a vaccine out to jailbreak themselves and their loved ones from life on lockdown in time for Christmas 2021 when they will be able to both enjoy opening presents on time and with loved ones.

Because the silver lining with all the shipping delays is the vaccine itself going out. FedEx trucks were among the first vehicles to carry COVID-19 vaccines from a Pfizer factory in Portage, Michigan, on Sunday morning, and it was a FedEx plane carrying vaccine doses that flew from the Grand Rapids, Michigan airport to the Memphis, Tennessee hub for distribution to points around the country starting today.

CNN commentator Brian Stelter noted on air Sunday night watching the plane take off.

“As I watch this at 11 a.m. eastern time I feel like I’m witnessing something in the near future,” he said. “You know, this is happening live, this is the present day, but we are seeing hope in the near future.”

And if the gifts are going to be delayed in the mail, perhaps a little hope for 2021 isn’t a terrible consolation prize.

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