This holiday season is expected to bring more packages to shoppers' doorsteps than ever before, with consumers increasingly purchasing goods online and retailers like Walmart and Amazon offering the cheapest, fastest shipping options in history.
"We will definitely see record highs in package deliveries this holiday season as an even higher percentage of holiday shopping shifts online," said Lila Snyder, president of commerce services for the shipping giant Pitney Bowes.
This will put added pressure on retailers and logistics companies this year, she said.
"Record high [package] volumes, rising consumer expectations and fewer days than usual between Black Friday and Christmas Eve will put more pressure than ever on retailers and logistics companies this holiday season," she said.
For consumers, surging package volumes means more mail trucks cruising their neighborhoods, leaving mounting piles of cardboard boxes in their wake. It also means that package thieves may have even more opportunities to steal unattended deliveries, which police departments across the US are now preparing to combat with public awareness campaigns, trainings, bait packages , and more.
The number of packages shipped this year in the US is expected to reach 13.4 billion representing 900 million more packages than last year and a 45% increase from 2014, according to the Pitney Bowes Parcel Shipping Index, which tracks parcel volumes globally.
A large portion of those billions of packages will be transported during the busy holiday season.
Online sales in November and December are expected to grow between 11% and 14% to $163 billion this year, compared to the same period in 2018, according to the National Retail Federation. Meanwhile, overall retail sales are expected to rise about 4%, to nearly $730 billion.
Shipping is faster and cheaper than ever before
Online sales are growing faster than overall retail sales as companies like Walmart and Amazon have been working to make shipping faster and cheaper with new and expanded next-day delivery options.
Walmart started rolling out free next-day delivery on orders costing at least $35 in May. Several weeks earlier, Amazon said it would cut its Prime program's default shipping speed to one day .
With the growth in online shopping, package returns are also expected to surge to record highs this year.
UPS recently said it expects shoppers to return about one million packages daily during the month of December, and to make about 1.6 million returns daily during the week before Christmas. Return activity is expected to peak on January 2, with 1.9 million package returns, UPS said. That's up 26% from last year's peak in package returns.
UPS, FedEx, and Amazon grow delivery ranks
To handle the expected surge in package deliveries, major mail carriers including UPS , FedEx , and Amazon have all been beefing up their delivery ranks, as they do every year around the holidays.
UPS said in September that it planned to hire 100,000 seasonal workers this year, as the company estimated a record-setting peak season of more than 30 million package deliveries per day. FedEx said it planned to add 55,000 seasonal hires.
Amazon has also experienced rapid growth in its delivery network since last year. The company announced a new package of incentives in mid-2018 to encourage people to start businesses delivering packages for Amazon. That program's first hires began launching their businesses last fall. Since then, hundreds more people have been hired to launch delivery businesses for Amazon.
The program's incentives included special deals on Amazon-branded vans , so consumers should expect to see many more of Amazon's navy delivery vans on the streets this holiday season, compared to previous years.
Police departments prepare for surges in package theft
As package deliveries grow, police departments across the US are trying to tamp down on the potential for surges in thefts from so-called "porch pirates" through public awareness campaigns, bait packages, and other measures.
Police departments in Texas and Ohio are allowing residents to ship their packages directly to their local police stations this holiday season, according to local media reports.
Many other agencies are launching public awareness campaigns through mailers, fliers, and social media posts advertising tips to prevent package theft.
The police department in Richmond, Virginia, for example, has printed out several thousand fliers on holiday safety tips, with one side of the flier devoted to preventing package theft, according to Gene Lepley, the department's spokesperson. Police are distributing the fliers to businesses and leaving them on parked cars around the city, he said.
The flier encourages people to deliver packages to their offices instead of their homes, request signatures on deliveries, or enlist a neighbor to receive their packages.
The Kansas City, Missouri, police department is advertising a similar set of anti-theft tips on social media and sending officers out to neighborhood associations to conduct "block watch trainings," which are meant to help residents identify suspicious activity, said Sgt. Jake Becchina, the department's spokesperson.
The police department is also actively analyzing crime patterns daily for any spikes in package thefts or other crimes.
"If there's a pattern of increased thefts, we can develop a specific solution for that area, whether it's undercover cars or a bait package," he said.
Online shopping empowers consumers, but it comes at a cost
The growing number of e-commerce-related boxes moving back and forth around the US and globally has broad implications for consumers, retailers, and the environment.
"The massive increase in package deliveries that has happened has fundamentally changed the way we live our lives," said Kelly Goldsmith, an associate professor of marketing at Vanderbilt University.
Online shopping has given consumers greater power and access to goods than ever before, she said. It has also given rise to new forms of surveillance such as Ring doorbells, and has led to some companies testing autonomous deliveries and in-home drop-offs with smart locks.
There's a dark side to this ballooning industry, however, in the form of growing packaging waste, carbon emissions, and opportunities for product theft, which can hurt both retailers and consumers, Goldsmith said.
But it's unlikely that concerns about these issues will slow the growth in package volumes, which Pitney Bowes expects to hit 200 billion globally in 2025.
"Realistically, I think this train is only headed toward more and more online consumption," Goldsmith said.